There is so much to say about Andy Warhol… and most of it has been said already, including by himself as he rarely missed an opportunity to share his witty comments with the world. So we decided to dedicate him a double A to Z article…

Andy Warhol  (1928-1987) was an American artist, film director, and producer who was a leading figure in the POP ART movement. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, advertising, and celebrity culture that flourished by the 1960s, and span a variety of media, including painting, silkscreening, photography, film, and sculpture. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Warhol initially pursued a successful career as a commercial illustrator. After exhibiting his work in several galleries in the late 1950s, he began to receive recognition as an influential and controversial artist. His New York studio called The Factory, became a well-known gathering place that brought together distinguished intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights, Bohemian street people, Hollywood celebrities, and wealthy patrons. He promoted a collection of personalities known as Warhol Superstars and is credited with inspiring the widely used expression “15 minutes of fame”. In the late 1960s he managed and produced the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founded Interview magazine. He authored numerous books, including The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. He lived openly as a gay man before the gay liberation movement. In June 1968, he was almost killed by Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist who shot him inside his studio. After a gallbladder surgery, Warhol died of cardiac arrhythmia in February 1987 at the age of 58.

 

Warhol has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and documentary films. The Andy Warhol Museum in his native city of Pittsburgh, which holds an extensive permanent collection of art and archives, is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist. Its extensive collection includes paintings, drawings, commercial illustrations, sculptures, prints, photographs, wallpapers, sketchbooks, and books covering Warhol’s career, from his student work to pop art paintings and collaborations. In his will, the artist directed that his entire estate be used to create a foundation for the advancement of the visual arts. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established in 1987.

 

WORK IN PROGRESS

A for Andrew 


Born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928, in the neighborhood of Oakland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Warhol’s parents were Slovakian immigrants. His father, Andrej Warhola, was a construction worker, while his mother, Julia Warhola, was an embroiderer. They were devout Byzantine Catholics who attended mass regularly and maintained much of their Slovakian culture and heritage while living in one of Pittsburgh’s Eastern European ethnic enclaves.

At the age of eight, Warhol contracted Chorea — also known as St. Vitus’s Dance — a rare and sometimes fatal disease of the nervous system that left him bedridden for several months. It was during these months, while Warhol was sick in bed, that his mother, herself a skillful artist, gave him his first drawing lessons. Drawing soon became Warhol’s favorite childhood pastime. He was also an avid fan of the movies, and when his mother bought him a camera at the age of nine, he took up photography as well, developing film in a makeshift darkroom he set up in their basement. Warhol attended Holmes Elementary school and took the free art classes offered at the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art) in Pittsburgh. In 1942, at the age of 14, Warhol again suffered a tragedy when his father passed away from a jaundiced liver. Warhol was so upset that he could not attend his father’s funeral, and he hid under his bed throughout the wake. Warhol’s father had recognized his son’s artistic talents, and in his will he dictated that his life savings go toward Warhol’s college education. That same year, Warhol began at Schenley High School, and upon graduating, in 1945, he enrolled at the Carnegie Institute for Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) to study pictorial design.

A for Ali


Executed in 1977, Warhol’s picture of Muhammad Ali shows the boxer at the height of his fame and talents. At that point he was, for the third time, the World Boxing Association Heavyweight Champion. After more than a decade of professional bouts, he remained able to stun his opponents with his agility, winning fight after fight.

ANDY WARHOL
Muhammad Ali, 1977
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
40×40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 10 November 2021
USD 18,107,500

Warhol has chosen to portray this giant of boxing, this sporting hero, in a combative pose; the raised fists are the tools of his trade, the attributes, his only necessary paraphernalia, they are the raw materials with which the boxer made his name and reputation. Muhammad Ali is presented here as a Pop icon, a god of the modern age, a contemporary hero.

And significantly, he is presented as a contemporary black hero, marking Warhol’s detached yet significant participation in the race politics of his day. This is one of the first major celebrations of a black hero in American art, and as such in part prefigures the paintings of Warhol’s protégé, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who would become determined to place black heroes at the center of art, having noticed to what extent they had been neglected or excluded for centuries prior to that. Even the presence of the African American in art thanks to George Bellows had been relatively fleeting and had occurred over half a century earlier.

B for Brillo 


Among Warhol’s defining works as a Pop artist were the plywood sculptures, he painted to resemble the cardboard packaging for Brillo Soap pads. Stacked from floor to ceiling at his solo exhibition at Stable Gallery in New York in 1964, they prompted one bemused critic to ask, ‘Is this an art gallery or supermarket warehouse?’

 

Brillo Box (3 cents off), 1963-1964
Silkscreen ink and house paint on plywood
13 1/8 x 16 x 11½ inches (33.3 x 40.6 x 29.2 cm)
Christie’s New-York, 9 November 2010
USD 3,050,500

BB for Brigitte Bardot


Brigitte Bardot stands apart from all of Warhol’s 1970s Society Portraits in size and technique, lending it a distinctive eminence that reflects Warhol’s unparalleled admiration and enchantment for his subject. Typically, the other portraits from this decade adhered to the artist’s standard 40×40 inch format; during this period Warhol would take his own Polaroids of his sitters with his ubiquitous Big Shot camera and use these portraits as the source images for his silkscreens. Stories abound of the sessions in which Warhol invited his subjects up to the Factory to sit for his camera.

“Monroe was a tease… but Bardot was the real thing!”

However, for Bardot, the portraits were executed in an exceptionally large format, and rather than using his own photograph Warhol based the screen on the acclaimed photographer Richard Avedon’s iconic 1959 image of the sultry starlet at her peak. Sachs provided the image—found in the pages of a magazine—to Warhol upon his commission, and it is not known if Warhol was even aware at the time that he had paraphrased an image by the famed Avedon. Avedon had photographed Bardot fifteen years prior, in January 1959 in his Paris studio. The actress wore a sumptuous Lanvin dress and had her hair done by Alexandre of Paris, then considered the world’s most famous hairdresser. Alexandre had also styled Elizabeth Taylor’s classic coiffure for Cleopatra—another image Warhol used in his portraits of Liz, making Brigitte Bardot the second chance collaboration between Warhol and the hairstylist.

ANDY WARHOL
Brigitte Bardot, 1974
Acrylic, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas
47.5 x 47.2 inches (120.6 x 120 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 11 November 2014
USD 11,645,000

 Devastatingly and irresistibly seductive, Brigitte Bardot gazes sultrily toward us, enrapturing the viewer with her screen vixen persona. With his bewitching 1974 portrait of the steamy bombshell blonde, Andy Warhol offered the magnetic essence of the siren who seduced the world, enticing us with her come-hither allure. Bardot’s blue visage lures with powerful hypnotic intensity, and yet as is archetypal of Warhol’s enduring conceptual project, all we are left with is her image frozen in the eternal moment of the camera’s flash. Belonging to the legendary series of eight works commissioned by Gunter Sachs, to whom Bardot was married from 1966-1969, Bardot’s radiant sapphire visage stands as inevitable successor to the irresistible trinity of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy beatified by Warhol’s immaculate silkscreen in the 1960s. Superbly manifest of the artist’s obsession with fame, celebrity, and popular culture, Bardot’s movie-star status, goddess-like beauty, flawless physiognomic symmetry, and radical eroticism mark her as the consummate Warholian muse. Of the eight total portraits that Warhol executed of Bardot, only three saw Warhol use four discrete colors and red lips, exemplified by the distinctive chromatic arrangement of the present work—a striking cerulean for the ground, luscious violet for the screen, brilliant cadmium red for her lips, and deep purple for her eyeshadow. Exceptional for its prismatic complexity, the present work stands at the pinnacle of the series, rich in hue and dramatic visual impact.

 

C for Campbell’s Soup 


Campbell’s soup was Warhol’s first true subject, pursued to the point of obsession between 1961 and 1962. These works effectively launched his career and would later be described by the artist as his favorite paintings. Campbell’s Soup had been a staple of American grocery stores since the nineteenth century, and a pervasive feature of Warhol’s own childhood. The can’s appearance had remained unchanged for over fifty years, and its price for over forty. Now, elevated to the realm of high art, the most banal domestic commodity would never be seen in the same way again. The techniques that Warhol explored throughout the series demonstrate his extraordinary draughtsmanship—honed during his previous career as an illustrator—whilst simultaneously paving the way for the silkscreen works that would come to dominate his practice. His earliest “portrait” soup cans were based on printed illustrations that were projected, traced and meticulously painted onto canvas. The “serial” soup cans that followed were Warhol’s first repetitive structures, created using a stencil derived from a photograph by Edward Wallowitch. The present work and its “still life” companions, which drew upon sources from the same photographer, were distinguished from their predecessors by their focus on the object’s transitory condition. Their message was disarmingly prophetic: commercialism in America was about to explode onto a much larger scale and, as Kirk Varnedoe points out, new marketing strategies would begin to encroach upon the soup’s immutable branding. The unadulterated packaging of Warhol’s youth would increasingly become corrupted by taglines and slogans; by the 1980s, the artist would be forced to confront the product as dried powder in a box. For Warhol, who lovingly collected every flavor of tinned Campbell’s Soup, the present work may be understood as a poignant farewell. At the moment at which the lid is lifted, the myth of endurance is shattered. The product transforms from a pristine icon to a perishable substance, subject to the inevitable ravages of time.

 

 

Unique in composition, rare in scale and rich in historical significance, Andy Warhol’s Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable) is an early hand-painted work from the series that changed the face of twentieth-century art. It is the only example of the artist’s iconic Campbell’s Soup can paintings to feature a can opener and is the first of eleven works that represent his largest single depictions of the motif. Seven of those eleven are held in museum collections, including the Kunsthaus Zurich; the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; the Daros Collection, Zurich; and the Menil Collection, Houston. Tantalizingly breaking the can’s metal seal, the present work marks the start of a narrative sequence unrivalled within Warhol’s oeuvre. Where his earlier soup cans had stood as static symbols of American culture, this particular group—the so-called “still lifes”—transforms the motif into a meditation on temporality. As the series unfolds, the can’s lid is wrenched fully open, its label is peeled off and, finally, it is crushed and flattened—a reminder that even the most timeless objects are subject to decay. The ubiquitous tin thus becomes Warhol’s first memento mori, setting the stage for Marilyn, Elvis, Death and Disaster and the various fleeting icons that would enter his pantheon. Executed during the early months of 1962—predating the artist’s silkscreens—the present work was one of the first to be captured in Warhol’s studio, shots he chose to be photographed next to it for an article published in Time magazine in May that year. Bought at that time by the celebrated collectors Emily and Burton Tremaine, it became the first of Warhol’s pictures to be shown in a museum when it was exhibited at the Wadsworth Atheneum two months later. It was subsequently purchased by Warner Brothers executive Ted Ashley, and in 1987 it became the first Post-War American artwork to enter the prestigious collection of Barney A. Ebsworth, where it remained for the next twenty-three years. Hijacking the age-old genre of nature morte, the work offers a powerful commentary on consumerism—simultaneously deadpan and dark—that sets the tone for the rest of Warhol’s practice.

 

Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), 1962
Casein and graphite on linen
72 x 52 in. (183 x 132 cm)
signed and dated ‘ANDY WARHOL 62’ (on the stretcher)
Signed again and dated again ‘ANDY WARHOL 62’ (on the reverse)
Christie’s New-York, 16 May 2017
USD 27,500,000

 

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans transformed him into an overnight sensation when they were first exhibited in Los Angeles in 1962. It was his first one-person exhibition organized by Irving Blum, the legendary and visionary director of the Ferus Gallery. The exhibition featured thirty-two “portraits” of soup cans, each identical except for the flavor inscribed on their labels. These revolutionary paintings were displayed on a small narrow shelf that ran along the wall of the gallery in a way that suggested not only a gallery rail but also the long shelves in a grocery store. With these works, Warhol took on the tradition of still life painting, declaring a familiar household brand of packaged food a legitimate subject in the age of Post-War economic recovery.

 

Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato), 1962
Graphite and casein on canvas
20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Signed and dated ‘ANDY WARHOL 62’ (on the reverse)
Christie’s New-York, 9 November 2010
USD 9,042,500

The 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans are now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the same time he produced this series, he also produced less than a dozen of what Irving Blum called “early versions”, single canvases that are virtually identical to the ones included in the exhibition except for the absence of metallic paint. The present work is one of these “early versions”. Warhol had just started using silkscreen that year, which makes Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) among the earliest examples of the medium through which he would forever transform the landscape of late 20th Century art. Furthermore, in using the commercial process of silkscreen to render this seemingly banal subject and mediating it through a factory-based production system, Warhol questioned the sacrosanct notion of artistic subjectivity as well. The Ferus exhibition sparked heated criticism and even outrage from numerous critics and visitors, and catapulted Warhol and the challenge of Pop art into the public consciousness.

Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans and Other Works

Although the cans of Campbell’s soup appealed to Warhol’s deep design sensibility as well as being attracted to their infinite reproducibility and ubiquitous nature, they also had a deeply personal association for the artist. Famously, when Warhol was asked about why he chose to paint Campbell’s soup cans, he explained that it had personal significance to him as a consumer, “Because I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again. Someone said my life has dominated me; I liked that idea” (A. Warhol, quoted in I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, p. 18).

The critical reaction to the debut of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans was varied; some in the art establishment praised their freshness and modernity while others were less vociferous in their praise. In a letter to Warhol that Irving Blum wrote after the Ferus show, he enthralled Warhol with the impact the images were still having on him, “It would be rather beside the point to attempt to tell you how intensely your series of paintings continues to engage me. They are installed in my apartment and are a constant source of stimulation and pure pleasure. Thank you.” (as quoted in G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculptures 1961-1963, vol. 1, New York, 2001, p. 74.).

 

C for Camouflage


Following a decade that was dominated by new celebrity portraiture, Warhol’s Camouflage series returned the artist to a profound investigation of painting. In his rendering of a highly recognizable and culturally loaded pattern, Warhol debates the multifarious capacities of the medium: its ability to refer to moments and cultural sentiments outside itself, as well as its very nature as a set of abstract forms manipulated on the canvas. Fascinated with the near religious reverence afforded to painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko within his lifetime, this series can be linked conceptually with Warhol’s earlier Rorschach paintings and Oxidation series, in their challenge to the mysticism of a self-professed ‘non-referential’ Abstract Expressionism.

ANDY WARHOL
Camouflage (Blue), 1986
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
76×76 inches (193×193 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 11 May 2016
USD 2,890,000

Crafted with discrete calculation in a vision of variegated cool hues, Andy Warhol’s Camouflage (Blue) is one of the artist’s most powerful statements made through his counterintuitive adoption of a seemingly abstract pattern. Relishing in the irony of creating a substantive artwork out of a print intended for disguise and erasure, the artist delights in a new conceptual subject whilst maintaining the clear pop vision that secured his status as one of the greatest artists of all time. Painted a year before his unexpected death in 1987, Warhol’s Camouflage (Blue) exhibits paramount quality and composition within this important series and represents the artist’s enduring genius in his later career. Through a vibrant reframing of the familiar army print, Warhol conceptually positions himself as the ultimate master of appropriation, concluding the hybridization of high and popular culture that remains his greatest legacy to the history of art.

