Picasso enjoys a lock on the minds of art lovers like no other. A majority of artists, like me, spend the bulk of our lives canoeing against the tide of indifference. Our work is seldom seen and seldom admired beyond friends and family. Little wonder that we seldom consider the down side of too much success.
Picasso’s triumph, however, has become a global headache for his heirs. He was so prolific, he didn’t bother to document his work, and there are thousands of paintings, sculptures, and drawings attributed to his hand but that are yet to be cataloged. Each piece, if authentic, is worth a considerable amount of money. But how can one be sure if a work is genuine? Picasso was so cavalier about his creations, he was known to have executed a drawing on a man’s stomach with a tube of lipstick. When the fellow went home, I suspect he did some soul searching before deciding to take a shower. (“The Battle for Picasso,” by Milton Esterow, Vanity Fair, March 2016, pg. 233.)
Of course, when it came to wives and children, Picasso was prolific there, too, leaving at his death a nation of heirs but no will. Certainly, the attorneys hired to sort out the mess made a fortune, though they never owned a single piece of Picasso’s art. Eventually, they created the Picasso Administration to handle the rights of the heirs. Had Picasso been an artist with a modest inventory that might have been the end of the story. But with so much undocumented work in play, coupled with many fakes, the art world hardly blinks when someone claims to have discovered a new piece.
When that happens, the task of authenticating it kicks into high gear. To illustrate how large the task is, each quarter the Picasso Administration issues a report that spans around 300 pages. It includes court cases that have been settled or are pending pertaining to authentications. (Ibid pg. 183.) Add to that, the on-going need to track licensing fees and monitor products that illegally bear Picasso’s name. It’s easy to see why the estate pays nearly a million dollars each year in legal fees. (Ibid. pg. 231) And then there’s the occasional theft to consider.
Tracking and cataloging the assets annually requires 50 people, catalogers, attorneys, and accountants. Despite these expenses, there’s enough wealth left in Picasso’s legacy to provide for the next two generations. (Ibid pg. 232-233) The gravy train stops in 2043, however, when international law brings the family’s monopoly to an end. (Ibid pg. 233)
Some artists might shrug and say they’d be happy to live with the red tape of success and, at first glance, I might agree. But having had the time to think, I’ve changed my mind. I rather be Picasso’s lawyer.