There’s a fascinating case on in Sydney at the moment, and lots of folks seem to be treating the litigation as a dripping roast. In 2009 an artwork (“Orange Lavender Bay”) attributed to Brett Whiteley, who died in 1992, was sold to a Sydney car dealer for big money. A car dealer being hornswoggled! O, delicious irony.
The contentious piece has superficial similarities with Blue Lavender Bay (the Bay was where the Whiteleys lived for some years), namely: the same offhand brush strokes, cartoonish curves, and Ken-Done-infantilism. We feel for Wendy Whiteley, the artist’s Cosima, who said at a launch of a biography of Brett, “I’m a bit Whiteleyed out.”
Whiteley’s avant-garde output reveals talent but precious few brains, and much evidence of wet rags, erratic colour application, hand-me-down-Dali tableaux and heroin addiction, evidence currently being relied upon by the plaintiff (to prove a fake) and the defence (to prove true). Hopefully, someone will read out The Recognitions by William Gaddis.
One expert has opined that the bird forms in “Orange Lavender Bay” are so sloppy they appear “as if done by a child.” Has this fellow seen many Whiteleys? Robert Hughes observed of Carl André’s Equivalent VIII (1978), a two-level slab of light-coloured bricks, 10 x 6, shown at the Tate in London, “Anyone except a child can make such things.” That might be a point in favour of the defence in this case, but we don’t care. When you pay, not for the work, but for the provenance, you get what you deserve.[Update – November 2016: the Court has stayed the sentences of the defendants, pending appeal, the Judge commenting “I think there is a compelling argument that the verdicts are unsafe.”]