 

“Camouflage Paintings were the culmination of both his lifelong need to disguise himself and his career-long quest to come up with an art that would make the anti-Pop mandarins of the New York art world look at his work in a more favorable light…
Of course, Andy being Andy, he couldn’t resist tweaking even as he tried to please. ‘What can I do,’ he often asked his Factory workers, including me, ‘that would be abstract, but not really abstract?'”

(Bob Colacello, “Andy Warhol, Abstraction and the Camouflage Paintings,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Camouflage, 1997, p. 7)

In a perfect visual pun, Warhol uses the army print to wage a sarcastic war on Abstract Expressionism by embracing an elemental pattern that is highly connotative of its original utilitarian and militarized purpose, as well as subsequent uses in fashion – Pop’s greatest ally. Much like Jasper Johns’ iconic Flag paintings, the work is paradoxically purely abstract and highly referential. Camouflage (Blue) thus refers back to Warhol’s most essential obsession with a shared, mass-produced visual language. Warhol’s initial inspiration for using the ubiquitous print came from his studio assistant Jay Shriver who had been experimenting with painting through this mesh.  Of all his series of silkscreen paintings Warhol embraced perhaps the most variety in his use of screens and colors, working originally on a number of tracings from a single swatch of military fabric. At Rupert Smith’s silkscreen studio, Warhol would take great direction over the placement and composition of the screens. Whilst the overall effect is perhaps the most clean-cut amongst his oeuvre, the camouflage pattern allowed Warhol to experiment and exploit the potential for variation within the screen-printing process as well as the ambiguity of signs.

In the later years the camouflage print became a favored motif for Warhol. Acting as an enigmatic ground it appears in other significant silkscreen paintings including the iconic self-portraits from the same year as Camouflage (Blue), versions of which reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the present work the calming blues imbue the surface with a definite tranquility evocative of art historical references from Chinese landscapes to Monet’s Water Lilies. By arranging discrete fields of color, Warhol references the iconic late cut-outs of Henri Matisse. Exemplified in the masterpiece Polynesia, the Sky from 1946, Matisse’s revolutionary construction of varied mono-tone blue fields provided an abstracted evocation of the natural world. Echoing Matisse’s masterful flattening of perspective and mystification of viewpoint, Warhol indulges in the play between the entrenched cultural and immediate tonal connotations of a blue camouflage print: simultaneously it can be read as land, sea and sky, neatly articulating the endless ambiguity of seemingly clear-cut signs.

D for Dollar Signs


Warhol’s Dollar Signs are the ultimate manifestation of perhaps the most salient inquiry in Pop art history: the relationship between art and commerce. Warhol’s lifelong fascination with money as an ubiquitous symbol of wealth, power, and status spans his entire oeuvre as a key leitmotif and inextricably links his art with his own biography. As such, the Dollar Signs stand in direct reference to Warhol’s works from the early 1960s in which he first employed the silkscreen to transfer dollar bills onto canvases. Returning to this iconography as a mature artist in the 1980s, the Dollar Signs not only scrutinize the dichotomy between low and high art that is so quintessentially Warholian, but also confront the prominent American symbol as a potent visual instrument charged with ambiguous significance.

“American money is very well-designed, really. I like it better than any other kind of money. I’ve thrown it in the East River down by the Staten Island Ferry just to see it float.” 

Similar to his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, or images of mass-market consumables, such as the Campbell’s soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles, the Dollar Signs explore the universal recognizability and semiotic power of cultural icons that comprise everyday life.

Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, Leo Castelli Gallery, 142 Greene Street, January 1982

Dollar Sign perfectly captures Andy Warhol’s extraordinary ability to appropriate, subvert, and reinvent the motifs of consumer culture using his inimitable Pop aesthetic. Forming a part of the iconic Dollar Signs that were executed in 1981, the present work is a magnificent explication of one of Warhol’s primary, career-long, concerns: the social, cultural and creative potential of the American dollar as a signifier of status and wealth. Executed in monumental proportions, Dollar Sign is an absolute explosion of color and impresses through a mix of powerful and fluorescent orange, green, blue and lilac tones. The larger-than-life dollar sign is silkscreened in Warhol’s idiosyncratic printing technique against a sleek, flat background. While painterly in essence, the graphic quality is very much palpable through the vivid and expressive movement of line, particularly the hatchings visible in the lower half of the sweeping S shape.


ANDY WARHOL
Dollar Sign, 1981
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
90×70 inches (229 x 178 cm)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 1 December 2020
HKD 50,650,000 / USD 6,533,850

 

“I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.”

With an exceptional combination of color and line, Dollar Sign forms a stunning visual alliteration of Warhol’s iconic art/money dialectic. Articulated in expressive colors and extolling the graphic fluency of Warhol’s stylized dollar sign drawings, the present work is archetypal of the chromatic brilliance and graphic aesthetic that defines this celebrated series. Extremely rare, Dollar Sign is one of only a few works from this pivotal body of work that is signed by the artist himself.

Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, Leo Castelli Gallery, 142 Greene Street, January 1982

When first exhibited at Leo Castelli’s Greene Street Gallery in 1982, the seemingly endless succession of dollar signs on the wall transformed the space into a veritable temple of financial worship articulated in the artist’s inimitable palette of bright Pop colors. The deliberate repetition of an instantly recognizable icon of mass culture seemed to openly celebrate and embrace consumerism and commerce. Just as Warhol’s first exhibition of Flower Paintings at Castelli in 1964 had provoked critical debate for the repeated display of a singular subject, so did the Dollar Sign exhibition of 1982. At the time, art was still somewhat celebrated as an arena for “pious exclusivity” that was supposedly above and beyond the earthly or vulgar realm of monetary value. Warhol, however, seems to have anticipated the global art boom and the resulting influx of wealth that was about to define the 1980s, a period that would openly celebrate and even endorse the marriage of art and money.

Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, Leo Castelli Gallery, 142 Greene Street, January 1982

The juxtaposition of money and religion (and quintessentially money as religion) points towards Warhol’s very own biography. Growing up as the Catholic son of Slovakian immigrants in Pittsburgh, Warhol’s childhood was marked by both material deprivation and religious influence. After moving to Manhattan in 1949, he soon established himself as a commercially successful illustrator and escaped financial precariousness, yet his fascination and obsession with money would remain integral throughout his life. Similarly, Warhol’s interest in powerful religious symbols would steer many of his artistic choices, particularly during this late phase of his career; the most prominent example being his famous The Last Supper paintings from 1986. With the dollar sign, Warhol had ultimately found an object that was deified by contemporary society yet represented the epitome of capitalism. Relating to the Mao and Marilyns, the Dollar Signs are a potent display of a cult of worship and extoll an emblem that has become detached from its original meaning and acquired an autonomous, almost metaphysical status of its own.

Andy Warhol Dollar Signs, Leo Castelli Gallery, 142 Greene Street, January 1982

Representing the ultimate symbol of the late twentieth-century’s global capitalist society, the Dollar Sign stands alongside the Coca-Cola bottles, Campbell’s soup cans, and Brillo boxes within Warhol’s pantheon of iconic Pop art symbols. Created at a mature moment in his career in which the artist revisited and evaluated motifs from his earlier works, Dollar Sign is a rare, exceptional and monumentally sized example that displays the full gamut of Warhol’s creative and artistic potency. With its liberated playfulness, the present work is a magnificent anthology of Warhol’s individuated treatment of the dollar sign, and powerfully elucidates the artist’s enduring obsession with the graphic value and symbolic currency of money.

ANDY WARHOL
Dollar Sign, 1981
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
90×70 inches (229×178 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 16 May 2017
USD 7,191,500

Warhol not only understood money’s importance to the consumerist culture of postwar America, but he perfectly encapsulated the marriage of art and commerce that had begun to take effect at the dawn of the 1980s when the series was created. Thus, his Dollar Sign paintings have become evocative of the entire decade of the eighties, making overnight stars of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel among others. The paintings evoke the heady economic promises of so-called “Reaganomics,” the free market policies espoused by President Ronald Reagan at the beginning of the decade. This ushered in a prolonged period of rapid economic growth and a booming U.S. economy that has come to define that decade, and which Warhol’s Dollar Signs so perfectly signified. Warhol even attended the swearing-in of the new president on Tuesday, January 20th, 1981 in Washington, D.C.

Few artists made money their concern, on or off the canvas, as openly as Andy Warhol. He himself made many pronouncements on his fascination with the dollar both as a symbol and as something that he cherished, and so it was only natural that the symbol itself, one of the most recognised logos anywhere in the world, that international denominator of currency the Dollar Sign should enter the Pop pantheon of Warhol’s oeuvre. ‘American money is very well-designed, really. I like it better than any other kind of money,’ Warhol wrote, and this certainly would give him grounds enough to choose the Dollar Sign as a subject. Although he arguably undermined his statement by continuing, ‘I’ve thrown it in the East River just by the Staten Island Ferry just to see it float’ (Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and back again, San Diego, New York & London, 1977, p. 137).

A brilliant colorist, Warhol was particularly skilled in creating emotionally-resonant combinations of hues that oscillated between candy-colored and crass. Like the Marilyn “flavors” of 1962, which exhibited a veritable rainbow of brightly-colored canvases in Lemon, Orange, Cherry, and more, the Dollar Bills similarly demonstrate a rainbow-like variety, ranging from ethereal blue to lurid yellow and in the present work, a shimmering, ephemeral mirage of glittering gold, bright fuchsia, and dark black. That Warhol is able to marry such seemingly dissonant colors demonstrates the skill that he had honed for two decades, reaching a fever pitch in these spectacularly-colored, luridly-hued paintings.

 

DD for Death and Disaster


Warhol’s Death and Disasters series saw the artist penetrate the veneer of post-war American life to reveal the darker realities that lay beneath. Beginning in 1962, Warhol explored the theme of death through a variety of subjects, appropriating images from newspapers and magazines. Some of the photographs depict race riots, fatal car crashes, suicides, and nuclear explosions. Others are less obvious but no less powerful, such as the Electric Chair, Jackie and Knives series.

Andy Warhol created Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) in the summer of 1963, at the turn of his thirty-fifth birthday. Composed of two canvases, each over eight feet high and together spanning in excess of thirteen feet, it ranked among the most monumental and ambitious works he had ever undertaken. Indeed, there exist only three other Car Crash paintings of remotely comparable scale: Orange Car Crash 14 Times, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Black and White Disaster #4, Kunstmuseum Basel; and Orange Car Crash, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. It represents the zenith of the Death and Disaster corpus, a body of work that was then Warhol’s total focus, and which surely remains his most significant and enduring contribution to the course of Art History. In this groundbreaking year Warhol successively produced the series that comprise this seminal canon, which today read as a roll call of almost unfathomable artistic accomplishment: Suicides, Black and White Disaster, Early Serial Disasters, Silver Electric Chairs, Red Explosion, Tunafish Disasters, Race Riots, Burning Cars, 5 Deaths and Late Disasters.

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1963
Silkscreen ink and silver spray paint on canvas, in two parts
Overall: 105 x 164.2 inches (267.4 x 417.1 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 13 November 2013
USD 105,445,000

To stand in front of this work of art is to bear witness to events that exist beyond description: it is to be in the presence of something phenomenal. To contemplate the sheer vastness of its achievement is to enter a realm of experience rarely encountered in Art History. Enlisting the dimensions of a specific narrative to achieve a fundamental human universality, this work belongs to that rarest elite of historic masterpieces which have occasionally altered our deepest perception. Like its illustrious forbears of the epic History Painting genre, this work stands as both the most astute allegory of its era and the vital mirror to our present. Here exists something utterly essential, something that has always been and always will be integral to our human story. Here is an arena that exists both inside and outside of the present, a place where time seems suspended. It is the proposition of both a definitive end and an unending beginning. On the left there is the final instant: the permanent flash where the possibilities of existence have been extinguished. Freedom and independence lie lifeless in wreckage as definitive lament to the hopes of the future. All this is repeated over and over and each version is unique: the tragic occurrence and recurrence is never identical. Yet, however the reel of life differs, here is the moment that it is conclusively severed. The screen turns blank. On the right there is an ever-shifting silver ocean of promise: a reflection to our ever-changing current experience. The specific, unalterable finality of the past meets the abstract, permanent continuity of the present. Stories told give way to stories as yet untold.

Andy Warhol, Car Crash Fourteen Times, Museum of Modern Art, New-York

Of all the paintings in this spectacular outpouring of compulsive innovation, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is truly exceptional. It is one of only seven in the monumental, double-canvas format: in addition to the three Car Crashes mentioned above are Red Disaster, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Blue Electric Chair and Mustard Race Riot. As denoted by the corresponding titles, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) stands out from this pantheon of immense Death and Disaster works for its exceptional silver color, providing the expansive surface with a constantly adjusting, reflective quality that is absent from the single color acrylic grounds of the other paintings.

The incomparable nature of Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is further confirmed by the remarkable heritage of its provenance. Three venerated collectors have previously owned this painting: Gian Enzo Sperone, Charles Saatchi and Thomas Ammann, each of whose eminent collections famously included some of the most outstanding artworks of the Twentieth Century. Subsequently this painting has been held in the same private collection for the past quarter of a century and has been publicly exhibited only once in that time, at the Fondation Beyeler in 2000. When Andy Warhol created this work in 1963, forty-four percent of Americans owned a motor vehicle, nearly double the number of just twenty years before. Seven years prior in 1956, the US Congress had authorized the largest and most ambitious public works enterprise of the postwar era: a nationwide interstate highway system comprising over 40,000 miles of high-speed roadways. And in the eighteen years between the end of the Second World War and 1963, 620,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, on average almost one hundred people per day and more than the totals of all American casualties in the First and Second World Wars combined. Looming like an ever-present, seemingly indiscriminate scythe over Middle America’s new golden age of economic prosperity and everything it stood for, the car crash had quietly become the primal, devastating threat to an entire way of life.

Car Crash, circa 1978
Silkscreen ink on paper

This work’s execution belongs to an extraordinary shift in this most iconic of artistic careers, during which Warhol revolutionized the terms of popular visual culture. The ideal of the seminal Death and Disaster series, which was one of the most provocative, confrontational and brilliant projects undertaken by any artist in the transformative decade of the 1960s, this canvas epitomizes the monumental themes of Warhol’s career: namely an unprecedented artistic interrogation into the agencies of mass-media, celebrity and death. With deafening resonance Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) exclaims an immediately harrowing and intensely violent scenario: the instant aftermath of a brutal car crash. Within the composition the unmistakable corporeal outline of a single body is slung across the front seats of its deformed vehicle. The metallic expanse of the vehicle’s massive form accentuates the flesh-and-blood mortality of its ill-fated passenger. Intertwined with the deformed metal superstructure and jointly sprawled across the asphalt concrete is this twisted victim: man and machine having become fused together through mundane catastrophe. In more metaphorical terms, the harsh division between the gleaming automobile and the spectacularly crushed chassis is mediated by the strewn body, caught at the point between organized construction and chaotic destruction. Thus one of the great symbols of 1950s and 1960s America, a facilitator of individualism and a key signifier of social mobility, the automobile, becomes the devastating delivery system of indiscriminate fatality.

