By Michele Leight
The Post-War & Contemporary Art evening
auction at Christie's November 15, 2006 was extraordinary, setting
a record for such an auction and many artist's records.
Hard on the heels of their record-breaking
Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale of the prior week, it
was a spectacular night for Post War and Contemporary Art - and
artists - at Christies with Willem de Kooning's "XXV"
(1997) selling to a Manhattan dealer, Nicholas Maclean, for $27.1
million, setting a world record for a contemporary artwork and
a rare and sublime crimson abstraction by Clyfford Still, "1947-R-No.1,"
garnering $21.2 million, far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of
$ 7 million. Both prices set records for the artist.
Not to be outdone on this amazing night in
art auction history, 8 works by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) collectively
reeled in a staggering $60 million, almost a quarter of the total
sale, led by the chairman, "Mao," synthetic polymer
and silkscreen inks on canvas, 82 by 61 inches, from the Swiss-based
Daros Collection, which sold for $17.3 million to Mr. Joseph Lau
of Hong Kong, setting a world record for the artist by $20,000.
The dynamic team of specialists, justifiably
euphoric by the result of the sale, were lead by Amy Cappellazzo
and Brett Gorvy, International Co-Heads of the Post-War and Contemporary
Art department, Laura Paulson, Senior International Director,
and Robert Manley, Head of the prestigious Evening Sale.
"Several of the most renowned private
collectors of Post War and Contemporary Art have contributed to
this sale which is the most valuable in its field to date,"
said Mr. Manley. "The excellent prices Christie's has achieved
over the past years in the Post-War and Contemporary Art collecting
area have fueled collections even more and assembled by our international
team, this sale will be received by an equally international audience."
The sale total for the entire auction (see
The City Review article) was $239.7
million surpassing Christie's record of $175 million in May, 2005
and the total of this sale and the Impressionist sale at Christie's
was $866,356,000, shaking off any concerns that the art market
may have peaked and forcing sellers, dealers, curators and collectors
to reevaluate their holdings and ambitions. The Christie's sale
outsold by a great margin Sotheby's more modest $125.1 million
evening sale on Tuesday November 14, where the Warhols also fetched
"Orange Marilyn" painted in 1962
right after her death sold for a whopping $16,256,000, given its
dimunitive size of 20 by 16 inches, and historic "Sixteen
Jackies" (80 x 64 in) was bought by Richard Gray Galleries
for $15,696,000. All eight Warhols did exceptionally well, led
by these three world class paintings - but one has to hand it
to "Orange Marilyn," oozing star power and packing a
mighty punch per million relative to canvas size at this amazing
The other five Warhols included in the Christies
sale were: "Tomato Ketchup" ($1,024,000), "Judith
Green" ($2,144,000), "Flowers" ($2,256,000), "Rorschasch"
($3,376,000), and "Portrait of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe"
($1,584,000), each work displaying various facets of his genius.
It is typical of Pop Art and Warhol that the
subjects featured in this sale were the most famous Mrs. President
in history, a legendary female Hollywood star who reputedly had
an affair with the same president - and sang a widely publicized
happy birthday song to him in a revealing glittery dress in front
of millions of television viewers - and the Communist leader of
a hugely populated country where such behavior in women, and most
men, would not be tolerated. Warhol was a master at building suspense,
a skill he learned as a filmmaker.
A photo of a stunning movie star in the daily
newspapers lent a little glamour to the monotony and repetitiveness
of everyday existence - and in those days movie stars were really
glamorous. The idea of the screen goddess also had religious connotations
for Warhol, who was a Catholic, and he made the connection in
his portrayal of Hollywood's leading ladies, like Marilyn, whose
aura reflected the larger than life awe induced by religious paintings,
which Warhol saw in church as a boy. His screen goddess imagery
also conveyed the fragility of beauty and fame, and the double
edged sword of success.
Warhol's stunning "Orange Marilyn"
is an invention of the Hollywood studio machine, a media product,
gorgeously packaged and sold to the public like any other commodity.
