Top Lots at Auction
#1. Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)
Sotheby’s New-York, 13 November 2013
Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963
105.3 x 164.2 inches (267.4 x 417.1 cm)
Silkscreen ink and spray paint on canvas
At over 8 feet by 13 feet, this monumental painting is one of only four Car Crash works of this scale in the pivotal Death and Disaster series and the only one remaining in private hands. The work, which boasts distinguished provenance including Gunter Sachs, Charles Saatchi, and the legendary Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann, has been in the same collection since 1988 and has been seen in public only once in the past 26 years.
The Death and Disaster series stands as arguably Warhol’s most significant artistic achievement. The series explored many of the key themes that defined his entire artistic career – the potential of mass-media to transform anonymity to celebrity as well as a perceived indifference to death in the modern era – and is considered one of the most provocative, confrontational and brilliant projects undertaken by any artist in the 1960s. It is not coincidental that Warhol created the series at the same time as his iconic portraits of celebrities touched by death and disaster such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy who had found their private tragedy catapulted onto the public arena.
In Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) Warhol selects a subject matter considered particularly radical at the time, capturing the immediate aftermath of a car crashing into a tree, with the silk- screen impression bleakly dramatizing the deformed metal and twisted human body while the reflective silver paint creates a play of light and shadow. The impact of the repeated, cascading image on the left is heightened by the juxtaposition of the vast blank sea of silver on the right, adding to the overwhelming power of the work. The finality of the past meets the abstract permanent continuity of the present.
Given Warhol’s fascination with celebrity and the “silver screen”, it is not coincidental that the magnitude of the present work is roughly equivalent to that of a cinema in the 1960s. Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is one of only four canvases on this monumental scale with the other three belonging to distinguished museum collections: Orange Car Crash 14 Times in The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Black and White Disaster #4 in the Kunstmuseum, Basel; and Orange Car Crash in the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung, Ludwig, Vienna.
#2. Triple Elvis (Ferus Type)
Christie’s New-York, 12 November 2014
Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963
Silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen
82 x 69 inches (208.3 x 175.3 cm)
Signed, titled and dated ‘elvis Andy Warhol 63’ (on the reverse)
Standing with his trademark proud stance, Andy Warhol’s rare triple portrait of Elvis Presley dominates this shimmering canvas just as the singer dominated the cultural landscape of the 1950s and 1960s. First shown at the artist’s important 1963 exhibition at Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, Warhol’s Elvis paintings join the pantheon of the Pop master’s Hollywood superstars. It was only natural that, having portrayed Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, he should also turn to Elvis as his subject matter. While the others were famous movie stars, none of them achieved the immense and unprecedented star power that Elvis attracted during the crest of his early career in the mid-1950s.
For Warhol—who was fascinated by popular culture, fame and celebrity—Elvis was the ultimate subject. At nearly seven feet tall, the image of Elvis Presley looms large over the viewer. The three figures display a confident posture, with Elvis staring directly out of the canvas with his famous “baby blue” eyes. Using a single screen, Warhol repeats the image three times, each time producing an image of Elvis that is notable for its exceptional clarity and depth. The quality of these renditions can be seen in the remarkable details that each contains; from the penetrating precision of Elvis’s eyes to the individual folds of his shirt, right down to the texture of his trousers, the exceptional detail of this particular example marks it as one of the pre-eminent examples from this important series of paintings.
#3. Green Car Crash
Christie’s New-York, 16 May 2007
Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963
Synthetic polymer, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen
90 x 80 inches (228.6 x 203.2 cm)
The Car Crash paintings that Warhol made between late 1962 and early 1964, form the most varied and extensive group of pictures in his seminal series of Death and Disaster paintings. Drawing on six different documentary source photographs each outlining six separate, horrific and increasingly bizarre fatal accidents, Warhol’s Car Crashes remain among the most powerful, challenging and provocative paintings made by any artist in the Post-War era.
Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) is one of the masterpieces from this series. It is an unforgettable painting that makes multiple use of what is arguably the most extraordinary, strange and disturbing source image of all those used in Warhol’s famous Death and Disaster paintings. Describing more than just the scene of a car crash, this large electric green colored painting is a haunting work whose macabre and endlessly puzzling imagery startles with its stark and repetitive photographic presentation of a mundane suburban street shockingly transformed into a horrific disaster scene bordering on that of a surrealistic nightmare.