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) offers the nightmare, but also concurrently normalizes this dystopian vision of sanitized suburban brutality. Here import is incited not only by subject, but also by method, process and context. Silkscreened on spray-painted silver, the cinematic silver-screen expanse is revealed on the left through the patterned gradations of anonymous dots. In addition, Warhol faithfully reproduces the composition of the photojournalist, replicating the foreign aesthetic of a found image. The nature of this rendering is strategically impersonal. Here the mechanical silk-screen dot and absence of manual bravura silence the subject, at once evoking the production of newsprint photojournalism and the unceasing everyday phenomenon that the car crash had itself become.

 

E for Elvis


In September of 1963, Warhol travelled westwards for the opening of his exhibition at the Ferus Gallery. It would be his first time in Los Angeles, the source of all the celluloid fantasies and celebrities he had admired for so long. During the drive cross-county, he contemplated how few people had yet to ‘tune in’ to the glorious kitschiness of popular culture, concluding that, “Once you ‘got’ Pop you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop you could never see America the same way again” (A. Warhol & P. Hackett, ibid, p. 50). Warhol’s reputation was already established on the West Coast as one of the most important artists associated with the Pop art movement following the 1962 presentation of his Campbell’s Soup Can paintings at the Ferus Gallery. But this time Warhol tailored his work specifically for the context in which it would be displayed, using the serial quality of his art to reflect on the manufactured nature of celebrity and Hollywood’s most ingrained stereotypes.

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.

Triple Elvis (Ferus Type), 1963
Silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen
82 x 69 inches (208.3 x 175.3 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 11 November 2014
USD 81,925,000

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.

As well as the clarity of these images, Triple Elvis is also distinguished by the arrangement of the figures within the scope of the canvas. In most of his Elvis paintings, Warhol screens a number of images—ranging from singles to over eleven in one particular canvas—in a linear progression, some separated by a small amount of space between each screen, or others overlapping each other with varying degrees of intersection. In this painting we have three images, perfectly positioned within the canvas, with a degree of overlap but without the distortion that appears in some works from the series when the screens appear too close to each other. This use of repetition was an important strategy for Warhol. In Triple Elvis, the overlapping images are reminiscent of a film strip, individual frames containing a single image but when viewed together producing a sense of dynamism and movement. Elvis was also known as The King, a product of Hollywood and the mass media designed to be adulated and adored. By using an image of Elvis as a cowboy, Warhol also pays homage both to an existing American icon but also acknowledges Hollywood’s propensity for appropriation—taking existing cultural references and producing new works for a new audience.

For Triple Elvis Warhol selected a publicity image for a movie, Flaming Star, directed by Don Siegel. It is therefore all the more appropriate that Elvis is shown here against a silver background, a substitute for the silver screen. Warhol was a huge fan of cinema, so it was only natural that he took his idols from movie screen to silkscreen. In addition to recalling the silver of the cinema screen itself, the background of Triple Elvis gives the impression of opulence. The success of this aesthetic would be evidenced later in 1963 when the artist had to abandon his Firehouse studio, and set up the famous Factory, which he coated with silver paint and foil. The effect was a strange, almost-mirrored space that was glamorous and at the same time futuristic. It was like being inside a machine, a concept that particularly appealed to Warhol, who often stated that he wished to be a machine. Wealth, clinical practicality, glamor, science fiction—all these were referenced in the burnished walls of the Factory, and indeed in the background of Triple Elvis. In the silver of Triple Elvis there is also splendor as well as glamor. There is a religious feel to the silver, recalling some of the religious adornments that filled the Byzantine Catholic Churches of his youth. Here, Elvis is presented as the glistening new god for a more secular age, and Warhol has deliberately couched him in semi-religious trappings. Even the pistol leveled at the viewer could be a modern substitute for the lances, swords and spears of the Christian warrior saints.

 

E for Endangered Species


On the 12th April 1983 Andy Warhol walked up the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in New York with gallerist Ronald Feldman for the opening night of his latest exhibition, ‘Warhol’s Animals: Species at Risk’. Endangered Species: San Francisco Silverspot is an exemplary example from this iconic series that Warhol created to raise environmental awareness of ten endangered species. The idea for this body of work was born a year earlier when Warhol had a discussion with Feldman and his wife Frayda, art dealers and long-time political and environmental activists, about various ecological issues. Inspired by their talk and Warhol’s passion for such issues, the Feldmans, whose gallery Ronald Feldman Fine Art, New York was known for supporting innovative art projects and installations, commissioned Warhol to create a portfolio of ten silkscreen works titled ‘Endangered Species’. Warhol, who had an affinity and interest in animals, embraced the idea and selected an array of magnificently diverse animals from across the globe: Siberian Tiger, Bald Eagle, Orangutan, Grevy’s Zebra, Black Rhinoceros, Bighorn Ram, African Elephant, Pine Barrens Tree Frog, Giant Panda and the San Francisco Silverspot.

As a portfolio of prints, alongside individual works on canvas, many examples from the series were given to charities and sold at fundraising events concerned with the preservation of the natural world. Described by Warhol as ‘animals in makeup’, the endangered species were treated in the same typically, and by this time iconic, Warholian manner as his pantheon of stage and screen icons.

A national symbol of strength, courage, freedom, and immortality the bald eagle is proudly stamped across the coinage and official seals of the American government. While the national bird of the United States was largely thought to be chosen due to the founding fathers’ fondness for comparing their new republic to the Roman Republic in which eagle imagery was prominent, the bald eagle has long been central to the sacred religious and spiritual practices of many Native American cultures. Set against a boldly patriotic red, at first glance Andy Warhol’s Bald Eagle is a stately expression national pride. However, not dissimilar to his earlier depictions of the Statue of Liberty and the former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bald Eagle is anything but pomp and circumstance.

ANDY WARHOL
Bald Eagle, 1983
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
60×60 inches (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 1 December 2020
USD 4,350,000

A brilliant predator of the skies, the bald eagle exhibits the same bad boy persona as Warhol’s iconic depictions of Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley. As Benjamin Franklin, who famously proposed the turkey as the national bird of the United States, wrote, “For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him. With all this injustice, he is never in good case, but like those among men who live by sharping and robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy” (B. Franklin, letter to Sarah Bache, January 26, 1784, accessed as www.founders.archives.gov).

 

While it was once predicted that nearly 500,000 bald eagles graced the skies above North America, the eagles’ population began to significantly decline in the mid-twentieth century. Though the birds had been protected since the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Canada, the growing use of pesticides in the twentieth century lead to a rapid decline. While pesticides were not lethal to the adult eagles, many adults became sterile or unable to lay healthy eggs that became nearly impossible to hatch. Additional causes for the bald eagles decline have been attributed to widespread loss of habitat and both legal and illegal hunting. By the 1950s, it was believed that only 412 pairs of nesting bald eagles resided in the contiguous United States. Resultantly, in 1967 the United States declared their own national symbol an endangered species.

Set against a bold yellow backdrop, Warhol’s African Elephant is here articulated in screens of complimentary red-purple and grey that are overlaid with blue linear marks. The present work thus contains the uncanny amalgamation of Pop culture signifiers and the macabre that constitute Warhol’s distinctive idiom. Vivid and exuberant, the colours of the Endangered Species stand in tragic opposition to the existential plight that drove the series’ execution. This duality is prevalent throughout Warhol’s career, most memorably in the canvases of Marilyn Monroe. Just as the erasures and imperfections of Warhol’s mechanical silkscreens compounded Monroe’s human fragility and iconic media fame, African Elephant bears blurring, distortion, and shadow that formally mirror the precariousness of its existence. Analogous to Monroe perhaps, the African Elephant has been hunted for its trophy-like beauty and status to the point of utter annihilation.

 

ANDY WARHOL
African Elephant, 1983
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
60×60 inches (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Sotheby’s London: 7 March 2018
GBP 1,569,000

The Silverspot is a species of butterfly whose wings are eye-catching with a brown, tan, and black scalloped pattern on their surfaces and orange-brown with characteristic silver spots on the undersides. Here the flawlessly slick print shows Warhol as absolute technical master of the technique that he pioneered. He re-imagines the endangered butterfly, implementing a palette of Day-Glo colours, characteristic of his distinct Pop aesthetic. As it flutters gracefully among the sea of radiating white blades of grass, the butterfly of Endangered Species: San Francisco Silverspot is bejewelled with brilliant reds, greens, blues, and yellows. While painterly in essence, the graphic quality is very much palpable through the vivid and expressive movement of line. It is archetypal of the chromatic brilliance and cartoon-like aesthetic that defines the series.

ANDY WARHOL
San Francisco Silverspot, 1983
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
60×60 inches (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Sotheby’s London: 8 March 2017
GBP 1,688,750

By the time the present work was produced, Warhol had already achieved fame and fortune for his stylised silkscreen paintings of the 1960s and ’70s, which transformed images into high-art icons. He endlessly and obsessively repeated the likeness of celebrities, Pop culture icons, and mass media images over and over again, and in so doing, re-enacted the kind of mechanical reproduction of images that were splashed across the covers of newspapers and television screens. In his final decade he and his art had become synonymous with contemporary American culture itself, yet, this modus operandi took on another dimension when Warhol began appropriating images not only from contemporary mass culture, but from a plight that was not yet highlighted by American society. Indeed, the Endangered Species works affirm Warhol’s status as wry commentator who continually challenged the status quo of the art world and of society in general. It was this highly attuned sense of cultural behavior that allowed Warhol to create works, such as the Endangered Species series, that today remain deeply relevant.

 

F for Flowers


Andy Warhol’s Flowers are most probably Pop Art’s most iconic bodies of work…. In the half century since its creation, Warhol’s Flowers have infiltrated global consciousness as an emblem of classic American Pop and a moniker of sorts for the notoriously fame-obsessed artist. During the summer of 1964, Warhol executed canvases portraying this composition in formats measuring 82-, 48- and 24-inches square, intended for an exhibition with his new dealer Leo Castelli to open in New York in November. Castelli already represented the leading artists of the day, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Frank Stella; Warhol’s introduction into Castelli’s exclusive circle catapulted him into the highest echelons of artistic eminence and cemented his place in the canon of twentieth-century art history. Embracing a distinctive hyper-flatness that presaged Warhol’s later explorations in wallpaper, this body of work represented the culmination of his iconic Pop aesthetic before announcing his short-lived “retirement” from painting. Electric yet macabre, distinctive but mechanical, the Flowers marked a seminal chapter in Warhol’s career and are iconic relics of 20th century art history.

“But now it’s going to be flowers—they’re the fashion this year…
They’re terrific!”

ANDY WARHOL, Flower Paintings, Castelli 4 EAST 77, December 1964

Following a string of high-profile exhibitions that had cemented Warhol’s reputation as one of the leading figures of the burgeoning Pop movement, the artist joined Leo Castelli Gallery in early 1964. His previous attempt at showing with the pioneering gallerist in 1961 was rejected, but he was now granted the opportunity to share a historic roster with formidable art world personalities such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Frank Stella. Expertly talented in self-marketing, Warhol had cleverly focused his gallery presentations on a single subject or theme, including his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans and Elvis shows at Ferus Gallery in 1962 and 1963; the Death and Disaster series which debuted at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in January 1964; and his Brillo Box sculptures at Stable Gallery in April of that year.

With his inaugural Castelli exhibition slated for autumn 1964, the summer afforded Warhol the time and space to conceptualize a new body of work to symbolize this major professional turning point. Henry Geldzahler, the artist’s friend and then-curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visited Warhol while he was mulling over ideas at the Factory. “I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death,” Geldzahler recalled. “I said, ‘Andy, maybe it’s enough death now.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, how about this?’ I opened a magazine to four flowers.” Flipping to a page in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, the two saw a foldout of four photographs of seven hibiscus blossoms captured by the magazine’s executive editor, Patricia Caulfield.

Source material for the Flowers. The Archives of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Art. Artwork: © 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Rather than directly quote the entire page of the magazine, Warhol isolated four of the flowers in a more compressed crop, which he then transferred onto acetate and polarized the tonal range in order to increase sharpness. The original image accompanied an article about different Kodak processors and featured a glossy fold-out showing the same photograph, taken by executive editor Patricia Caulfield, repeated to illustrate chromatic variations corresponding to the different chemical processes, the repetitious nature of which no doubt appealed to Warhol’s particular interest in seriality. By 1965, Warhol was manufacturing up to eighty Flowers canvases per day, a tremendous feat in response to the heightened consumerist culture of the 1950s and 60s. The present work’s bright subject matter was a soothing relief from the unrelentingly morbid 1962-63 Death and Disaster series, in which the artist depicted photographs of car crashes, electric chairs, and suicides. Yet, the motif of the hibiscus is laden with the tragedy that permeates Warhol’s entire oeuvre. Hibiscuses signify beauty, and especially the fleeting nature of fame or personal glory, a symbolic meaning that would not have escaped Warhol.

While adapting the source photograph for painting, the artist made substantial alterations: he cropped it into a square composed of only four large flowers, rotated the individual blossoms, and then transferred his new composition to several non-uniformly sized screens. During this process, Warhol requested his assistant Billy Name-Linich “run the photo repeatedly through the Factory’s new photo stat machine” at least a dozen times because he “didn’t want it to look like a photo at all. He just wanted the shape, the basic outline, of the flowers.” Subsequently, the artist and his assistants applied continuous, flat planes of paint to the canvases before silkscreening the photographic representation on top.

ANDY WARHOL, Flower Paintings, Castelli 4 EAST 77, December 1964

Following his ultimate decision to present this new body of work at the exhibit, the Flowers were met with both critical and commercial acclaim, in addition to intense legal debate. Claiming that Warhol made unauthorized use of her photograph, Caulfield sued Warhol in 1966 for copyright infringement. The polarizing litigation attracted wide interest thanks to its deep-seated irony: the artist had built his career appropriating ubiquitous yet patented logos such as Coca-Cola bottles and cans of Campbell’s soup, but judicial issues arose only after his use of a photograph of a garden flower that he had heavily altered. Though she won her case, Caulfield’s suit paradoxically seemed to double down on the very concerns of post-modernism—questions of image ownership, reproduction, and originality—that had preoccupied Warhol throughout his oeuvre.

“Now We’re Doing My Flower Period!”

Imbued with Warhol’s idiosyncratic visual language, the Flowers are his contribution to one of art history’s richest genres: the age-old aesthetic heritage of flower painting. “With the Flowers,” Gerard Malanga expressed, “…he was kind of repeating the history of art. It was like, now we’re doing my Flower period! Like Monet’s water lilies, Van Gogh’s flowers, the genre.” Less interested in portraying a realist or gestural representation of blossoms than a modern, mechanical reproduction of a representation of them, Warhol’s flora are rendered in synthetic, fluorescent hues that eschew any evocation of nature.

Flowers, 1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen
81 3/4 x 81 1/2 inches (207.6 x 207 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 9 May 2022
USD 15,847,500

Despite Geldzahler’s hope that this seemingly ebullient subject matter would index a departure from Warhol’s death and tragedy tropes, Flowers has been interpreted as a funereal coda to his earlier work. The pitch-black background acts as a memento mori to the lively vibrancy of the blossoms it envelops, and Warhol’s macabre inclusion of his Jackie Kennedy portraits, which were appropriated from a photograph captured soon after her husband’s assassination, in the Castelli Flowers show lend them a similarly devastating connotation. “What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings (especially the very large ones) is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol’s art—the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer’s gaze,” the writer and curator John Coplans elucidated. “The garish and brilliantly colored flowers always gravitate toward the surrounding blackness and finally end in a sea of morbidity. No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one’s gaze, as if haunted by death.”