Warhol recognized that the "dumb blonde," pin-up girl,
sex symbol Marilyn was exploited by a system that profited off
her as much as it propelled her to stardom. They both gained from
it; certainly Marilyn was rescued from obscurity and made world-famous
by Hollywood and the media, but she was as much a cog in a gigantic
machine as a Campbell's soup can - of course, infinitely more
gorgeous. Without resorting to sentiment, Warhol captured the
lonely, movie-star life lived in a fishbowl and the price Marilyn
paid for fame.
"Orange Marilyn" was painted right
after the legendary star's death in 1962, and belongs to a set
of twelve single Marilyns celebrating this goddess of the silver
screen. The first owners of "Orange Marilyn" were the
legendary art dealers and collectors Mr. and Mrs. Leo Castelli,
who lent it to the international Warhol retrospective in 1970-71.
Warhol historicized Hollywood and popular culture in art, according
everyday objects and the dazzling superstars of the world's greatest
meritocracy the status that had previously been reserved for heads
of state and commerce, presidents and royals. Norma Jean Baker-
re-invented as Marilyn - and other self-made stars of stage and
screen made it into the art history books via Warhol's Pop Art.
Echoing the dignified First Lady in "Sixteen
Jackies," Hollywood's golden-haired goddess in "Orange
Marilyn" puts a brave face on pain. Their dual connection
to John F. Kennedy only increased the drama and suspense as both
icons were offered at the same prestigious evening art auction
Warhol's choice of, and obsession with, female
stars and power wives as subjects for his paintings was not mere
happenstance. Marilyn Monroe's vulnerability stems from the fact
that she never conceded her femininity, and Warhol was drawn to
the contradictions of her public and private persona, recognizing
that her "behind-the-screen" existence brought her no
joy. Beautiful and imperfect, she constantly struggled with emotional
instability inherited from her mother, and craved the love she
never received as a child and which eluded her in life and in
her marriages. She knew she was being exploited but she went along
with it, and, sweetly defiant, even raised the voltage on her
sex appeal with oodles of sensuous red lipstick, platinum blonde
hair, curvaceous gowns and gravity-defying stillettos.
Marilyn was no dumb blonde. She loved to read
and listen to music, and books and records were her favorite possessions
- but this was not the image Hollywood wanted to project on screen.
One of her husbands was Arthur Miller, another was Joe Dimaggio,
both towering American male icons in their own right. And there
was that legendary affair with the President. The circumstances
of her death remain mysterious, even though the official verdict
was suicide from an overdose of sleeping pills. Some believe there
were fears in high places that she was getting too close to the
most powerful leader in the world - Jackie's husband - and the
initial newpaper headlines made no secret of the fact that the
cause of her death was "undetermined." If Marilyn was
murdered, it has not been proved to this day, but the mystery
and the myths persist.
This lifestory could only be American - and
Marilyn will not be forgotten. Warhol captures her golden aura
- culled from an ordinary American girl - and the fleeting nature
of fame and female beauty in "Orange Marilyn."
Warhol's post-assasssination "Sixteen
Jackies," painted in 1964, is both a portrait and a modern
history painting,focusing intensely on her as one of the most
admired women of her time, and probably in history. The veiled,
newly widowed and dignified Jackie struggling to stay on track
with her two young children after being struck down by a disaster
is unforgettable. Long before her husband's untimely death, there
were problems in Camelot, but her desolation at his loss was palpable
at the funeral, reflecting the nation's overwhelming grief, captured
in this reverent Warhol.
Like the rest of the world, Warhol watched,
mesmerized, as the pedigreed girl married the most powerful male
of the free world, the President of the United States, had two
beautiful children with him, lived what seemed like a dream life,
and then gradually the image grew darker as that dream crumbled
with her husband's horrific assassination - in full view of TV
cameras that beamed his death across America and world. I was
a very young girl living in the East at the time, our neighbors
were Americans in the foreign service and they brought us the
news. I remember the expression on their faces to this day. Kennedy's
death was regarded as an international tragedy - everyone was
impacted by it, regardless of race, or nationality.
Jackie Kennedy is linked forever in history
to this tragic event because she was seated right beside her husband
in the convertible, only inches away from the sniper's bullet.
