Immendorff: copies, fakes or authorised reproductions?

Michael Werner, his dealer for 30 years, says “everything was out of control” before the artist died

MUNICH. On 5 June, the Munich auction house Ketterer Kunst was due to offer a large Jörg Immendorff painting, Café de Flore, 1990-91, with an estimate of €90,000 to €120,000. However, the painting was withdrawn after the dealer Michael Werner—who had been the late artist’s primary agent for 30 years—raised concerns about the work’s authenticity. Mr Werner told The Art Newspaper that there are several “awkward”?Immendorff works on the market and that he is currently aware of at least 20.

These range from those he believes are copies to those that could have been authorised by studio assistants. A central question is whether Immendorff sold copies of his paintings that were made by assistants as originals created by his own hand, and whether or not this discredits the works. “No one knows which of these problem paintings came out of the studio and which are plain copies,” says Mr Werner. All that is known, he says, is that in the last five years of the artist’s life “everything was out of control”.

During this time, Immendorff was battling with a neurodegenerative disease and was not able to hold a paintbrush himself. He worked with several assistants who followed his instructions to complete works. It is also believed—but more difficult to prove—that, from the 1990s onwards, assistants copied his works which were signed and certified by the artist and then sold as originals from the studio.

Fellow Berlin dealer Michael Schultz believes that copies made by assistants are “authentic” and that “Michael Werner knew during Immendorff’s lifetime what was happening in the studio. Now he is just trying to focus the market on his own gallery,” he told The Art Newspaper. Mr Werner dismisses this, saying it “would not be in my interest to control the market”, adding that he does not represent the artist’s estate.

Other cases

Other auctioneers have had problems with Immendorff’s works, even when the artist was alive. In November 2001, the Munich-based Neumeister Auctions was to sell another Café Flore-series painting, Café Flore with Joseph Beuys, 1991, (est $18,000), together with a certificate of authenticity. Before the sale, Katrin Stoll, the owner of Neumeister, was advised by Mr Werner’s gallery that the painting was “a fake” and the lot was withdrawn.

The consignor, a Munich-based lawyer, presented his invoice: he had purchased the painting in 1994 for DM35,000 (then equivalent to around $22,000) from a collector who had bought it directly from the artist’s studio. Galerie Michael Werner later sent a fax confirming that “Immendorff did not make this work”. At this time, the artist also confirmed the gallery’s claim and, in a fax of 10 July 2002, he wrote that “this work of art is a fake, as is the certificate”.

The consignor of the painting considered suing the seller and ordering a pigment analysis. After further direct communication between the consignor and the artist, Immendorff then said, by telephone on 19 December 2002, that the work was an original, writing the next day: “I confirm once more the originality of the painting Café Flore [with Joseph Beuys].” The work was then sold.

“In my opinion Mr Werner failed dramatically in his function as the main dealer of Immendorff and now he is trying to shift the blame onto the auctioneers,” Ms Stoll told us.

Mr Werner criticises some of the smaller auction houses for failing to respond to his warnings before putting an Immendorff from this series up for sale. “[These] auction houses need merchandise to sell and don’t really care if it’s real or not,” he told The Art Newspaper.

This month another contested work will be examined by a German court. Ready-made de L´Histoire dans Café de Flore, 1987, is, according to Mr Werner, not authentic. A collector bought the painting in 1999 directly from the artist’s studio for DM30,000 ($17,000), also with an authenticity certificate by the artist (Mr Werner told us “a certificate is even easier to fake than a painting.”) The collector then consigned the painting for sale at Dorotheum Vienna in May 2008, est €75,000-€90,000 ($112,000-$134,500). Mr Werner pressed criminal charges against the owner and at the end of July the court in Düsseldorf started formal legal proceedings.

Immendorff died in 2007 aged 61, and while famous for his paintings, he was also infamous for leading a colourful existence: in 2003 he was arrested, together with nine prostitutes, for cocaine possession during a party in his hotel room in Düsseldorf. Following this incident, Immendorff lost his professorship at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, but was back in favour in 2005 when he was commissioned by former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder to paint his state portrait, which is still on show in the chancellor’s office in Berlin.

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