Despite the apparent decorative quality of Flowers, which doubtlessly appealed to Warhol in his effort to create truly popular art, the motif is laced with a preoccupation with mortality that permeates the artist’s entire oeuvre. Heiner Bastian writes: “[Warhol’s Flowers create] a virtual, painful stillness. Since they seemingly only live on the surface, in the stasis of their coloration, they also initiate only the one metamorphosis which is a fundamental tenet of Warhol’s work: moments in a notion of transience.

The flower pictures were for Everyman, they embodied Warhol’s power of concretization, the shortest possible route to stylization, both open to psychological interpretation and an ephemeral symbol. But the flowers…were also to be read as metaphors for the flowers of death. Warhol’s flowers resist every philosophical transfiguration as effectively as the pictures of disasters and catastrophes, which they now seem ever closer to. Forever striving to capture the intangible transience of fame, the blooming hibiscus signifies the fragility of life and ephemerality of fame but endures as a vibrant and exuberant moniker for the artist.

 

G for Guns


Gun unites two of the obsessions that characterize Pop legend Andy Warhol’s oeuvre: Americana and death. In this silkscreened rendering of a handgun’s slick form, mass consumption, mechanical reproduction, and violence elegantly intermingle. The painting belongs to a series depicting firearms that was produced by Warhol from 1981 to 1983, at a time when the artist’s critical success reached even more immense heights. In these late years in his life, Warhol engaged with a new host of ontologically loaded imagery, most notably guns, knives, and crosses. Enmeshed with notions of American democracy, glamour, and tragedy, guns are wielded by Tinsel town stars, Average Joes, and criminals alike. The latter category was at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the time of Gun’s creation just one year after John Lennon was assassinated and the same year that an assassination attempt was made on President Ronald Reagan. Gun violence was also a profoundly personal topic for Warhol, who suffered a traumatic shooting at the hands of feminist writer, Valerie Solanas, when she attempted to murder him in June of 1968. Thus Gun, bold and graphic, is at once a depiction of a detached and decontextualized symbol and also a deeply personal, cathartic working-through of a trauma that colored the last two decades of Warhol’s life. As with Warhol’s most compelling work, Gun leverages the superficies of American cultural icons to puncture real human depths.

 

ANDY WARHOL
Gun, 1981
Acrylic and silkscreen inks on canvas
70 x 90.1 inches (177.8 x 228.9 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 8 November 2015
USD 11,925,000

“Some people, even intelligent people, say that violence can be beautiful. I can’t understand that, because beautiful is some moments, and for me those moments are never violent” 

In the present work, a handgun is rendered as an iconic and highly evocative object. Its arresting red coloring could just as easily allude to blood as to Coca-Cola cans. The pistol is tilted to provide a three-quarter view, which allows the viewer to peer down the gun’s barrel. The gun has been depicted with meticulous detail; its sleek barrel reads “HI-STANDARD .22 CAL.,” a label that could be viewed as detached, imposing, or threatening or alternatively as providing a sense of safety and security. The pistol’s white highlights and bold black outlines evoke newsprint, calling to mind contemporaneous depictions of guns in tabloid stories and print advertisements. In the present work, the artist has overlaid two screens in a hallucinatory effect. This aesthetic reads like a blurred film still, calling to mind Warhol’s earlier homage to film noir in his 1962 paintings of a handgun-sporting James Cagney (based on a still from gangster movie Angels with Dirty Faces) as well as the artist’s 1963 Triple Elvis [Ferus Type]. The “double-vision” at work also alludes to the artist’s psychic discombobulation after having been shot by Valerie Solanas.

 

 

 “Since I was shot, everything is such a dream to me. I don’t know what anything is about” 

Of course, death and violence were not new topics for Warhol; these were distinctive and recurrent themes that ran through his oeuvre. The artist became obsessed with news reports of violent deaths in the early 1960s. In an attempt to both exorcise the tragic and disturbing images that dominated the media cycle and paint a psychological portrait of a nation always hungry for the next tragedy, Warhol commenced his Death and Disasters series. These works depict decontextualized, repeating car crashes and suicides among other morbid imagery in a cool silkscreen style. Around the same time, the artist was making paintings in tribute to Marilyn Monroe, who had died in 1962; these works sought to both canonize her and deconstruct her celebrity persona in the wake of her death.

In the 1970s on the heels of the 1968 attempt on his life, Warhol produced a series featuring repeating images of a human skull in a contemporary take on the memento mori as represented in 17th century Spanish and Dutch Vanitas paintings. The cheerful high-key coloring of these works puts them at odds with their macabre content.

“I can’t say anything about [death] because I’m not ready for it”

Decontextualized and somewhat abstracted depictions of knives, guns, and crosses—what has been referred to as an unholy trinity—were to follow in the 1980s. To the artist, these emblems were deeply embedded in the American psychology at that time; in particular, Warhol viewed the handgun as a distinctly American object. Warhol’s personal diaries from the period revealed an increasing preoccupation with dying, referencing in their dry, anxious tone both death in the news and death among figures in his personal life.

ANDY WARHOL
Gun, 1981
Graphite on paper
23.5 x 32 inches (59.7 x 81.3 cm)
Signed and dated ‘Andy Warhol 81’ (lower left)

While guns personally affected Warhol at the time of the 1968 assassination attempt and 1981 death threat, both events that likely inspired the making of Gun, firearms were simultaneously at the fore of the contemporary collective American consciousness. In 1963 in Dallas, John F. Kennedy was assassinated using a mail-order gun; this tragic event prompted citizens to question the nation’s firearm regulatory policies. Subsequent assassinations of major figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X made congressional action a necessity, and the Gun Control Act, which regulated interstate gun sales, was passed in 1968. The 1980 assassination of John Lennon and the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in the nation’s capital led to the amending of the 1968 Gun Control Act with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, which mandated background checks on buyers of firearms. Gun regulation has remained a hot-button issue in the United States. At the time of Gun’s creation, the gun debate was as au courant as it is today; Warhol is nothing if not eternally contemporary.

On one level, Gun captures the simplistic American glamour of guns. A seductive and streamlined prop, the red firearm echoes Hollywood culture and Warhol’s early depictions of it in such seminal works as Cagney and Triple Elvis. Yet on another level, Gun is the work of a mature Warhol. It is a testament to an artist traumatized by personal experiences of gun violence—threats on his life—and affected by the impassioned national conversation surrounding firearms that followed a series of high-profile assassinations. At the same time, the cool, impassive work doubles as a documentarian effort to capture the 1980s American consciousness. Like a bullet, the loaded Gun ricochets between detachment and engagement, between superficiality and depth, never quite settling on one, forever drolly ambiguous: definitively Warholian.

ANDY WARHOL
Untitled (Gun)
From the ‘Guns and Knives’ series
Unique Polaroid
3 x 4.6 inches (7.8 x 11.7 cm)

Throughout his life Andy Warhol was obsessed with idea of death and at times was almost overcome by a paralyzing fear of dying. Worries about his own mortality are present to a greater or lesser degree in a large number of his works, but none demonstrate it so clearly as his Gun paintings from 1981-82. This large picture with its multiple images of a menacing revolver dominate the surface of the canvas. The repeated images of the pistol mimic the slow-motion action of the gun being prepared for firing, becoming a fetishized object which conveys both power and death. Yet when viewed in the company of Warhol’s earlier bold canvases from the early 1960s its sleek and shiny surface presents itself as another desirable consumer object, implying that Warhol has joined in the adulation of this product of industry and technology. The very process by which Guns has been created, through the transferal of a photographic source to silkscreen, illustrates Warhol’s participation in a similar industrial process. This is an artform that is perfectly suited to the era of factories and capitalism; yet the cool, objective distance that Warhol maintained in creating Guns is itself ironic. Warhol appears here to engage in the entire visual language of weaponry, of the gun as a status symbol, as a tool that begets violence; which is all the more pertinent because Warhol, whose pictures often touched upon the subject of death, had deeply personal associations with guns.

 G for Ladies and Gentleman


H for Hammer and Sickle


Hammer and Sickle is among the most historically potent, culturally significant, and viscerally charged paintings from the inimitable oeuvre of Andy Warhol. Bristling with the explosive energy of communism’s universally recognizable motif, Warhol’s emphatic rendering of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic and emblematic symbols confronts the viewer with a provocative bravura that rivals that of the artist’s quintessential Pop images of Campbell’s Soup Cans, Marilyn Monroe, and the like. Remarking upon this tension in the Hammer and Sickle paintings, critic George Frei notes, “The present series takes a less direct and more complex stand by showing the logo of the American manufacturer and thus marking the tools as products of a free market economy. The representation takes a different tack: the once political emblem has been dismantled into its original components. As in a classical still life, the objects have no secrets, no ulterior meaning: a hammer is a hammer, a sickle is a sickle. Created long before glasnost and perestroika, these works seem to us today almost like a prophetic prediction.” (Georg Frei, “Hammer and Sickle – A Painterly Manifesto,” in Exh. Cat., Zurich, Thomas Ammann, Andy Warhol: Hammer and Sickle, 1999n.p.)

ANDY WARHOL IN HIS STUDIO, NEW YORK, JANUARY, 1983.
PHOTO BY CURTIS KNAPP / GETTY IMAGES

ANDY WARHOL
Hammer and Sickle
, 1976
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
72.2 x 86 inches (183.5 x 218.4 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 16 May 2022
USD 6,414,200

A superb example from a limited body of large-scale Hammer and Sickle canvases measuring 72 by 86 inches, the present work is one of the only paintings executed in the eruptive red-on-red ground seen here. Further distinguished by its storied provenance, the present work originally belonged to famed patron of the arts Carlo Bilotti. Bilotti, the Italian-American perfumier who would later donate his collection to the city of Rome to form the Museo Carlo Bilotti, often became close friends with artists he commissioned, including Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, and Warhol. Indeed, one of Warhol’s rare double portraits was commissioned by Bilotti of his wife and daughter in 1981, and its intimate depiction of the sitters bespeaks their close and lasting relationship with the artist. The present work, executed a few years previously, is inscribed to Bilotti on the reverse. In a searing blaze of incandescent scarlet pigment and crisply delineated shadows, Hammer and Sickle enacts a captivating conflict between the propagandistic fervor of communist Russia and the quintessentially American production of the artist’s Pop oeuvre, transforming the blazing logo into an ironic Warholian emblem.

SOURCE MATERIAL FOR THE PRESENT WORK, A HAMMER AND SICKLE PHOTOGRAPHED WITH ANDY WARHOL’S MARKINGS. ART © 2022 THE ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK

Warhol’s consumption and subsequent re-appropriation of communist symbolism into his legendary Pop vernacular—both physical, as in Hammer and Sickle, and metaphorical, as in his renderings of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong and Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin—profoundly refocused the artist’s ground-breaking aesthetic energies on the political realities of his time. His inspiration for the contentious Hammer and Sickle series came in 1975, as the artist was touring Italy for the opening of his Ladies and Gentlemen exhibition at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara. Upon viewing the radical Italian left’s ecstatic embrace of his portraits of African and Latin American transvestites, Warhol wryly remarked, “Maybe I should do real Communist paintings next. They would sell a lot in Italy.” (Bob Colacello, Holy Terror, Andy Warhol Close Up, New York 1990, p. 228) Indeed, in the mid-1970s, the communist emblem of a blunt hammer superimposed on the razor-sharp arc of a sickle was the most conspicuous graffito in the streets of Milan and Rome; despite the establishment of Italy’s democratic government following World War II, the instantly legible symbol still enshrined an anti-establishment fervor and anti-capitalist ideology.

Upon his return to the Factory, Warhol charged Ronnie Cutrone, a trusted studio assistant, to track down a suitable source image of the motif from Soviet paraphernalia. As the latter recounts, he searched through New York’s “Red” bookshops but could not find anything appropriate: “They were too flat or too graphic. The answer was to go down to Canal Street, into a hardware store, and buy a real hammer and sickle. Then I could shoot them, lit with long, menacing shadows, and add the drama that was missing from the flat-stencilled book versions… It always amused me that Andy, the ultimate Capitalist, and me, the ultimate Libertarian, could be suspected of communist activity.” (Ronnie Cutrone cited in Exh. Cat., New York, C&M Arts, Hammer and Sickle, 2002, n.p.)

ANDY WARHOL
Hammer and Sickle, 1976
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
71.7 x 86.1 inches (182.2 x 218.8 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 18 May 2017
USD 5,525,000

Famous for his droll ambiguity and characteristic preoccupation with artifice, Warhol, in his Hammer and Sickle paintings, once again effortlessly straddles the seemingly antithetical poles of superficiality and penetrating social commentary. Running parallel to the poignant political import of the imagery in the series lies an underlying challenge to canonical art history’s most conventional and traditional genre: the still life. By artfully positioning the purchased hammer and sickle upon a draped white surface, re-arranging and re-lighting with exacting precision, Warhol wryly invokes the precariously balanced compositions and mesmerizing trompe l’oeil of eighteenth-century still life painters. In Warhol’s hands, the hammer and sickle are reduced to a manufactured product that simply reverberates with a highly charged symbolic potency; the most archetypal symbols of socialism are demoted to consumerist objects, dispersing the explosive political charge of the imagery while concomitantly locating it within a broader art-historical and critical framework. A truly magnificent work from Warhol’s most politically potent and indelibly totemic series, Hammer and Sickle is a profound and enduring testament to Warhol’s legacy as the consummate history painter of the modern age.

I for the American Indian


Executed in 1976, The American Indian (Russell Means) offers a rare and prescient synthesis of Andy Warhol’s unparalleled devotion to popular culture and his adoption of germane political imagery in his artistic output. Produced with Warhol’s semi-mechanical silkscreen technique, the present work embodies the apex of the artist’s signature style. Conceived of as a project with West Coast dealer and Ace Gallery owner Doug Chrismas, the series to which the present work belongs contains 38 paintings and 23 drawings. At 84 by 70 inches, The American Indian (Russell Means) is one of only twelve of the largest format paintings, which Warhol granted Chrismas the exclusive rights to sell for the first ten years after the series’s inception. Other examples of this size reside in important collections, such as the Denver Art Museum, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the Dayton Art Institute. Acquired shortly following its execution, the present work has remained in the same private collection since it was purchased from Chrismas. Impressive in its monumentality and rich, expressive and painterly surface, the present example is among the very best from the series, notable for the clarity, precise alignment of its screen, and variegated, vibrant color palette.

ANDY WARHOL
The American Indian (Russell Means), 1976
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
84.2 x 70 inches (214 x 177.8 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 16 May 2019
USD 6,300,000

The subject of the series, Russell Means, a member of the Lakota tribe, led the American Indian Movement during the highly publicized, seventy-one-day siege of the town of Wounded Knee, the infamous site of an 1890 massacre of the Lakota by a U.S. Cavalry regiment, as protest of the U.S. government’s alleged tribal mistreatment. A focus of intense media scrutiny, the siege garnered significant attention in Hollywood, resulting in avid celebrity activism. Marlon Brando famously refused to accept his 1973 “Best Actor” Oscar for The Godfather because of Hollywood’s role in degrading the Indian and making mockery of his character. Despite its thematic continuity, The American Indian (Russell Means)’s loosely painted surface illustrates a shift in Warhol’s practice in the 1970s.