Like a horrible end to a wonderful movie, all the world watched
as this beautiful woman cradled her husband's lifeless head in
her lap till she was driven to safety, wearing her beautiful pink
Chanel suit and dainty pillbox hat.
Both personas trigger emotions and memories
in "Sixteen Jackies," rendered in appropriately sombre
blue/black colors by the artist. The woman behind her black veil
is as unforgettable as the glowing, regal beauty on the arm of
her handsome young husband at presidential galas and balls - the
fairytale princess Jackie, who dined with heads of state, conversed
easily in several languages, rode on elephants in India and sailed
off Hyannis Port with her husband and children. Jackie took us
all on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, and her elegance
and dignity endured till the end. (See The
City Review article on a 2001 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition
Warhol succeeded in capturing the fragility
of power in his portraits of Jackie, and how women and trophy
wives sometimes get caught up in the power struggles of politics,
ambition and fame. It is worth remembering that when these paintings
were made, women had barely taken their aprons off and were only
just beginning to enter the workforce. However, Jackie changed
all that with her flawless elegance, designer clothes and charm,
influencing millions of women across the world. Jackie was no
ordinary woman, and Warhol knew that. That's why he painted her.
The press preview of Jackie Kennedy's retrospective
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the most crowded I have
ever attended - jammed with press from all corners of the globe
scrambling to interview curators and take their pictures. During
the week the show opened, the lines backed up through the museum
to the front steps of the museum - and those were for people who
had bought advance tickets.The lines continued for months. Only
King Tutankamun's show had received as much public recognition.
Warhol brought Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy
Onassiss and Mao down to a human scale, closer, simultaneously
mythologizing them. It is a historic event when three icons come
up for sale in one evening.
"Mao" was one of a series of ten
paintings, inspired by Warhol's visit to China and the historic
easing of relations with the United States after President Nixon's
visit in 1972. This version is widely considered by experts to
be his best. The Daros Collection, based in Zurich, Switzerland,
owns one of the greatest holdings of Warhol paintings in private
hands. The mission of the Daros Collection has been to focus on
small groups of artists and to acquire them in depth. Their holdings
of Warhols from the 1960s include seminal works like "210
Coke Bottles," (1962), "Blue Liz as Cleopatra,"
(1963), and "Atomic Bomb," (1964).
Creating his "Mao" series in 1971,
when China renewed relations with the United States, Warhol said:
"Since fashion is art now and Chinese
is in fashion, I could make a lot of money." He would have
been ecstatic at this auction. From the vantage point of 2006,
Warhol sounds almost prophetic in his advance notice of China's
ascendance in the global arena.
The atmosphere in the auction room was exhilarating
and focused as buyers vied for their favorite artworks. Christopher
Burge, always elegant, maintained an energetic pace, and, as always,
did not hesitate to inject humor when the occasion demanded it.
This was greatly appreciated during a long sale encompassing 83
lots, with only nine that did not sell. The bidding on the Warhols
reflected the quality of the works on offer, and it was amusing
to note the essentially democratic, capitalist audience enthusiastically
applauding the record price for Warhol's seminal "Mao,"
former legendary head of a Communist state. "Mao" should
feel threatening, but Warhol's interpretation owes more to pop-idolatry
as he re-invents the normally somber, omnipresent Communist leader
as a Pop icon engulfed in happy swirling colors and virtuoso brushwork.
Spending millions on art should always be this much fun.
Warhol distrusted perfection. Despite their
fame, Jackie and Marilyn were no strangers to tragedy or pain,
and Mao's vision of China was realized through mandated conformity
and the suppresion of individual freedoms.There could be no more
opposing ideologies than Mao's and America's, but Warhol understood
the attraction of opposites, and took a chance that money-loving
capitalists would find the autocratic leader of the Peoples Republic
of China fascinating, even if they disagreed with the tenets of
The image of Mao used by Warhol in this painting
- a state-controlled deity crossed with benign Big Brother - is
taken straight out of The Little Red Book which all Chinese citizens
carried on their persons like a pocket bible, and which he skillfully
propagated around the world. But Warhol's Mao is softer, more
human, anointed with the free-flowing brushstrokes of an American
artist whose real-life persona and art might have been snuffed
out without a second thought in Mao's China. Warhol transfers
power to himself. The totalitarian leader known to millions across
the globe through his own skillfull self-promotion is turned into
a pop icon by a radical American artist.