This extraordinary contrast, captured in this photograph, between the mundane normality of everyday suburbia and the exceptional violence and tragedy that periodically strikes at its heart pictorially describes exactly what Warhol wished to express in the Death and Disaster series about the extraordinary tragedies and horrors occurring to ordinary people on a daily basis. Extraordinary tragedies and events that ‘go by’, Warhol said, completely unnoticed. It was no doubt for this reason that, in this work alone of the five ‘burning car’ crash paintings, Warhol has concentrated on the specific part of the photograph showing the impaled figure and the passer-by, repeating this segment of the source photo in a triple sequence both at the centre and in the bottom row of the painting.
#4. Four Marlons
Christie’s New-York, 12 November 2014
Four Marlons, 1966
Silkscreen ink on unprimed linen
81 x 65 inches (205.7 x 165.1 cm)
signed and dated ‘Andy Warhol 66’ (on the overlap)
This dramatic rendition of Marlon Brando, his dark inscrutable eyes staring out nonchalantly from underneath his peaked cap, provides an unrivaled portrayal of one of the greatest 20th century cultural icons. Displayed here at the peak of his fame, Brando’s appearance in the 1953 film The Wild One (from which Warhol took this source image), captured a rebelliousness that, in the mind of the public, had consumed the previously acquiescent American teenager and became something of an anti-hero for an entire generation of misunderstood youth. Here, in Four Marlons, Warhol took a publicity still from the movie and rendered it four times across a vast expanse of raw canvas, creating a larger than life portrayal of Brando and his character Johnny Strabler. This combination has become so potent that, more than fifty years after the film’s release, the image is used in contemporary movies and advertisements around the world, with posters featuring the character still adorning the bedroom walls of countless disaffected teenagers around the world.
In many ways, Marlon Brando was perhaps the person who Warhol always wanted to be. The artist was well known for being painfully shy and uncomfortable about his own appearance and he must have admired the tough, confident characters that Brando portrayed. Yet ironically, Warhol may have had more in common with Brando than he first thought. Just as Warhol became a popular cultural figure who surrounded himself with an entourage of friends, acquaintances and other peripheral hangers-on, Brando too was someone who always seemed to be surrounded by a constant retinue of assistants and acquaintances, but in truth found it difficult to find people with whom he could build strong personal relationships. Unlike his other renditions of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars, Warhol painted just nine unique versions of Marlon Brando and, as such, Four Marlons becomes a fleeting glimpse of Warhol’s unique insight into the world of popular culture and a memento mori of one of its greatest icons.
#5. Men in Her Life
Phillips New-York, 8 November 2010
Men in Her Life, 1962
Silkscreen and pencil on primed canvas
84 1/2 x 83 1/4 inches (214.6 x 211.5 cm)
Men in Her Life is an outstandingly important work from one of the most significant and creative moments in Andy Warhol’s career. Made in the fall of 1962, arguably the artist’s breakthrough year, the picture is among his earliest silkscreen paintings, and it combines in one image many of the central themes of his oeuvre: celebrity, wealth, scandal, sex, death, Hollywood, icons of American life. The present painting, moreover, is one of only four works in the Men in Her Life series; it is one of only two of these works on a large-scale, multi-image format; and it is the largest of all the four pictures in the series. It is a work of great significance, fascination and beauty.
The painting is based on a news photograph of Elizabeth Taylor walking with both her third husband Mike Todd, seen to the left, and her fourth husband Eddie Fisher, who is seen at the right with his then current wife Debbie Reynolds (fig 1). Warhol took the photograph from an April 13, 1962 issue of Life magazine, which featured an article on Taylor. Describing her as a “storybook princess,” the article presented pictures of her from throughout her life, but with special emphasis on her husbands and lovers —the “princes” in the fairy tale. Warhol used a total of three images from the article as the basis for different paintings; the other two photographs were pictures of her in National Velvet and in (and as) Cleopatra. The Men in Her Life pictures from 1962 were his first paintings of Taylor, one of his most iconic subjects, which he treated obsessively, for example in the Silver Liz series (fig 2).
#6. Race Riot
Christie’s New-York, 13 May 2014
Race Riot, 1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, in four parts
Overall: 60 x 66 in. (152.4 x 167.6 cm.)
Signed and dated ‘Andy Warhol 64’ (on the overlap of the upper left panel)
A unique red, white and blue, multiple-image painting of the Birmingham race riots of 1963, Race Riot is one of the comparatively rare group of only ten silkscreen paintings of this dramatic confrontation that Warhol made between 1963 and 1964. Comprising four square canvases–two red, one white and one blue–and each depicting the same repeated image of two Birmingham policemen setting their attack dogs on a lone, fleeing black man, Race Riot is the only multi-colored work belonging to this now historic series of paintings and at nearly six feet square is also the largest and most impressive of the series of six 1964 paintings.