RUSSELL MEANS SHAKING HANDS WITH U.S. ASSISTANT ATTOURNEY GENERAL KENT FRIZZELL, SIGNING AN AGREEMENT TO END THE AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT’S OCCUPATION OF WOUNDED KNEE, 1973. PHOTO © BETTMANN / GETTY IMAGES.
In 1976, Andy Warhol took a photograph of the famous Lakota activist, Russell Means. Warhol waved his Pop wand over the resultant image, converting it into his own unique visual style and thereby admitting Means to his ever-swelling pantheon of Twentieth Century themes and characters. Executed that year, The American Indian shows this Pop apotheosis Means is shown against a lurid green background; his chest is pink, and his face is shown in a color all too easily associable with the word ‘redskin’. Means appears as the archetypal American Indian not in an ideal sense, but instead in the sense of the American imagination and popular culture– he has been converted into a Hollywood Indian, into a stereotype.

At first glance, The American Indian appears to be less a portrait than a picture of a facet of American culture, another icon pillaged from the vast iconographic quagmire of the capitalist world. Warhol has lulled us into a false sense of security by presenting us with an image that could be straight from the cover of a pulp Western novel or a cheap film, yet by showing Means, who was a well-known activist, in this way, he forces us as viewers to question our reactions to the image, our associations with the theme. Warhol points to our own reflexes, highlighting the rapidity with which we pigeonhole this image. This is a reaction made all the more apparent because of the supposedly superficial gloss of Warhol’s own art. For while he has celebrated many aspects of American culture from Coca Cola to Campbell’s Soup to the dollar bill via Elvis, Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor, there has always been a darker undercurrent that disrupts our presumptions, forcing us to reappraise the world of images that we take for granted. Despite his own denials, there is a weight to Warhol’s work that lurks, hidden, underneath the colourful sheen of the surface. Like quicksand, once we are beyond that surface we are engulfed in complexity and paradox. Warhol deliberately tricks the viewer into seeing The American Indian as a stock character, and then plays on the awkward feelings that a little context provokes.

ANDY WARHOL
The American Indian (Russell Means), 1976
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, in three parts
Each: 50×42 inches (127 x 106.7 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 19 May 2022
USD 6,184,400

It was only in 1991 that he became an actor, starring in Michael Mann’s adaptation of Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. There is an unavoidable whiff of the mischievous in Warhol’s lurid portrayal, with Means is presented as a stock character in his native finery. The persona of the activist and lecturer is bulldozed out of the way by Warhol’s style, his manner of transforming an image, the bright Pop palette. Instead, The American Indian appears superficial, a very Pop Indian, a cliché from the same world that Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger inhabit. Warhol has managed to turn Russell Means into the very thing that he protests against. Yet Warhol creates these associations in order to highlight them.

Even today, the image of the American Indian from the Wild West is endemic and was much more so in the 1970s when The American Indian was created. Be it in the form of the savage of the early Westerns or the mystical, shamanic presence of the later ones, the Native American is in a sense a construct of the American imagination, a fiction that all too conveniently glosses over the rights and heritages of hundreds of aggrieved peoples. The stereotype of the American Indian is, even when it is meant to be ennobling, a reductive construct. This is a product of the European newcomer, the invader, and no-one is more aware of it than Means himself. In a speech he made only a few years after The American Indian was created, he pointed out that this construct pervades the American cultural consciousness even at a linguistic level:

In The American Indian, Warhol forces the viewer to navigate the ambiguities of this construct, of this heritage, of the history and presumptions and disinformation and injustice all of which are associated with the past of the native Americans. The Wild West remains one of the richest seams of story and history in the United States, a unique arena in which epic struggles between men and with the elements were fought out. It is for this reason that the cowboys and Indians became so central to American culture. These were new and original characters, unique to the United States, new archetypes at the centre of American myth, and this is reflected in the penny dreadfuls, the novels, the films, the history, the tourism… It is therefore only natural that the Wild West appeared many times one way or another in Warhol’s oeuvre. Be it in his pictures of Elvis, based on publicity stills for the film Flaming Star, or in Warhol’s own film, Lonesome Cowboys, the West was far too rich a source of images and themes to be left alone by this scavenger Pop artist. However, The American Indian is one of the only times that Warhol looked at the other side of the coin, at the Indian not the cowboy. Where in other places he used these subjects as themes in which to undermine the machismo traditionally associated with the West (kissing cowboys, camp Elvis), The American Indian reveals the usually inscrutable and apolitical artist producing an image in which the tension that arises from the discrepancies between content and context is wholly relevant, political and deeply human.

ANDY WARHOL AT THE OPENING OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN SERIES AT ACE GALLERY, PARIS, OCTOBER 1976. PHOTO © COURTESY OF ACE GALLERY. ART © 2022 ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK

The American Indian (Russell Means) simultaneously proffers Means as a cultural icon and essentializes him, flattening his individuality to the character type of an “American Indian.” Though he positions his body three-quarters away from viewers, Means faces them straight-on: he turns his head to meet their gaze. There is a solemnity to his expression; his right eyebrow raised slightly, as if to acknowledge viewers’ presence, but he bears no hint of a smile. His unflinching stature carries a gravitas that bespeaks his authority within his community, and he consumes the entirety of the canvas, demanding viewers’ full attention. Cropping the portrait to Means’ bust—and therefore adopting the legacy of bust-portraiture, a form typically reserved for Western history’s great leaders—elevates Means’ status for Western viewers. Doing so also lends a sense of celebrity to Means’ image, for it places the portrait in line with Warhol’s many portraits of celebrities and cultural icons, nearly all of whom he removes from their context and crops into a high-keyed, flat backdrop. Warhol emphasizes Means’ dominant facial features: his defined bone structure and his piercing, focused gaze. Unlike many of his other series of portraits—such as MarilynMao, and Ladies and Gentlemen—which he decorates with makeup-like face paints, Warhol renders Means’ face with a monochromatic wash of color. Given the widespread trope of face paint in stereotypes of Native Americans, Warhol’s refrain from stylizing Means’ face with various tones of paint is particularly curious. Warhol uses Means’ accoutrements as an arena for color play instead, coating his subject’s hair with bright blue pigment, swashing his jacket with thick strokes of cadmium yellow, dousing his shirt and collar in turmeric and basil hues, and striping his jacket’s edges with dashes of bubblegum pink.

J for Jackie


ANDY WARHOL
Jackie, 1964
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
20×16 inches (50.5 x 40.6 cm)
Signed ‘Andy Warhol’ (on the reverse)
Signed again twice ‘Andy Warhol’ (on the overlap)

Provenance
Jeffrey Warhola, New York, gift of the artist
His sale; Christie’s, New York, 10 May 2006, lot 183
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

 

Christie’s New-York: 14 November 2018
USD 1,302,500

Source: Christie’s
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) (christies.com)

 

Painted just months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963, Andy Warhol’s Jackie remains one of his greatest and most iconic paintings. In Jackie, Warhol immortalizes the moment before the president’s death on that chilly autumn afternoon in Dallas, Texas. Clad in her fashionable pink Chanel suit and coordinating pillbox hat, with her hair slightly tousled by the wind, Jackie is caught in a frozen smile as she arrives with the president at Love Field. Warhol forces attention towards Jackie’s face, closely cropping the original news photograph that’s become synonymous with the event itself. In this particular example, one also clearly glimpses the unmistakable profile of John F. Kennedy himself in the upper left corner, flashing a beaming smile just before the motorcade began its fateful journey toward Dealey Plaza. The relaxed air of nonchalance of the presidential couple that Warhol highlights in Jackie remains all the more chilling considering the harrowing events that inevitably followed. Cloaked in an ethereal veil of pale cerulean blue, Jackie is a poignant snapshot that lingers with the calculating mix of tragedy, glamour and celebrity that pervades Warhol’s best work. Like his portraits of Marilyn and Liz, Warhol highlights the tragic beauty of Camelot’s queen, seizing upon the media frenzy that dominated nearly every major news outlet in the hours and days following Kennedy’s death.

In Jackie, Warhol celebrates an American archetype, presenting a stylish and youthful first lady. This is the “Jackie” so beloved by the American public. A venerable fashion icon, her effortless elegance and classic sense of style galvanized the nation during the early years of the 1960s. In Jackie, she epitomizes the youth, vitality and glamour of Camelot. She wears the pink Chanel suit and matching pillbox hat with her hair done in a fresh flip, and her face displays a casual and effortless smile. The pink Chanel suit that Jackie wore on that fateful day, made from a strawberry-colored wool bouclé, was one of the president’s favorites, and has become synonymous with the event itself. (Jackie famously refused to take it off despite it being stained with the president’s blood). Rather than depict the image in full color, however, Warhol turns the image into its ghostly opposite, rendering the scene in a wash of pale blue acrylic that he hand-painted with a wide brush. Warhol reserved only three colors for the Jackie series—blue, white and gold—and critics have compared his portrayal to the religious icons of his youth. The contrast of the original source image is heightened to create a more dramatic effect, and the background of the painting is utterly seeped in darkness. The first lady’s image is locked into place by silkscreen ink, captured in photographic precision, and frozen in time.

SOURCE IMAGES FOR JACKIE SERIES, 1963-64, © 2021 THE ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS, INC. / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK AND DACS, LONDON

Of the eight different photographs that Warhol selected for the Jackie series, only two of them depict a smiling, youthful Jackie. The others are taken from photographs of a stunned and somber woman aboard Air Force One as Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president, and then at the funeral of John F. Kennedy three days later. In the weeks and months following Kennedy’s assassination, Warhol and his assistant Gerard Malanga carefully monitored the news, gathering materials from newspapers and magazines. By the end of February of 1964 (just over two months after the assassination), Warhol had selected the final eight images that would define the Jackie series. These included photographs from the New York Daily News (November 25, 1963), Life magazine (December 6, 1963) and a special commemorative magazine called Four Dark Days (Special Publications, Los Angeles, 1963). The cinematic images that Warhol selected have a storytelling aspect to them, essentially functioning as “bookends” to the assassination. While they never actually reveal the moment when the president was shot, the attest to the moments of terror, anxiety and grief that collectively gripped the nation.

SOURCE IMAGES FOR JACKIE SERIES, 1963-64, © 2021 THE ANDY WARHOL FOUNDATION FOR THE VISUAL ARTS, INC. / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK AND DACS, LONDON

Warhol was keenly attuned to the barrage of photographs and videos that were endlessly repeated throughout the news cycle as the American public came to terms with Kennedy’s death. The three major networks stayed on the air for seventy hours in a row (a news event marathon only surpassed by coverage of the 911 Terror Attacks). Warhol, along with the nation at large, relied upon Mrs. Kennedy as their “emotional barometer” in the days following the assassination, and indeed her displays of public mourning are some of the most remarkable images of the twentieth century. Whether standing grimly beside Lyndon B. Johnson on Air Force One or shrouded behind a black veil at the president’s funeral a few days later, Jackie Kennedy mourned her husband while in full display of the entire world. In many ways, Kennedy’s death enshrined Jackie as a secular saint, and Warhol almost immediately perceived the power and gravitas of her position.

“When President Kennedy was shot that fall, I heard the news over the radio while I was alone painting in my studio… I’d been thrilled having Kennedy as president; he was handsome, young, smart—but it didn’t bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way the television and radios were programming everybody to feel so sad… It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from the thing.” 

Warhol had famously remarked after the president’s death. But his callous comment stemmed from the media’s handling of the event. Their constant barrage of photographs and video were essentially repeated in a 24-hour loop. The same few images were run over and over in a mind-numbing succession. In response, Warhol created literally hundreds of Jackies, and when he displayed them later that year at the Castelli gallery, nearly one year to the day of Kennedy’s assassination, he showed 42 of them in a grid-like arrangement, as if to parallel the media saturation.

“The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away and the better and emptier you feel.”

Andy Warhol’s Jackie is a compelling work of exceptional quality: a tour de force of the artist’s singularly ability for re-appropriation while simultaneously manipulating a silkscreen to convey an underlying message. Here, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis beams into the camera after arriving at Dallas Love Field airport on November 22nd, 1963: the day that her husband, United States President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Moments after this photograph was taken, the couple would begin a limousine journey that would be interrupted by the most significant assassination of the Twentieth Century. The most striking aspect of this work is the vibrant smile that adorns the face of the First Lady. The innocence of her happiness fills us with dread; her radiance suffuses the work with an inescapable mood of impending morbidity and portentous doom. This is only heightened by the almost illegible rendering of J.F.K. in the upper left of the canvas. Only the faintest outlines of his facial features in profile can be made out, casting him with a ghostlike quality: a foreshadowing of the tragic event just on the horizon.

It is a tribute to the efficacy of this corpus that seven of the 34 Jackies which Warhol created are held in prestigious museum collections, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This iteration of the Jackie source imagery should be considered as the pictorial pinnacle of the motif, which is itself one of the most celebrated images of Andy Warhol’s iconic 1960s praxis. In its technical execution it delivers a masterclass in Warhol’s trademark screenprinting technique, while in its content, it can be identified as perhaps the most emotive portrait of the First Lady by the artist. Unlike those images of Jackie at her husband’s funeral, in this work we understand the joy of her married life, and as such, better comprehend the poignancy of its abruptly curtailed conclusion.

 

‘He was handsome, young, smart, but it didn’t bother me that much that he was dead,’ Warhol once said of President John F. Kennedy. ‘What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from the thing.’ In the aftermath of the President’s assassination in 1963, the artist began working on a series of portraits of Kennedy’s widow, appropriating media imagery to produce more than 300 works featuring the former First Lady.

 

Jackie, 1964
Silkscreen on canvas
20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Phillips New-York, 15 May 2014
USD 3,077,000

 

Always good for a quote, Warhol once quipped: ‘I am a deeply superficial person’. Some critics found his personality — and his art — shallow, pointing especially towards his ‘society portraits’ from the Seventies. Jimmy Carter, O.J. Simpson and Jane Fonda were among the stars who sat for Polaroid photographs, which he later converted into silkscreen canvases. These weren’t so much artistic analyses of fame, as his visions of faded stars in the Sixties had been (see ‘K’ and ‘M’) — rather, these appeared to be straight homage paid by one celebrity to another.

 

K for Knives


From the outset, Warhol’s artistic practice has been driven by his obsession with the spectacle of death: both as explicit horror in the Death and Disaster series, and as implicit tragedy in Electric ChairsMarilyns and Jackies. Beginning before his first silkscreens with his earliest Pop paintings such as 129 Die in Jet! from 1962, Warhol has been keenly aware of and fascinated by death, disaster, and the ability of the media to both sensationalize and normalize such tragedy. Turning ubiquity and banality into high art, Warhol’s practice monumentalizes the ordinary while simultaneously acknowledging through its own production how the media generates images of violence through a framework that divorces the image from the aggression and cruelty of the event. Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of weapons of violence. Warhol’s paintings of Knives and Guns in the early 1980s present an extension of this fascination, yet while Warhol’s previous investigations focus on the moments surrounding death – frozen on the faces and postures of his subjects – Warhol here shifts away from such specificity and instead hones in on the object itself. This unflinching obsession with the weapon endows it with an uncompromising universality and betrays the intense awareness of his own mortality that overtook Warhol during the final decade of his life.