"Mao," painted in 1972, marked Warhol's
return to fine art following his official "retirement"
in 1965 to pursue his interest in film. He survived a near-fatal
shooting in 1968, which re-directed him to his earlier pursuit
of painting, a turning point for him personally and artistically,
and undoubtedly the reason for his focus on the death and disaster
series for which he is famous. His own near-death experience made
him re-direct his course, and confront his own mortality.
With his critically acclaimed "Mao"
series, Warhol injected a shot of alien Communist consciousness
into mainstream America at a time when such imagery was totally
absent. Today, we can see into all corners of the world via technology
and media, but back then this was radical and avant garde. Both
men were revolutionaries, and Warhol also painted other Cold War
symbols like hammers, sickles and Lenin - but it was Mao that
proved to be of enormous importance to Warhol's own place in art
Master of "multiples," Warhols "Pop
Art" paintings are now fetching price tags usually reserved
for unique artworks - or to put it bluntly, one-offs. It is not
often that a painting that sells in the multi-millions has several
- almost - exact replicas, and no one would have appreciated this
more than Warhol himself. Unabashedly populist and deliciously
subversive, Warhol had his finger on the pulse of public consciousness
and never condescended to popular taste - he embraced it wholeheartedly.
Whether it's the flowers, Elvis or a brillo
box, Andy Warhol's high octane, fabulous, uber-American Pop Art
imagery is instantly recognizable and resonates across the globe
today. It is hard to imagine a time when there were no Campbell
soupcans, or Liz and Jackie heads in psychedelic color combinations
adorning the walls of the world's most famous art museums or art
books. His unapologetically mundane - now iconic - Coke bottles
and soupcans made art accessible to everyone, mimicing production
lines, advertising and mass merchandising. Well-versed in the
hypnotic power of film, and a successful commercial illustrator,
Warhol knew how to create drama. Flagrantly populist, he did not
hesitate to put the supermarket on stage.
Fun counts, and Warhol's paintings are a lot
of fun - even "Mao" mellows under his brushwork, exuding
wall power without intimidating the viewer. His show-stopping
Pop Art graphic style mirrored the euphoric 60s, a world suddenly
made visible to millions of Americans via magazine and television
advertizing, and a corresponding rise in consumer-mass culture
as consumer goods became more affordable. The 60s also spawned
a new generation of investors that had made vast or small fortunes
and were drawn to investing in art as well as blue chip stocks
that were lifeless beyond rows of numbers in portfolios. These
savvy, confident newcomers were looking for exciting art that
reflected their world - popular culture - and they found it in
Ingeniously packaging paintings in his signature
synthetic polymer and silk-screen ink on canvas format, (often
unframed), Warhol removed art from the enshrined easel paintings
of the past and delivered his deliberately commercialized art
"product" to whoever was interested in it with a take-it-or-leave-it
attitude that belied his brilliance. He dished out art like soup,
happily called himself a machine (for making art), and his second
art studio on 47th Street in New York City was unceremoniously
dubbed the "Factory." Unconventional and wacky as this
approach seemed at the time, the world soon took Andy Warhol seriously.
A commercial illustrator prior to becoming
a painter, Warhol understood the allure of packaging, the tingle
of excitement and the momentary magic it provides, and also how
ephemeral and superficial it is once it has been discarded and
the product attained - and loses its allure. He playfully showed
us how we willingly submit to being manipulated as long as it
gives us a "buzz." Intuitively grasping the significance
of mass production, he surfed on its wave.
Warhol worked in multiples of everything. His
art "Factory" reflected the mass production ethos of
the world around him, spinning off reproductions and replicas
of originals in a dizzying production line guided by him and manned
by many assistants - once again echoing films, which cannot be
created alone. Those were still the final days of the Hollywood
film studios, where A and B movies were churned out like butter
for the consumption of the masses. Stars like Elvis, Liz and Marilyn
were "under contract" to make a series of films, and
were not released until they had fulfilled them.
