Larsen Gallery

Polly and Scott Larsen of The Larsen Gallery display the 1965 self-portrait by Andy Warhol at their Scottsdale Gallery. (David Minton/Progress Staff Photographer) 

Some Andy Warhol paintings can’t shake controversy.

And that is true of a self-portrait that will be auctioned this fall at the Larsen Gallery at 3705 N. Bishop Lane, Scottsdale.

The controversy has its roots in 1964, when Richard Ekstract, a publisher of magazines about consumer electronics, acquired Tape Recording magazine.

After he and designer Peter Palazzo had spruced up the new publication, editor Robert Angus decided it would be a neat idea to review videotapes and video cameras. 

Not long after Tape Recording magazine began publishing its reviews, Ekstract began receiving phone calls from famed artist Andy Warhol asking if he could use discarded videotapes that the magazine had used in reviewing projects he had been working on. 

Ekstract provided him with a few tapes and a year later, Warhol asked for a favor that would cement his and Ekstract’s legacies. 

“A couple of years after I first met Andy, he decided that he was going to switch from making his underground movies and instead of using a camera, he would use videotape,” Ekstract recalled.

Warhol had his eye on a high-dollar piece of equipment, a Phillips Norelco videotape recorder, video camera and recording tape. 

Ekstract was able to secure the equipment on a loan from Phillips Norelco and the equipment was used to record Warhol’s first underground film “Outer and Inner Space.”

After the filming, Ekstract decided it would be a fun idea to host a party for the introduction of the tape underneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel near train track 61 in New York. 

Word quickly got out about the party and some of Ekstracts good friends, including former Harmon-Kardon president Walter Goodman, agreed to front entertainment and equipment for the party. 

Although Ekstract was flattered by the donations, he began contemplating a way that he and Warhol could contribute further to the party. 

That was when Warhol had an idea of his own. 

“In 1964 he did a silkscreen self-portrait and sold about 14 of them. He still had the separations for the sub-screen colors and he gave me sub screens so I could make them and we gave one to each guy who helped with the party and put them on display at the party,” Ekstract said. 

In total, eight silkscreen paintings were made, including one for Ekstract. 

However, he decided he didn’t want his to be signed by Warhol. 

“I didn’t ask him to sign them because it wasn’t for sale. It was strictly a memento of the party and it’s been on my wall in my apartment ever since,” Ekstract said. 

Although the painting sat on his wall for nearly three decades, Ekstract, 91, decided it was time to get a pulse on how much his prized work would be worth. 

Ready to part ways with his long-time reminder of that fateful evening underneath the Waldorf Astoria near the train tracks, Ekstract contacted Richard Polsky, the owner of Richard Polsky Art Authentication – which specializes in authenticating Warhol’s works.

Although Polsky was excited to get his hands on a work he had admired for decades, the work posed some controversies in the resale market. 

“The controversy was that Warhol had done a number of these self-portraits in a few colors, including red and green,” Polsky said. 

Another controversy was that Ekstract had sent his work to be authenticated by the Warhol Artist Authentication Board in 2002 and the work was denied for reasons it never divulged.

“My understanding was the reason they turned him down is that the paintings were done off premises, they were not done at the studio,” he said. 

Although Warhol’s self-portrait was featured on the cover of his first catalogue raisonné, Ekstracts specific piece was not included in the catalogue.

However, Polsky said that could change. 

“I believe that down the road, Richard’s painting and the others in the series will be vindicated,” Polsky said. “It’s also possible, but this cannot be guaranteed, that the Warhol people are still doing their catalogue raisonné, but it’s not done yet.

“There’s talk that there might also be an addendum where they’ll include things that maybe there was a mistake, new information came to light or it was overlooked, but there’s not yet.” 

Another controversy was the fact that the painting is unsigned. 

However, Warhol’s signature in and of itself is controversial. 

“If it was signed, it would have been nice. But  Warhol is probably one of the only artists where the signature carries less weight than most artists,” Polsky said. “During the 60s, Warhol had a policy that he wouldn’t sign a painting unless it was sold or left his studio for an exhibition.” 

Because of this, the painting is projected to sell somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $600,000. If the painting was signed and included in the catalogue raisonné, it could have sold in the high millions. 

“But because it isn’t (signed), it was denied by the Foundation and its controversial, whoever buys this, obviously believes it’s correct and they believe the stories that have been written about it,” Polsky said. 

Larsen Gallery owners Scott and Polly Larsen are arguably the most interested since the two have devoted two of their past three auctions to testing the market for unsigned Warhol paintings.

Most notably, they had attempted to auction an unsigned red and black acrylic silkscreen canvas titled “Little Electric Chair” that was owned by shock rocker Alice Cooper.

Although that work failed to meet the minimum reserve bid of $2.5 million, Scott Larsen feels confident that Ekstract’s former prized possession will sell. 

“We’re interested in determining where the market value for these works that are obviously Andy Warhol works but just hadn’t been signed actually are,” Larsen said.

Scott and Polly Larsen are also touting an impressive collection of pieces from other acclaimed artists for the auction, including pieces from Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and pieces from the estate of Fred and Gail Tieken that will be donated to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Our last two auctions have been our biggest to date, so we’re hoping to continue the trend,” Scott said. 

Info: The Larsen Gallery is located at 3705 N. Bishop Ln., Scottsdale, AZ 85251.

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