Thrumming with drama and haunting intensity, the veiled silhouette of six kitchen knives in the present work confronts the viewer with stark, menacing immediacy. While Warhol’s fascination with the spectacle of death was a recurrent motif throughout his career, it was in the 1980s that Warhol’s growing concerns over his own impending mortality became a subject of his work more explicitly. No series demonstrates this fascination with the drama and proximity of death so clearly as his Gun and Knives paintings from 1981-82, the body of work which also heralded Warhol’s triumphant return to painting in his studio full-time.

ANDY WARHOL
Knives
, 1981-82
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
90×70 inches (228.6 x 177.8 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 29 June 2020
USD 2,300,000

Warhol’s choice of weapons as subjects with which to reignite his late career was particularly poignant and was charged with the artist’s acute awareness of these objects’ potential for destruction following the attempt on his life by Valerie Solanas in 1968.

Sleek and seductive, Warhol’s signature monochrome silkscreen both elevates and fetishizes the knife as an object, culminating in a composition that confronts the viewer with a startingly sinister intensity. Enlarged and mechanically repeated in six overlapping impressions across the canvas, the black silhouetted forms hover menacingly against a silvery white background. In their careful arrangement, the blades appear to coalesce into a single, cavernous black apex, the tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression and lack of depth inherent to the medium amplifying their intrigue And yet, the Warholian brilliance of this chosen subject matter is that Warhol’s knives are, in fact, a domestic household utensil, as universal as his consumerist Coca-Cola bottles or Campbell soup cans. Warhol transforms the familiarity and dull ubiquity of this quotidian object into the sleek bladed, heavy handled subject of high art, endowing these standard kitchen utensils with a startling, seductive grandeur and menacing threat. And further, through serial repetition, Warhol both neutralizes the subject matter and amplifies its threat. He reminds us of the proximity of our own mortality, while also showcasing the anesthetizing power of the mechanical reproduction of images. With devastating efficiency, Warhol’s Knives both seduces and chills with a stunning aesthetic and sinister macabre.

L for Last Supper 


“Church is a fun place to go.”

Andy Warhol’s singular brand of social critique, acerbic wit and deadpan irony is exquisitely exemplified in the radiant image of The Last Supper, deriving from the last and most significant series the artist executed before his death in 1987. The Last Supper paintings are not only Warhol’s last and largest series, but also the “largest series of religious art by any American artist,” marking the present work as a unique late treasure within Warhol’s prolific career. Fine Art, Pop Art, celebrity and fame all intermingle in this iconic mass-produced picture of one of the most canonical images in art history: the highly venerated masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. Warhol combined Pop culture and art history by choosing one of the most famous and widely reproduced paintings in the world and rendered it with vibrant Pop colors. In this way, not only does Warhol pay homage to the Renaissance master, but he also dares to place himself in that same lineage, a prophetic move made all the more poignant by the fact that Warhol would be dead only a month after these paintings were completed.

ANDY WARHOL
Last Supper, 1986
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
40×40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 16 May 2017
USD 18,727,500

Created specifically for Iolas’s inaugural show in Milan, twenty of Warhol’s numerous Last Supper works were strategically exhibited across the piazza from Santa Maria delle Grazie, the home of Leonardo’s original work, in an effort to recontextualize the original fresco. Warhol’s attendance at this show would be his last public appearance before his death later in 1987. Hailed as a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo’s The Last Supper marks a pinnacle of artistic achievement and is a paradigm of one-point linear perspective. One-point linear perspective was innovative in that it articulated space and depth in a two-dimensional plane, and here draws viewers’ attention to a single vanishing point around the central figure of Christ.

In his rendition of Leonardo’s masterpiece, Warhol nullifies this technical triumph, compressing Leonardo’s trompe l’oeil and insisting upon its flatness via the process of silkscreening and the application of the camouflage pattern, which, inherently, is entirely flat. Warhol’s technique of appropriating familiar imagery through serial reproduction separates the image from its original source material, eventually degrading a painting as revered and sublime as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper to a banal picture no different than a quotidian advertisement in a magazine.

In 1984, Iolas approached the Credito Valtellinese located in the Palazzo Stelline to use their former rectory as an exhibition space. The Palazzo was located directly across the street from the Dominican cloister Santa Maria delle Grazie, which housed Leonardo’s The Last Supper, and so Iolas proposed to commission contemporary artists to re-image the masterpiece.

 

Read More about Last Supper

 

According to Warhol, Iolas reached out to three artists but ultimately offered him the whole commission. The resulting exhibition, Warhol—Il Cenacolo (“Warhol – The Last Supper”) opened in January 1987 and presented around 22 of the artist’s silkscreen paintings. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 visitors flocked to the show that, in a poignant biographic coincidence, would be the last for both artist and gallerist. Iolas, who had given Warhol his first show in 1952, would die in June of that year and Warhol, who had been experiencing discomfort during the opening passed away after returning to New York on February 1987 from complications following a gallbladder operation.

 

L for Liz


Andy Warhol’s Liz is an iconic tribute to one of the major silver screen goddesses in the artist’s Pop pantheon. Painted at the height of Elizabeth Taylor’s fame, Liz is a unique painting from a group of thirteen colorful portraits of the actress that Warhol executed in the fall of 1963. In this cerulean blue portrait, Warhol immortalizes the actress as an embodiment of the cult of celebrity. Closely related to the candy-colored Marilyn paintings that he executed in the previous year, Liz shows Warhol’s genius for color in full force. The brilliant blue background offsets Taylor’s luminous skin, as well as her trademark scarlet lips and violet eyes, magnifying the most characteristic features of her celebrated beauty. Although Warhol employed the mass media technique of screen printing, he brought a high level of personal involvement to the Liz series, carefully embellishing her skin, eyes and make-up with hand-applied paint.

“It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Liz Taylor’s finger.”

This series of jewel-toned portrait paintings represents the apotheosis of Warhol’s ground-breaking creative vision, both as the technician of the (still then) revolutionary silkscreen process and the architect of iconic visual treatises on the modern vagaries of celebrity. This luminous portrait not only captures the ironically dark essence of Twentieth Century glamour and fame, it also speaks of a time of growing fame for Warhol himself.

ANDY WARHOL
Liz [Early Colored Liz], 1963
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
40×40 inches (101.3 x 101.3 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 14 May 2019
USD 19,343,000

As perhaps the greatest cinematic icon of the silver screen in the latter half of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Taylor was clearly a fitting subject for Warhol’s celebrity-oriented art. Indeed, of all the many famous stars that Andy Warhol knew and painted, he seems to have held Elizabeth Taylor in especially high regard, seeing her throughout his life as the absolute epitome of glamour. When later in life Warhol met Taylor, growing to become friends with her in the late 1970s and 80s, he was famously heard to quip how as a choice of afterlife, he would like to be reincarnated as a “big ring” on Taylor’s finger. Not only was Elizabeth Taylor one of the great screen goddesses of her age and an enduring icon of glamour, it was her history as a child star, her many marriages and, in the early 1960s, the relatively recent tragedy of the death of her husband Mike Todd and rumored scandal of her romance with Richard Burton, that led to her status as a superstar who was seldom out of the gossip columns and her image rarely out of the papers.

Most tellingly for Warhol, the young voluptuous Liz had also had a dramatic brush with early death. After begrudgingly playing the prostitute role in Butterfield 8, Taylor traveled to London in 1960 with her then husband Fisher to begin filming Cleopatra. While there, the actress suffered from a near-fatal respiratory illness during which she was actually briefly pronounced dead, finally recovering after an emergency tracheotomy. While Taylor had been acknowledged by critics and Hollywood with Oscar nominations for two previous roles in the late 1950s, it was her role in Butterfield 8 that garnered the actress her first Academy Award. The sympathy engendered by her operation and illness was perceived as a factor in her award, as her scar was visibly apparent on the night of the ceremonies.

This combination of glamour and tragedy appealed to Warhol’s fascination with fame and his own deep sense of morbidity, and in 1962 the personae of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor would become Warhol’s ultimate muses in establishing iconic symbols of popular culture. While his series of colored Marilyn paintings were inspired by the shocking news of Monroe’s suicide in August 1962, Warhol’s focus on Elizabeth Taylor was generated from a ten-page feature on her marital history and career in the April 13, 1962 issue of Life, portraying Taylor on the cover with her new passion, Richard Burton, under the banner headline “Blazing New Page in the Legend of Liz.” Warhol chose images from this article to create several works of the actress in a retrospective vein from an early photograph of her role in National Velvet to a still from the upcoming movie Cleopatra, for which the actress was receiving the unprecedented salary of one million dollars. The most arresting image Warhol used was a group photograph of Liz, her third husband Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds at the Epsom Downs horse race prior to the scandalous intrigue of her romance with Eddie. In October-November 1962, Warhol used this image in four paintings all titled The Men in Her Life, memorializing this period as a preamble to the red-hot intensity of the publicity machine that was thriving on her tempestuous – and extremely public – affair with Burton. While Cleopatra would become notorious for its lavish budget and protracted production over years, its reception on its release in 1963 was cool and unforgiving as opposed to the career-enhancing publicity of the Burton-Taylor scandal.

 

M for Marilyn


There are few images in history that have the ability to transcend the time and place of their creation, surpassing even the reputation of their creator or the magnificence of their subject. From the classical beauty of the Venus de Milo and the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa, to the sultry Sirens of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, the beauty of the human figure has inspired artists to extend their creativity to new heights. In the latter half of the twentieth-century, one woman captivated the world with her legendary looks, the Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe. This small town girl rose to become the most famous woman in the world, and today—sixty years after her death—the myth of Marilyn Monroe is still as potent as ever. This is due to one man: Andy Warhol, his unique ability to capture the humble beauty of a global superstar has seared her likeness onto our collective consciousness. His flawless rendering has become the image of Marilyn Monroe. It represents not only her physical attractiveness, but also her cultural power and enduring legacy. Through this image, she lives on forever as one of the definitive artistic icons of all time, a Mona Lisa for the twentieth-century.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is Warhol’s ultimate depiction of his ultimate muse; an image that surpasses the transient nature of the actress’s life and the fame she endured. Distinguished by an inner luminosity, the screen idol’s legendary beauty radiates out from the surface of this large-scale painting. Her blond hair, piercing eyes, full-lips, and even her famous beauty spot are all rendered in a clarity and detail that is absent from other examples of Warhol’s famous screening process. Here, the flatness and uniformity of previous renderings of her famous locks have been replaced by an expansive sweep of voluminous curls executed with such skill that individual strands are highlighted; even the renegade coils that have escaped her hairdresser’s attention—such as the one just above her real right ear—are perfectly captured by Warhol in consecutive layers of yellow and black paint. Marilyn’s arched eyebrows define generous arcs of blue eyeshadow, which in turn frame her piercing deep blue eyes.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen
40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
Christie’s New-York, 9 May 2022
USD 195,040,000

The outline of her red lipstick perfectly hugs the outline of her full red lips and—to her real left—the iconic beauty spot sits proudly on the surface of her cheek. In addition to the obvious facial features, the clarity of Marilyn’s image is enhanced by Warhol’s sophisticated use of chiaroscuro. At her left temple, embracing her cheek and shrouding her neck, soft shadows add a unrivalled degree of depth and plasticity to Warhol’s iconic image.

The aesthetic superiority of Marilyn is the result of a radically different and more complex screening process that Warhol developed in 1964. In his earlier silkscreens of the actress, or any of his portraits executed between 1962 and 1964 for that matter, the colored elements were applied between two layers of black silkscreen ink. The use of a preparatory screened underlayer, followed by the elements of local color, following by another screening of black, often led to images that lacked a degree of crispness due to the difficulty of accurately lining up the three independent layers of screening. This often led to “ghost-images,” where the eye shadow or red lips, for example, extended beyond the physical features defined by the black screened layers. On occasions it also led to somewhat blurry images as subsequent layers merged together somewhat unsuccessfully.



By mid-1964, and Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, where local color was required there is little evidence of a preliminary silkscreen impression, and the registration of the uppermost black screen and color is virtually seamless. Warhol had arrived at a new method for registering local colors, using a positive image that his silkscreen maker would print on acetate and provide him as a proof. Warhol was then able to trace this image onto the canvas as an under-drawing, guiding both the hand-painted local color and the subsequent black layer. Both Gerrard Malanga and Mark Lancaster—frequent visitors to the Factory during this period—also observed that the tracing was partially masked with tape, allowing the local color to be applied by hand with much greater clarity and precision. This new, more intricate, method ultimately proved to be too time consuming for the famously impatient artist, and Warhol abandoned

It is these facets that have come to define Monroe as the modern epitome of beauty. More than sixty years after her death, her likeness continues to act as the benchmark against which others are judged, even being resurrected through the use of artificial intelligence to continue to sell products all over the world. She joins a pantheon of women—both fictional and actual—who have become symbols of supranatural beauty. The origins of Marilyn’s cultural resonance can be traced back at least 2,000 years to Ancient Greece and the statues of Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love), and Venus, her Roman equivalent. Like Marilyn’s image, Aphrodite’s likeness was everywhere in the classical world, and even today Aphrodites and Venuses survive at ancient sites and in museums all over the world. Carved in marble, the Greek goddess’s enigmatic gaze, sensual hour-glass figure, and contrapposto stance gave birth to the symbolic language of beauty, and has been repeated throughout the two millennia since, up to—and including—Warhol’s depiction Marilyn herself. “The ‘classical Venus’,” write Classicists Mary Bear and Jonathan Henderson, “whether in museums, on billboards, or even outside a casino, can easily become a generic image, closed and finished in its effect; [it is] an icon to stand for eternal loveliness, sublime aesthetics…” (M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classical Art: From Greece to Rome, Oxford, 2001, p. 115). Even their original polychromatic appearance, due to the brightly painted surfaces that have long since disappeared, bears a striking resemblance to the brilliance of Warhol’s Pop aesthetic.

 

 

M for Mao


The People’s Republic of China’s state portrait of Chairman Mao is undoubtedly one of the most iconic images of the Twentieth Century. Almost 40 years following his death, Mao Zedong’s visage still benevolently pervades the expanse of Tiananmen Square. This series announced Warhol’s return to painting with tremendous force and conceptual brilliance; uniting infamy with celebrity, reducing the politically germane to the glossy levity of fashion, and marrying the communist multitude with the capitalist market, the Maos represent Warhol at his very best. Andy Warhol’s own daring and incisive portraits of China’s first communist leader pervade the most prestigious art institutions across the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Broad, Los Angeles, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Rubell Museum, Miami.

“I have been reading so much about China…The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.”

 

Mao captures the political and painterly consciousness that preoccupied the artist in the early 1970s. Embodying a significant juncture in Warhol’s career, the Mao paintings mark his return to silkscreen painting with a much more expressive handling after devoting himself to film since 1965. After Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, Warhol undertook a body of Chairman Mao portraits between 1972 and 1973, creating a total of 199 paintings in five scales.

