Portrait of the artist as a hostage of his success

Family, business associates of Peter Max fight over authenticity of works as his health fails

The scene played out for years. Twice a week, in the late afternoon, above the Shun Lee Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a creaky elevator would open, and out would step an elderly man. Thin as a rail, with a sparse moustache, he would sometimes have little idea about where or who he was. A pair of security doors would buzz open once surveillance cameras identified him as the artist Peter Max.

Inside, he would see painters - some of them recruited off the street and paid minimum wage - churning out art in the Max aesthetic: cheery, polychrome, wide-brushstroke kaleidoscopes on canvas. Max would be instructed to hold out his hand and for hours he would sign the art as if it were his own. The arrangement, which continued until earlier this year, was described to The New York Times by seven people who witnessed it.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 02, 2019, with the headline 'Portrait of the artist as a hostage of his success'. Print Edition | Subscribe