Andy Warhol had to be aware of the potentially
hazardous underpinnings of consumer culture - brilliantly portrayed
in Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" - but he did not
hold a position either way, celebrating ordinary subjects as extraordinary
in his art because he recognized the inevitability of feeding
a gluttonous demand simply because it was possible to do so and
affordable for the first time in history.
Warhol grew up poor, the only art he saw as
a boy was at his local Catholic Church. The sudden availability
of consumer goods in his youth after the Depression must have
seemed like manna from heaven, and reflects what is happening
in an exploding middle class in China and India today. Fashion,
cars, comics, magazines and records, and a wide variety of labor-saving
devices, were available to the masses for the first time - which
was liberating and exciting. At the same time Warhol was an "artist,"
which made the art world and the general public initially doubt
his motive for making art. This contradiction is not an issue
today, but in the 60s it was revolutionary.
Warhol's intuition led him to another obsession
of popular mass culture that was ahead of its time - celebrities
and their lifestyle. In the midst of common everyday artifacts
like Brillo boxes and soup cans he portrayed the rich, the famous,
the leader of a Communist state, the high brow and low brow, presidents,
their wives, and that timeless symbol of the American Dream -
the movie star. He gave them equal attention on canvas. His reference
points were the touchstones of the masses as they went about their
daily business: TV, magazines, advertising, photographs, newspapers
Warhol's radically depicted pop-leader and
rags-to-riches movie stars ignite fantasies because there is an
alluring sense of possibility in the notion of re-inventing the
self. Imbedded in celluloid dreams and bubble-bath fantasies is
the irresistible attraction of making a fortune through one's
own talent, hard work and imagination, ideas that could only have
taken root in America, where such dreams are the birthright of
all citizens. Warhol translated the unique American phenomenon
of re-invention of the self into art.
Like the magnificent Mustangs and T-Birds of
the 1950s, Warhol's glittering imagery could only be American,
even though his ideas have since been widely copied in everything
from fashion merchandising and advertising to the packaging of
consumer products across the globe. His debt to illustration and
film is palpable, and the most ordinary Warhol objects ooze star
power, even if the "star" is a only a Coke bottle.
There is the element of chance and magic in
film that has a deep allure for all of us, and Warhol captured
the universal craving for glamor and glitz in his art, giving
the public what they wanted. Like most of us, he fell under the
magnetic spell of movies, and his series of "multiples"
- Jackies, flowers, brillo boxes - mimic the frame by frame sequencing
that filmmaking requires. These repetitions and multiples recur
as a constant backdrop in our daily lives. Warhol turned everyday
artifacts into art, placing consumer products and popular culture
on the altar of high art alongside Van Gogh, Monet, or Picasso.
Known for his extreme New York lifestyle and
wild partying that were a vital part of his art-making and inspiration,
Warhol was open about his sexual orientation at a time when it
was extremely courageous to do so - he was gay. There were those
who disparaged him for it, but they are forgotten in the cobwebs
of the past and Andy Warhol is immortal. Warhol could be really
serious as well. His fluorescent electric chair silkscreen images
- also part of the death and disaster series - are even more sinister
than the banal wood and metal structures that ended lives in many
states across America till fairly recently. His bright colors
made these brutal objects even more barbaric, which they were.
The subliminal impact of art is unknowable;
great art changes the way people think before they even realize
it, and that shift in gears results in greater awareness or at
the very least a re-thinking of stodgy old perceptions. Warhol
was like a meteor in the churning firmament of the exuberant sixties,
and he captured his era and Pop Art culture to lasting effect,
as the Christie's sale confirms.
Warhol loved parties and not
everyone at the parties was as world-famous as Mao, Marilyn and
Jackie. His wonderful four-part portrait of Judith Green shows
a lighter side of Warhol, almost an innocent wonder at the joy
The catalogue provides the
following commentary about this work:
"Few portraits evoke so
vividly the essence of an era as Andy Warhol's Judith Green.