ANDY WARHOL
Mao, 1972
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
82×57 inches (208.3 x 144.8 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 11 November 2015
USD 47,514,000

Transforming the globally known photograph of Mao Zedong used for propagandic dissemination during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) into a pop mélange of capitalist product, Warhol’s serial Maos are nonetheless each endowed with unique characteristics and ample Warhol’s painterly touch, as his rapid Willem de Kooning-esque gestures blending the image of Mao with large and colorful painterly brushes. First inspired by Nixon’s televised announcement in July 1971 on his sanctioned visit to China, Warhol’s Maos were conceived over a conversation between the artist and Bruno Bischofberger in 1972 as they were contemplating Warhol’s painterly reprise. Indeed, the legend says it began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger that Andy Warhol should paint the most important figure of the twentieth century. Albert Einstein was suggested for the impact of his Theory of Relativity in both precipitating technological richness and technological terror…

 “That’s a good idea. But I was just reading in Life magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldn’t it be the most famous person, Bruno?” 

Following Warhol’s premature ‘retirement’ from painting declared at an exhibition of the Flowers in Paris, the mid-to-late 1960s saw his artistic focus shift towards filmmaking, music, performance and other entrepreneurial projects such as Interview magazine: in accordance with these activities, Warhol’s public persona began to rival the fame and influence of the celebrities idolized in his work. In 1968 a near-fatal assassination attempt by radical feminist author and aspiring playwright Valerie Solanas, dramatically triggered a period of deep reflection and re-evaluation, further prolonging the absence of a major new body of paintings. Coinciding with the very first portrait commissions during the early 1970s, Warhol began contemplating the topic of his painterly reprise.

Proving the artist’s finely tuned ability to draw on the sociopolitical had lost none of its power, the Mao paintings arrival in 1972 evinced a retort to American foreign policy: in rapid response to the highly orchestrated media frenzy that was Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, Warhol’s series of paintings subversively turned China’s communist leader into capitalist commodity. Famously critical of Nixon, who prior to his conciliatory efforts towards China was known as an anti-communist red-baiter, Warhol appositely took on the most prescient political dialogue on the global arena. Although he had broached the American political arena a decade earlier with his Electric Chair and Race Riots, both initiated in 1963, it was not until 1971 that Warhol began to contemplate the contentious international concerns at the forefront of the global political consciousness and headlining the Western media. Signaling an ambitious return to his breakthrough medium, this series is remarkable in its major portrayal of the only political figure ever painted of Warhol’s own volition.

Warhol’s source image derives from an official portrait of the authoritarian ruler which followed the canon of official Soviet portraiture of Stalin and Lenin. Unlike the latter, however, Mao’s image, which was seen to embody the revolutionary spirit of the masses, stares directly at the beholder and was exhibited prominently above the Tiananmen Gate where, in 1949, Mao had announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Symbolizing perpetual surveillance, the image was ubiquitous in every schoolroom, shop front and public institution across the country and was reproduced on the first page of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, more commonly known as Mao’s “Little Red Book,” which was widely disseminated during and after the Cultural Revolution as a mandatory citizens’ code. With a print-run estimated at over 2.2 billion, this made Mao’s stern yet benevolent face one of the most extensively reproduced portraits in history.

Between 1972 and 1973 Warhol produced a total of 199 works depicting Chairman Mao. Alongside five graduated series of paintings – which diminished in size and accordingly increased in number – Warhol created a suite of drawings and portfolios of prints. Ranging from the colossal Giant Maos intended to rival the scale of the iconic portrait hung above Tiananmen gate, through to the miniature portraits measuring 12 by 10 inches, Warhol conceived of a body of work to plausibly suit all tastes and budgets. The resulting body of work transformed Mao’s official portrait used for the dissemination of communism into a commodity of the capitalist economy, no more consequential than a can of Campbell’s Soup.

 

N for Nixon


Warhol wasn’t the most political of artists, but his support for Democrat candidate George McGovern in the 1972 presidential elections was unstinting. His tactic: to create a poster portrait of the Republican candidate and incumbent president Richard Nixon in a sinisterly pale green color that suggested he was a devil. The glaring yellow eyes and mouth, which seems to be on the point of foaming, add to the sense of the demonic.

 

 

O for Oxidation


Oxidation Painting is a superb example of Andy Warhol’s most conceptually advanced series. In this body of work, often referred to as the Piss Paintings, Warhol interrogated notions surrounding the status of the artist, and asserted his place within the lineage of conceptual art. It is an alchemical subversive series, richly layered in meaning and inference, and hugely significant within the canon of American art history. This work is significant amongst the series for its provenance, having spent 24 years in the collection of The Baltimore Museum of Art, where it was hung as part of the collection and loaned to partner institutions as prestigious as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is also exceptional for its composition, which appears more detailed, varied, and complete than many other examples from the series.

ANDY WARHOL
Oxidation Painting, 1978
Urine and metallic pigment in acrylic on canvas
76×52 inches (193 x 132.1 cm)
Sotheby’s New-York: 16 May 2018
USD 3,375,000

The Piss Paintings were all created in 1977 and 1978. To produce them, Warhol prepared canvases with grounds of metallic paint, before inviting certain individuals to urinate across the canvas according to his instructions. Over time, the uric acid would oxidize the metal in the copper paint and create an attractively shimmering patina. Although the act of urination might seem to be the ultimate gesture of desecration, Warhol ironically insisted on the importance of artistic skill in their creation.

“They had technique, too. If I asked someone to do an Oxidation painting, and they just wouldn’t think about it, it would just be a mess. Then I did it myself — and it’s just too much work — and you try to figure out a good design.”

Warhol particularly loved having his assistant Ronny Cutrone contribute these works.

“because he takes a lot of vitamin B so the canvas turns a really pretty color when it’s his piss”

He was so inspired by the painterly effects he achieved through the use of urine as a substitute for paint that he even experimented with brushing urine onto the canvas, although he gave up after finding it too difficult. Warhol chose to focus on the Oxidation paintings at a time in 1970s when he was derided as simply a slavish society portraitist. He strategically used the Oxidation paintings to reassert his vanguard status, along with other abstract series such as the Rorschachs and Shadows. In these works, as in other formative paintings from the 1960s, Warhol challenged Abstract Expressionist conventions and particularly Jackson Pollock as a paradigm of artistic originality and prowess. Vincent Freemont, manager of the artist’s studio at the time of their creation, described the process.

“I can remember watching him creating all these paintings, liking them but not realizing at the time just how important they were… The series that really stands out in my memory are the Piss and Oxidation Paintings, since the process of making these paintings was so unusual… He painted the canvas with different kinds of metallic paints, either gold or copper. Then Ronnie Cutrone, Victor Hugo, and others, including some female participants, were invited into the back room at various times to pee onto the canvas under his direction… This process resulted in amazingly beautiful paintings, both large and small, that have a lot to do with alchemy and chemistry.”

Characteristically, the spectacle that Warhol presided over while creating his Oxidations was an important part of the work. As Cutrone described, working on the Oxidation paintings in the Factory “became almost a sort of performance. Like an Yves Klein kind of thing; with women rolling on the canvas. We would instead bring in boys and girls and have them standing on the big canvases. So the studio would become like a toilet, a giant urinal” (R. Cutrone, quoted in Andy Warhol: The Late Work, p. 92). Warhol’s Oxidations certainly conjure associations with the most famous urinal in the history of art, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, an emblem of artistic rebellion since 1917, when it was rejected from the Armory show. Like Duchamp, who questioned the boundaries of art by presenting an upturned urinal on a pedestal as sculpture, Warhol tests the limits of what can be considered painting in the Oxidations.

Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings have often been likened to the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. In terms of style, the parallels are clear. Both bodies of work are based around abstract compositions, bright colors, and gestural linear marks. However, in the Oxidation Paintings, Warhol appears to have been working more in pastiche of Pollock’s legacy than in emulation of it. Pollock’s works were venerated for their sense of gesture; prized above almost any other paintings for being the work of the artist’s own hand. Throughout his career, Warhol had taken a diametrically opposite approach. His silkscreen technique removed any trace of artistic intervention from the face of the canvas, and his Factory studio introduced multiple people to the creation and conception of each artistic endeavor. Moreover, Pollock was notorious for his machismo and bravado; he reputedly urinated on his own canvases before sending them to patrons he didn’t like; and he had famously urinated in Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace after she cut one of his murals down to size. Thus, the Oxidation Paintings appropriate the infamous gestures of Pollock’s brash masculinity to create works that satirize the linear formulation of his celebrated paintings.

In the interpretation of the present work, we can detect palpable influence from of European conceptual artists Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni. Yves Klein Anthropometry works provide an obvious point of comparison. To create this series, Klein doused female models in blue pigment before dragging and pressing their bodies across prepared paper grounds to create dramatic individual abstract compositions. Like Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings, they situated the artist at a distance from the finished work and removed any notion of gesture. In addition to being a relic of an innovative performance, the present work reveals an energy and ultimately distinctive and beautiful color palette that distinguishes these pieces as independent and seductive aesthetic objects. The slightly sardonic tone of the Oxidation Paintings, as well as the use of human excrement, also calls to mind Piero Manzoni’s celebrated Merda d’Artista works, which consisted of small, labelled cans purporting to contain 30 grams of the artist’s feces. Those works similarly satirized the way that the art public fetishized the work of celebrated artists and glorified it for being the product of their own hand.

 

P for Popism


This was the name of Warhol’s memoir about his life in the Sixties, which he penned in 1980. It was, in fact, largely ghost-written (thanks to the efforts of his friend Pat Hackett), but there are still plenty of pithily Warholian observations. Of Pop Art, he said: ‘The idea behind [it] was that anybody can do anything.’ Warhol felt that, after centuries of the domination of elite tastes, Pop was a movement that finally democratized art, for artists and viewers alike.

 

 

Q for Queen


In the mid-Eighties Warhol created a portfolio of screen-print portraits of the world’s four reigning female monarchs: Queen Elizabeth II of England, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Queen Ntobi Twala of Swaziland. Rumour has it that the English monarch was so fond of her depictions that she had an edition bought for the Royal Collection to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

 

Queen Elizabeth II, 1985
Screen-print in colors on Lenox Museum Board
40×40 inches

 

 R for Rorschach


Through its subjective nature, the Rorschach test has become an image that transcends both time and place. Though primarily functioning as Warhol’s investigations of the history of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting, they remain as integrated into popular culture as never before. The viewer of the Rorschach today is met with the flawless beauty and enigmatic psyche of the artist’s original intent, now permeated with an element of Warhol’s pioneered Pop movement. The powerful lyricism and stark elegance of Andy Warhol’s Rorschach hovers over the viewer like a mysterious totem, presenting a pictorial marriage of beauty and precision in one of the final and most triumphant paintings of his career.

“Nothing can always be the subject of something. I mean, what’s nice about those paintings is you could do them every five years…anytime you wanted to, when you had the time…because there’s nothing to read into them…Because even if the paints stayed the same, everything else, and everyone else, would have changed”

 

Unaware that Rorschach’s psychological evaluations were based on a set of ten standardized tests, Warhol had originally believed that the ink blot was the creation of the patient to be read as part of a mystic process of self-revelation. Intrigued by his own perception of the Rorschach, as well as its intention to push the boundaries between abstraction, representation, and meaning, Warhol initially intended to record his readings of the Rorschach paintings he had created. “I was trying to do these to actually read into them and write about them,” he recalled, “but I never really had the time to do that. So I was going to hire somebody to read into them, to pretend that it was me, so that they’d be a little more interesting. Because all I would see would be a dog’s face or something like a tree or a bird or a flower. Somebody else could see a lot more. But maybe they shouldn’t have any reading into them at all. None at all” (A. Warhol, in J. D. Ketner II, Andy Warhol, The Last Decade, exh. cat., Milwaukee, 2009, p. 68). As the Rorschach paintings transform from beautiful abstracts to loose figurations of our own imaginations, we are simultaneously exploring the inner psyche of the artist’s mind during the time of their creation—Warhol psychological self-portrait.

ANDY WARHOL
Rorschach, 1984
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
96 x 75.9 inches (243.8 x 192.7 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 12 May 2015
USD 3,861,000

Across a vast expanse of canvas standing eight feet tall, the amorphous forms of Andy Warhol’s striking Rorschach propels the viewer into a pictorial and psychosomatic contemplation. Inspired by the ink blot test developed in the 1920s by the Swiss psychiatrist, Hermann Rorschach for psychological testing, Rorschach is a rare venture for the artistic into the world of abstraction. It is also a masterful rendering of Warhol’s exploration of chance, scale and fluidity which was to become an important aspect of his later work. A glorious transmogrifying shape evolves across the surface of the canvas as Rorschach’s figure alters meaning and representation with each onlooker. The intricate flourishes of reflected black pools and bold silhouettes, painted and then printed on a monumental scale, confront each viewer individually. Weaving its elaborate silhouettes throughout the canvas, the black ink possesses an almost ominous force. The viewer of the Rorschach concurrently becomes Warhol’s patient and psychiatrist. An echo of our own yearnings, fantasies, and dreams, the composition can only ever be fully realized through the individual eyes of the observer.

The compositions that Warhol used to create his Rorschach were totally improvised. He was not aware that he could simply copy Hermann Rorschach’s set of ten inkblot designs, so he asked his assistant Jay Shriver to create a small set of four inkblots. Though the original inkblots developed by Rorschach included colored ink, Warhol deliberately limited his palette in order to enhance the subliminal and emotive content of his inky black forms.

RR for Race Riots 


The exploration of the desensitizing of the audience and the nullification of meaning through repeated imagery is what distinguishes Warhol’s Death and Disaster series most. It is also primarily this feature of these still disturbing and justly famous works that lends them their troubling ambiguity. As with his Campell Soup cans, the viewer is left in front of these powerful paintings wondering whether the artist is celebrating or criticizing his subject matter. No answer is given because, through the impersonal anonymity of the silkscreen-painting technique, the artist’s presence and authorship remains seemingly absent or at best indifferent.

In his Race Riot paintings Warhol was taking this feature of his work to an extreme, imbuing one of the most contentious, up-to-the minute and also divisive, subjects in 1960s American politics with the same ambiguity and sense of authorless indifference he bestowed on the Soup Can, Brillo Box or other consumer products. At the same time, however, these paintings again reveal Warhol’s unerring, almost prophetic ability to select, isolate and transform a single image into a provocative and quizzical icon that stands as a symbol for an entire area of contemporary culture.

The photographs that Charles Moore took on the 3rd May 1963 encapsulate all these aspects of this unique moment in United States history in a way that serves almost as a modern kind of history painting. All this discussion about the power of such imagery would have intrigued Andy Warhol who, on seeing Moore’s photographs in Life magazine immediately adopted them as the source for what would become his own Race Riot paintings of 1963 and ’64. Like the story of Moore’s photographs, Warhol’s startling silkscreened paintings pose important questions about the nature and function of media imagery, about how we see and react to the news and how its images can also be used to provoke and manipulate us. How, also, the power of even the most shocking and provocative of “realist” imagery disintegrates under constant repetition or alternatively, how the same images can be employed, as in advertising, to manipulate an audience and even government policy into any given direction.

