A London-based American film-maker has filed a class action law suit against Andy Warhol's estate, art foundation and authentication board on the grounds that for the past 20 years the bodies have conspired to manipulate the art market in order to command multimillion dollar profits on sales of their own Warhol collection.
The class action, lodged with the district court in Manhattan, alleges that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, together with the board that it set up in 1995 to sift out genuine Warhols from fake ones, have established an effective stranglehold on the Warhol market.
"So powerful is the art world's reliance on the authentication board's opinion that, in today's art market, no one can sell a Warhol that does not have the board's opinion of authenticity. As such, it indisputably dominates and controls the Warhol market," the legal suit says.
The action has been brought on behalf of Joe Simon-Whelan, who fell into dispute with the board after it twice rejected his request for authentication of what he believes to be a genuine Warhol self-portrait from 1964.
Mr Simon-Whelan has dubbed the work - untitled at the time it was made - Double Denied for the purposes of the lawsuit, a reference to the Denied stamp that the authentication board puts on works it deems to have failed the test.
Mr Simon-Whelan argues that the work, a silk-screen on canvas with peach-coloured background, which he bought in 1989 for $195,000 (£97,000), was authenticated by him.
It bears a note on one edge written by Fred Hughes, the late executor of the Warhol estate, saying: "I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1964."
The board was also presented with letters in support of the work's genuine status from people such as Billy Name, who worked with Warhol as main photographer of the Factory. Yet the board continued to reject his submission, and the film-maker was unable to sell the print for $2m as he had intended.
He says he believes the board was acting fraudulently to create a monopoly in the market and force up prices of the foundation's own collection, from which it periodically sells pieces.
The legal action estimates the foundation has sold more than $150m of Warhol's work at inflated prices, and calls for $20m in compensation on behalf of Mr Simon-Whelan and other unnamed alleged victims.
The Warhol Foundation said today it could not comment. KC Maurer, the body's chief financial officer, told the Guardian that the foundation and the authentication board were maintained as completely separate entities.
Vincent Fremont, who controls sales on behalf of the Warhol estate, dismissed the suit as "shocking nonsense". He told the New York Times that "dominating is not what I do. I protect the legacy of Andy Warhol and his work. I was one of the last people to work with Andy, so I get attacked all the time".
Prices for Warhols on the New York and London art markets have been going through the roof. Christie's auction house recently broke its record for contemporary sales, partly on the back of extraordinary sums obtained for Warhols. Green Car Crash sold in New York in May for $72m, with Lemon Marilyn going for $28m on the same day.
Part of the difficulty in the authentication process was that Warhol himself consciously conceived of his work as a form of artistic mass production, hence the name of his studio, the Factory.
One expert said the nature of the way Warhol worked - the silk screen process and his focus on everyday life objects such as Campbell soup cans - made it very easy to make fakes.