Warhol’s first four first Race Riot paintings (Pink Race Riot, Museum Ludwig Cologne, Mustard Race Riot, Museum Brandhorst, Munich and two other examples whose whereabouts are currently unknown) were made in direct response to the Life magazine spread in the spring of 1963 and employed all three of the Charles Moore photographs. These works, made as part of Warhol’s preparation for an important exhibition in Paris on the theme of “Death in America” were ones that essentially continued the formal logic of Warhol’s large Car-Crash paintings by representing Moore’s three photographs repeatedly as a kind of disjunctive filmic montage of troubling and traumatic imagery.
#7. Sixty Last Suppers
Christie’s New-York, 15 November 2017
Sixty Last Suppers, 1986
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
116 x 393 inches (294.6 x 998.2 cm)
The final tour-de-force of Andy Warhol’s illustrious career, Sixty Last Suppers reclaims the ghosted image of the painting that ushered in the Renaissance—challenging Leonardo as to whose canvases was fresher and more powerful. Made in the last year of the artist’s life, Sixty Last Suppers emerges as a final encapsulation of many of the tenets which defied the artist’s celebrated career. In 1985, Andy Warhol was commissioned by his friend and dealer, Alexandre Iolas to create a series of works based on the Last Supper for an exhibition in Milan. The works were shown in a space for the Italian bank, Credito Valtellinese in the former refectory of the Palazzo delle Stelline, which was located directly across the street from Leonardos Renaissance masterpiece in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. For Warhol, who had riffed off da Vinci’s Mona Lisa decades earlier, the opportunity to confront Leonardo in this setting was an irresistible opportunity that proved to be the impetus for the Pop master’s last great burst of creativity.
#8. Coca-Cola (3)
Christie’s New-York, 12 November 2013
Coca-Cola , 1962
Casein on cotton
69 3/8 x 54 inches (176.2 x 137.2 cm)
Signed ‘Andy Warhol’ (on the turning edge)
Coca-Cola (3) is one of four paintings of single Coca-Cola bottles that Warhol made between late 1961 and the summer of 1962. The first of these, Coca-Cola (1) is a comparatively small painting that depicts a Coke bottle and the disc logo in the company’s original trademark colors of red and white and has a strange curtain-like border running down the right-hand side of the work. The image Warhol has chosen as the basis of this work derives from an old Coca-Cola advertisement of 1947. Executed in a deliberately loose and dripped oil paint and crayon and only lightly sketched in places as if to merely suggest the image rather than render it fully or complete, this small sketchy, red and white canvas has all the visual appearance of an ad-man’s draft. It is the only Coke bottle painting to be based on this distinctly retro 1940s advertisement; the other three paintings all derive from a different, undated, but seemingly more modern, black and white advert that appeared in the Pittsburg magazine Byzantine Catholic World–a periodical that it is likely to have belonged to Warhol’s mother. Warhol’s second Coca-Cola painting, Coca-Cola (2) (now in the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg) is another “sketchy” version, being a larger, six-foot high work that depicts the Coke bottle and part of its logo in a similarly “arty” brush-stroked manner and, as in the first version, again includes a vaguely sketched curtain running down its right-hand side. This is the work that Warhol presented alongside Coca-Cola (3) to De Antonio and remembers him calling it “a piece of shit, simply a little bit of everything.” In his own memoirs De Antonio also described this painting as a Coke bottle “lined with the brushy strokes of Tenth Avenue failure, second generation Abstract Expressionism” advising Warhol to “burn it” (Note: Emile de Antonio, “Marx and Warhol” a variant draft quoted in Branden W. Joseph “1962,”, October Spring 2010, no. 132. p. 130).
Executed on a similarly large, human-sized scale, Coca-Cola (3) is the work in which the cold, impersonal, machine-like objectivity that would come to distinguish so much of Warhol’s later art can first be discerned. In this painting Warhol has removed all extraneous detail to concentrate solely on the iconic image of the famous bottle and the logo, which is cropped as it runs over the edge of the large, white, portrait-shaped canvas. Painted carefully by hand, directly onto the blank canvas, in accordance with a projected image of the advert, without first making any preliminary pencil drawing, Warhol has focused directly and only on the sign-like motif of the bottle and its celebrated logo, rendering both in a smooth, impersonal manner devoid of any visible brushstroke or sense of peinture. Originally, Warhol had also included the words “Standard” and “King Size” that appeared under the Coca-Cola logo in the advert, but later, evidently recognizing the solitary iconic power of his image, he has painted these words out using a white that has still allowed them to remain partially visible as pentimenti.