Race Riot, 1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, in four parts
Overall: 60 x 66 inches (152.4 x 167.6 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 12 May 2014
USD 62,885,000

“It was just something that caught my eye.”

Warhol responded somewhat typically when asked about the seemingly contentious political subject matter of his Race Riot paintings. Of all of the subjects in Warhol’s vast and varied catalogue, the so-called Race Riot paintings with their manifest display of political violence and racial oppression are seemingly the least ambiguous and most partisan images in his oeuvre. Repeatedly showing the image of a black Civil Rights protester being savaged by the dogs of a group of white uniformed policemen, this memorable and extremely rare series of paintings seems to demonstrate the famously apolitical Warhol actively engaging in contemporary politics and making a rare, if not indeed unique, “liberal statement” with his art. But, as Warhol himself was at pains to point out, engaging with 1960s politics was not really his intention. As he told fellow “Pop” artist Claes Oldenburg it was, largely “indifference” that had characterized and determined his choice of this graphic and provocative subject matter.

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.

First executed in the spring of 1963, Warhol’s Race Riot paintings were created as part of a series of works based on the theme of Death in America that he was preparing for an exhibition to be held under the same title at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in 1964. Consisting of what is now known more accurately as his Death and Disaster series of paintings, the Death in America exhibition was to consist of a number of large-scale works on the theme of various typically American ways to die. Foremost among these images were of course, Warhol’s graphic and shocking images of car crashes. These were accompanied by a select group of paintings of suicides, gangster funerals and electric chairs. The image of the Race Riot was, while not an image of death per se, a provocative and powerful image of a peculiarly American form of violence, segregation and political oppression.

The glaring injustice and moral hypocrisy, known to every black person then living in the United States but so often overlooked or ignored by others, was now visually manifesting itself day after day on the front pages of both the country’s and the world’s media in such a way that it could no longer be denied. “The events in Birmingham,” President John F. Kennedy was to say in June 1963, “have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them” (quoted in David J Garrow, Birmingham Alabama, 1956-63: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights, New York, 1989, p. 239). Not only did the violence in Birmingham ultimately force important changes in the law however, but it also seems to have marked a turning point in American history, inaugurating a new phase in the struggle for civil rights and galvanizing black youth across the whole of the American South to such an extent that it led directly to the historic march on Washington that took place three months later.

The original photograph by Charles Moore, a celebrated chronicler of the Civil Rights movement, of a demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 which Warhol used to create his silkscreen, Race Riot. Photo: Charles Moore / Getty Images

In particular, it was a series of photographs shot on May 3rd by a young Associated Press photographer, Charles Moore, that best encapsulated the moment and which most effectively caught the public imagination by doing exactly what Martin Luther King had wanted and forcing anyone who saw them to take a side in the conflict. Moore’s picture of young black children being blasted by the jet of a fire hose for example, was seen as a picture that appeared to implicate the entire nation. The cutting of the figure of the fireman firing the hose from view bestowed a disturbing anonymity upon the white line of force blasting these kids in a way that for many viewers seemed to implicate them in the violence. Similarly, Moore’s image of a lone black man fleeing from two policeman setting their attack dogs him, is one that clearly divides the conflict into a simple case of victim and aggressor, forcing its audience to side with one or the other.

Warhol’s choice of subject matter was also a continuation of a theme that had first surfaced while he was painting the Marilyns. It was around this time that he first recognized how the constant repetition of imagery ultimately seems to nullify the shocking effect of even the most horrific of images.

“When you see a gruesome picture over and over again it doesn’t really have any effect.”

 

All of this is encapsulated in the story of the images that the Birmingham riots generated and was an aspect of these pictures that Warhol, with his long experience of the manipulation of imagery in the advertising industry, was all-too aware of. In fact, Warhol was one of the first artists to fully understand the power of the photographic image in this way. With his flat, empty, silkscreen way of painting and his sphinx-like pose of indifference, he was also among the first not to just question such imagery but also to reveal to us, in a new pictorial form, its innate and disturbing vacancy.

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.

 

ANDY WARHOL
Mustard Race Riot, 1963
Acrylic, silkscreen ink and graphite on canvas, on 2 panels
Panel with images: 113.9 x 82 inches (289.3 x 208.3 cm)
Monochrome panel: 113.2 x 82 inches (287.7 x 208.3 cm)
Overall: 113.9 x 164 inches (289.3 x 416.6 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 9 November 2004
USD 15,127,500

Mustard Race Riot is the major example from Warhol’s Race Riot series and conceptually the closest to his other Death and Disaster paintings. A double canvas image, blank mustard color on one side and fully saturated mustard-backed imagery on the other, it relates closely to Warhol’s other double-canvas paintings that incorporate a monochrome canvas alongside a silk-screened one. David Bourdon has pointed out that these “diptychs” were first created at Warhol’s Firehouse studio after Warhol had asked his friends,

 

 

 

SS for Silk-Screening


Warhol pioneered the development of the process whereby an enlarged photographic image is transferred to a silk screen that is then placed on a canvas and inked from the back. Each Warhol silkscreen used this technique that enabled him to produce the series of mass-media images – repetitive, yet with slight variations – that he began in 1962. These iconic Andy Warhol prints, incorporating such items as Campbell’s Soup cans, Dollar signs, Coca-Cola bottles, and portrait of celebrities, can be taken as comments on the banality, harshness, and ambiguity of American culture. Warhol created a gigantic opus to work and continued to paint portraits until his death in 1987. He is most probably one of the most prolific artists of the 21st Century together with Pablo Picasso.

“With silk-screening, you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the glue. That way you get the same image, slightly different, each time. It was all so simple, quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it.”

 

 

Andy Warhol is one of the first artists in modern times to legitimize screen-print as a fine art technique. Some purists were skeptical about screen-printing as an art form, due to the interference of a machine and the lack of direct contact between the artist and the medium. Andy Warhol exploited this separation and actually made it part of his work.

“The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.”

Indeed, machine-like precision and mimicry appear repeatedly in works of this medium. The screen-printing process was a variation of stenciling. Warhol had a streamlined process in producing silk screen prints. First, he laid a photograph on to the mesh of a silk screen. Afterwards, he passed an ink-covered squeegee over the mesh. The ink would pass through the mesh and impress a print of the image onto the canvas underneath. Warhol was able to apply multiple colors to create a layering effect. Producing art in a systematic manner similar to an assembly line, Warhol gave rise to series or portfolios of his beloved celebrities.

T for TV


At the turn of the 1980s, Warhol embraced a new format — television. He insisted it was ‘the medium [he’d] most now like to shine in’, wowed by its ability to communicate far and fast. His first effort was a 10-show series about fashion for a Manhattan cable channel. His next, Andy Warhol’s TV, featured interviews with celebrities, from Debbie Harry to Stephen Spielberg. His big televisual break, though, came with Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes, which screened nationwide on MTV. It ran for just four episodes — before Warhol’s death in 1987, aged 58, from complications after a gall bladder operation.

 

U for Uccello


Warhol’s isn’t a name you usually associate with Florentine Old Masters, but in the Eighties he created silkscreen adaptations of many Renaissance masterpieces — including Boticelli’s Birth of Venus  and Paolo Uccello’s St George and the Dragon.

 

Birth of Venus, 1984
Screen-print in colors on Arches Paper
32×44 inches

 

V for The Velvet Underground


Warhol briefly managed rock group The Velvet Underground. His knowledge of music was limited to say the least, but he didn’t let a small matter like that get in the way. Warhol designed the now-famous cover for the band’s debut album, complete with provocative banana and accompanying text instruction to ‘peel back and see’. Warhol also thrust the Velvets to the heart of his Sixties event-spectacular, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a template for multi-media rock concerts today, featuring innovative lighting, film projections, the Velvets’ music — and sporadic whip dancing.

 

 

W for Most Wanted Men


Like any good detective story, the origins of Warhol’s Most Wanted series comes with a series of dramatic twists and turns. In the beginning of 1963, the architect Philip Johnson approached Andy Warhol, along with Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Peter Agostini, John Chamberlain, James Rosenquist, Robert Mallary, and Alexander Lieberman, to create a mural-sized work to adorn the outside of the Panoramic Cinema Theater, a centerpiece of the New York State Pavilion at the World’s Fair to be held the following year. For his part, Warhol decided to reproduce, on a monumental scale, thirteen mugshots of various criminals taken from a booklet entitled The Thirteen Most Wanted Men produced by the NYPD. Some of the mugshots were double aspect (front-on and in profile), others a just single shot of the men (and they were all men), that the police department considered to be their most dangerous and sought-after criminals. These sparse compositions, consisting of tightly cropped portraits showing little more than the suspects’ gnarled features, reveal little information about the subject; the exact details of their lives, the circumstances of their arrest, and even the gruesome details of their crimes are left up to our vivid imagination.

Among his vast pantheon of American cultural icons, the subject of Andy Warhol’s Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr. stands as one of the most striking. With his chiseled features, dark, smoldering eyes and wavy brown hair, the face that stares out from the surface of this canvas could easily belong to one of the teenage matinee idols with which the artist began his career. Yet, with a police ID slate pinned to his jacket, and rendered in a shroud of portentous monochromatic Ben-day dots, this 22-year-old is actually a dangerous criminal, an armed robber wanted by the New York City Police Department.

ANDY WARHOL
Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr., 1964
Silkscreen ink on linen (diptych)
Each: 49×38 inches (124.5 x 96.5 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 16 May 2018
USD 28,437,500

Painted in 1964, this diptych belongs to one of the artist’s most controversial series; originally conceived as a monumental mural to celebrate the 1964 New York World’s Fair, just a few days before the fair’s official opening in April, it was dramatically painted over, apparently at the behest of the artist. Later that year, Warhol made a series of nearly two dozen larger than life size canvases featuring thirteen of these “most wanted” men, many of which were exhibited for the time at the Sonnabend Gallery in Paris in 1967. Part of this important series, Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr. is one of only six subjects that Warhol made two versions of, with this particular work’s sister painting being housed in the permanent collection of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main. With his boyish good looks rendered in Ben-day dots, Most Wanted Men No. 11 John Joseph H., Jr is a haunting reminder of the dark underside of America during a time when, outwardly at least, the country was projecting a confident, forward-looking culture to the rest of the world.

Of all of Warhol’s most wanted men, the image of John Joseph Henehan Jr. is arguably the most disconcerting. Set against a light ground, the dark image that Warhol has screened onto the canvas is ominous in its looming presence. With no other details to distract our gaze, we are forced to focus on the young man’s features; his dark, penetrating eyes capture our attention, his movie-star good looks belie the danger that lies behind them. The clarity of the screen allows many individual details to be seen in crisp lucidity; from the individual curls of hair of his fashionable quiff, to the reflection of the police photographer’s flashbulb in his eye, the level of detail in this particular example is unrivalled within the series. This dichotomy between the clarity of the image, and the obscurity of the subject combines to make this series one of the artist’s most complex and engaging observations of American culture.

Warhol’s exact reasons for choosing this subject matter are unclear. According to John Giorno, a member of the artist’s inner circle, the idea came from the painter Wynn Chamberlain, whose lover at the time was a NYPD officer called Jimmy O’Neill. He was able to procure the images for Warhol and according to Giorno, O’Neill obtained a large envelope filled with various crime photos, mug shots and archival photographs which he passed onto Warhol (J. Giorno, Andy Warhol’s Movie Sleep in You and got to Burn to Shine: New and Selected Writings, London, 1994, p. 127).

ANDY WARHOL
Most Wanted Men No. 3, Ellis Ruiz B., 1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
48 x 39.1 inches (121.9 x 99.4 cm)
Christie’s New-York: 10 May 2011
USD 4,486,500

Of the mugshots that Warhol selected, the one of John Joseph Henehan Jr. is perhaps the most enigmatic. Other subjects like John Victor Guisto and Andrew Ferraiola look as though they could have come straight from central casting, but with his good looks and chiseled features, Henehan wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of the era’s teen heart-throb magazines. His square jaw is defined by a swathe of darker—more closely compacted—dots which casts a subtle shadow across the face. Set against a pale background, the subject’s distinctive quiff stands silhouetted with just the right amount of rebellious bravado. But this outward appearance hides a darker, violent character as the circumstances of Henehan’s crime is described in the original police booklet. On February 28th, 1959, Henehan Jr. along with three others, walked into a liquor store in Queens, New York and robbed the cashier at gunpoint. They took $350 from the register, $70 from the store owner and $450, a watch and a ring from an unlocked safe. Henehan was a familiar face to his local police precinct as three years prior, aged 19, he had been arrested in possession of a gun and given parole. Two years after that, he was arrested for the possession of a small amount of heroin and drug paraphernalia, but on these charges he was later acquitted. He had been indicted for the Queens robbery by a Grand Jury, but had absconded before the trial, and in addition to that he was also wanted by the F.B.I on a charge of unlawful flight from custody.

As such, the Thirteen Most Wanted Men series was controversial from the start. The large-scale mural was painted over just days after it was first installed, although the exact reasons have proved to be difficult to ascertain. Initially it was thought that Warhol himself had instigated this process, saying that he wasn’t happy with the final result. Indeed, press reports at the time reported that, “Mr. Warhol claims that the work was not properly installed and felt that it did not do justice to what he had in mind. Mr. Johnson [Philip Johnson, the architect] said yesterday that he was in agreement with the artist and ordered the mural removed from the building” (quoted by R. Meyer, ibid., p. 132). However, it later emerged that New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller had commented on the large number of subjects who could be said to be of Italian Americans heritage, and the Governor was worried that this would upset an important and influential political lobby. But perhaps more logically, it might have been felt by the fair’s organizers that a work of art depicting armed robbers and murderers (including a child murderer) was not in keeping with the fair’s theme of “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” (quoted by A. Garn, Exit to Tomorrow: Architecture, Design, Fashion 1933-2005, New York, 2007, p. 129). Whereas the 1964 World’s Fair was designed to look unashamedly to the future, Warhol’s contribution seemed to hark back to America’s fabled history of lawlessness and violence. Whatever the precise circumstances around this act of censorship (or self-censorship), the resulting controversy has meant this series has an important place in the artist’s oeuvre.

 

X for X-rated


In the Seventies, Warhol’s film work moved on from the avant-garde to schlock horror. He produced two films, Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein, both of which were given an X rating.

 

Y for YouTube

 

Warhol was more than an artist; he was also a prophet. With his most famous quote — ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ — he predicted the rise of reality television and social media in one fell swoop. Since his death, he has also become a hit on YouTube — one of his intentionally banal films, of him eating a hamburger, has reached more than 1.6 million views on the channel.

 

Z for Zebra


Warhol was a well-known animal-lover: he was regularly accompanied about New York by his beloved dachshunds, Archie and Amos, for example. In 1983 he produced a series of silkscreen prints called ‘Endangered Species’, featuring psychedelically colorful renderings of 10 animals at risk of extinction, including the Siberian Tiger, Giant Panda and Grevy’s Zebra. They were commissioned by art dealers Frayda and Ronald Feldman to highlight these species’ plight. Warhol duly conferred on them the iconic status he had on his celebrity subjects of the past.