Dynamic, spontaneous, self-confident and sexy, the painting is
a declaration of the promise and possibilities of New York City
in the early 1960s, where the young, the beautiful and the talented
could be anything they wanted to be and thereby they made their
own history. With it, Andy Warhol created not only a fabulous
time-capsule but also contributed a crucial development to Twentieth
Century Art, utilizing the public photo-booth and multiple silk-screened
panels to devise what has been described as the most original
formal innovation in portraiture since Picasso's Cubist portraits
of 1910.....More and more people were attracted to his studio
as a Mecca for the hippest and most radical experimentation. There
were pioneers in music poetry, in art, in drug use and abuse,
in sexual freedom. This was the furnace that forged Pop. There
were drifters and celebritites, fellow artists, and drag queens.
The Silver Factory, as his studio at 221 East 47th Street became
known, had a constant carnival atmosphere. Yet it was also constantly
creative. Pictures, movies, photographs, poems and music were
being put together one way or another in the various parts of
the large silver painted space. It seemed natural that Warhol
would soon be asked to paint portraits of those in his immediate
circle....Warhol's new portraits could not be simply culled 'ready-made'
from the flotsam of popular culture. So, in order to retain a
Warhol look, "a machine' look, a Pop look, Warhol turned
to the mundane photomat, perfectly blending the lowest and most
common art form with the highest art aspirations....Warhol's earlier
democratic salvaging of themes and subjects from popular culture
now evolved in order to present people who were not yet icons-
who were not instantly recognizable - with a documenary sense
and glamorous sheen that implies that we should recognize them.
These were the newly annointed Superstars wth their designated
15 minutes of fame....'The pscyhological structure of the photobooth
resembles that of the Catholic confessional, translated into the
profane environment of the railway terminal, the street, or the
passport office....' (Mark Francis, 'Still-Life: Andy Warhol's
Photography as a form of Metaphysics," Andy Warhol: Photography,
exh. cat. Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Germany, 1999, p. 20)....Judy Green
was a smart, vivacious and vital author, who typfied both in her
attitude and her stunning looks the stylishly cool, independent
new woman of the early 1960s....Both Judith Heiman, she had achieved
success with her 1961 bestseller The Young Marrieds, which
was a thoroughly racy critique of the 1950s stereotype of young
married life....Like Warhol, she was both a chronicler and a front-line
participant of a precise era in New York City life. She was the
elegant poster-child for the new generation of self-determined
career girl - not so much a feminist as proudly feminine....A
few months after Warhol made her portrait, Judith Heiman met and
married William J. Green an affluent business executive more than
twenty years her senior. She was suddenly pulled away from the
creative center of Warhol's Factory Her husband's close friends
included Frank Sinatra and members of the Hollywood elite such
as Gregory Peck, and Warhol's subculture did not sit well with
this new circle. Warhol would later attend Judy Green's famous
cocktail and Christmas parties in the 1970s and 80s, but by that
stage he too was a member of Ne wYork's social sstablishment."
Like other great artists of the past, Warhol
challenged the status quo with imagery that landed like mortar
shells on mass consciousness, which is exactly what great artists
are supposed to do, and he relished every minute of it. Warhol's
intuitive artistic radar connected with the guy or gal next door,
middle America, high-brow or low-brow, the wealthy collector or
the museum benefactor. He did not play favorites and was not shy
to cash in on his talent. He worked as prolifically in his artmaking
"factory" as any production line, although his was significantly
more glamorous given the context of his fame and the location
of his studio in the most exciting city in the world.
If Warhol could have re-scripted his sudden,
untimely death, he would have. After routine gall bladder surgery
he developed an allergic reaction to an antibiotic and died; he
was 58 years old. His memorial service was held at St. Patrick's
Cathedral, attended by the power elite of fashion, art and society.
The impact of Warhol is all around us today,
his influence immeasurable. He helped revolutionize the concept
of "art" by taking it off its pedestal, making it more
accessible to all. And he had a jolly good time most of the time
and would have loved, absolutely loved, his own performance at