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When Artists Disavow Their Work

All artists edit their oeuvres, destroying works they deem to be inadequate before the works can leave the studio. Louise Bourgeois, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Pablo Picasso, and Luc Tuymans all destroyed some of their own works in this editing manner. But what about an artist disavowing his or her work, sometimes not only after it has left the artist’s studio? Public—and collector—acceptance of the right (and the propriety) of an artist making such a disavowal is less universal.

The artist Cady Noland has disavowed several of her works. In November 2011, she disavowed her 1990 silkscreen on aluminum, “Cowboys Milking.” The work was consigned by its owner to be included in an auction. Noland viewed the work and noted that the corners of the aluminum support were bent and damaged. She disavowed the work, stating that the work’s “current condition…materially differs from that at time of its creation.” The auction house withdrew the work from the auction, and the owner sued both the auction house and the artist. The court held in favor of the defendants, finding that the auction house’s consignment agreement gave it the right to withdraw the work from sale if concerns about the work’s authenticity or attribution arose.

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