The Warhol maxim about media celebrity has worked its way into litigation with a pair of high-profile legal disputes over the late artist’s work. Fittingly for Warhol-related news, the cases both glitter with celebrity and elevate the most mundane items to the altar of contention.
In one case, world-famous pop culture icons are pitted in a case involving sex, betrayal, higher education, and art appraisal. In the other, parties duke it out over a frigging box. An ordinary, cardboard box. They say it’s worth $250,000 because… why not?
Warhol once said, “making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art,” and he’s now nodding approvingly as millionaires are running to courthouses to fight over pictures he drew half a century ago…
Our tale begins with a pair of celebrities. So beautiful, so in love, so absolutely dysfunctional. Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett had a storybook romance, and that storybook was written by V.C. Andrews. Among the revelations that O’Neal himself admits:
O’Neal and Fawcett fought often and loudly. Those arguments took a toll on their son Redmond. O’Neal recounts a particularly heart-stopping example in the book that occurred during an argument in their bedroom. “Suddenly, our six-year-old son is standing in the doorway in his Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas, staring at us. He’s holding a butcher’s knife… He points the tip of the blade at his chest. ‘I’m going to stab myself if you don’t stop it!’ That ended the argument.”
Anyway, the Hollywood “It” couple of the late 70s and early 80s were given a pair of paintings by Andy Warhol and now Ryan O’Neal and the University of Texas are tussling over the legal status of one of the works. Warhol painted a pair of portraits of Fawcett when she was the reigning international sex symbol. Warhol allegedly gave one to Fawcett and one to O’Neal, suggesting Warhol had spent some time with the pair and figured this “on again, off again” thing was going to be a trend. O’Neal’s Fawcett portrait adorned O’Neal’s home until 1998, when… well:
The portrait hung in O’Neal’s home from 1980 until 1998, when it was removed following the couple’s infamous break-up after Fawcett found O’Neal in bed with a much younger woman. CNN reports that O’Neal testified that a year following the incident he asked Fawcett to “keep the portrait with her, store it for me, because my young friend was uncomfortable with Farrah staring at her” and Farrah responded that “I’d like you to leave it there because I want to make her uncomfortable.”
Didn’t Fawcett understand that love means never having to say you’re sorry? Somehow this painting ended up in Fawcett’s collection, and upon the actress’s passing found its way to the University of Texas, bequeathed to the institution along with the rest of Fawcett’s art. O’Neal claims the painting is his and wasn’t Fawcett’s to bequeath (the portrait given to Fawcett was obviously fair game for her to give to the school), prompting the Longhorns to take O’Neal to court.
The stakes are high. I mean, it’s not like the subject is something important like a can of soup, but the parties are staging a good ole fashioned expert battle over the value of the painting. As Inna Kraner of the Expert Institute writes:
Certified art appraiser, Lee Drexler, testified as an expert witness for the University. She described the 40-inch by 40-inch silkscreen painting featuring Fawcett’s bright turquoise eyes, shiny red lips, and her famous hair tucked behind one ear as “gorgeous” and a painting that “makes your eyes pop.” She notes that “because of Fawcett’s fame and beauty, Warhol’s portrait of her was extraordinary.” Drexler values the painting at $12 million, well above the average $7.5 million a Warhol piece is generally auctioned for.
However, this appraisal was questioned by O’Neal’s attorney. Todd Egan “noted the university had insured its version of the Warhol portrait for around $600,000, and the version hanging in O’Neal’s home was appraised in 2009 for less than $1 million.”
Texas, usually known for paying far too much for something that isn’t worth it, is asking the jury to believe it insured a $12 million painting for $600,000? We’ll see how that flies. It’s usually a poor form to roll with the “we’re tragically stupid, protect us” stratagem.
Meanwhile, with a lot less glitz, another suit over Warhol’s work is brewing in California — this time involving prints of Marilyn Monroe, the reigning international sex symbol of her era. Except it’s not really a suit about his work per se:
A fine arts company shipped Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe screenprints to a buyer without the original cardboard box, reducing the prints’ value by nearly $250,000, the buyer claims in court.
One Sweet Dreams LLC sued Heather James LLC in Napa County Superior Court, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. It claims James failed to deliver the prints as they were described in the Sotheby’s catalogue.
Warhol liked “boring things” and nothing could be more boring than a $250,000 lawsuit over a damn box. Remember Ralph Wiggum’s entry in Springfield’s “Diorama-rama” that got Principal Skinner all hot-and-bothered?
“Pre-packaged “Star Wars” characters, still in their display box?” And at the end of the day, what is art collecting but action figure collecting for rich people
who moved out of their mom’s basement (because their mom was rich enough to buy them their own mansion).
But when it got Marilyn Monroe prints, it “discovered that the prints were non-conforming in that they were shipped without the original cardboard box described in the Sotheby’s catalogue condition report as original stamp/numbered cardboard box. Plaintiff immediately protested receipt of the prints without the box and further made multiple demands for delivery of the same but to no avail,” the lawsuit states.
Gurr-Johns International determined that the retail replacement percentage loss of value for having the prints without the box was 15 percent or $247,500, not including cost of restoration, One Sweet Dreams claims.
One Sweet Dreams seeks $247,500 plus interest accruing from the date or purchase.
Even though there’s a decent argument that this box might really be worth it from the perspective of a collector, lawsuits like this make people hate the legal system. Valuable time and effort will be exhausted tying up court resources to resolve a dispute over a box worth about 5 times the annual income of the average American family. This is the punchline that will get served up when your lawyer-hating uncle visits for Christmas dinner. Enjoy! Have fun explaining the importance of preserving the sanctity of the auction when he’s saying, “but it’s $250,000… for a box.”
But this lawsuit does have one redeeming aspect: if you’re around a fifth-year associate enjoying this year’s bonus, take heart in knowing that you’re now worth exactly as much as a cardboard box.
Appraisal Expert Witness Testifies in Heated Battle over Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Farrah Fawcett [The Expert Institute]
Collector Values Missing Warhol Cardboard Box at $250,000 [Courthouse News Service]
 It doesn’t help that I’m envisioning the kid who played Lord Bullingdon here.
 Although at this rate, rich people are also in the action figure game. The most valuable Star Wars figure is Darth Vader with telescoping lightsaber. It goes for around $6,000. Also worth a pretty penny is a character named Yak Face. These people didn’t make a Wedge figure for decades and he was in all three movies (not counting the prequels that only exist so this guy can make fun of them), but they made something called Yak Face? This is why Gen X is so screwed up.