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    Andy Warhol

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  • 8 nov. 1989—17 mars 2019

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Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

John Richardson The Eye of the Storm: Warhol and Picasso I arrived in New York for the first time in 1959 and within a year or two I met Andy. After that I saw a great deal of him. But nobody ever got to know Andy or, for that matter, Picasso: neither ever really opened up to anybody. Andy was often asking me about Picasso. I see Andy always at the Eye of the Storm. The Eye of the Storm where there is stillness, and all around is disaster. Here was Andy at the center of all this horror: the horror of modern life. Yet Andy was unaffected. He felt this, he sensed this, but he wasn’t one of the victims of it. By virtue of being in the Eye of the Storm he could see it. And he transmitted his feelings into these amazing images. When I gave the eulogy at Andy’s funeral I stressed the fact that Andy was a Catholic who went to Mass every single day of his life. So much of his work, including the Disaster paintings, comes out of that. The whole repetition of Andy’s imagery stems from the fact that he was Catholic. He went to church, he went to confession, he had to do ten Hail Marys, twenty Ave Marias, and all this is reflected in the way his imagery is repeated again and again and again. Picasso used to claim he was an atheist, but he was the least atheistic person I’ve ever met. He was deeply spiritual. Indeed, I see Guernica as a votive painting: it is an Ex Voto. And that seems to me the link between Picasso and Warhol: this deep, spiritual approach to their work. These Disaster paintings are not Andy reveling in disaster: this is Andy sitting at the Eye of the Storm, being the one still person among disasters, death, and horror. That is the key thing that these Disaster pictures were intended to convey. And that is why to my mind they are the most moving, and the strongest of all of Andy’s imagery. From an interview with Tobias Meyer, New York, October 2013 Screening History: Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) 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 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. As Heiner Bastian succinctly declared: “Whatever the many different conclusions arrived at in art-historical observations on the significance of Warhol’s work in the context of his time and his contemporaries, it is the images of disaster and death that he started to make in 1963 that Warhol the chronicler gains his credibility and Warhol the artist explains the world.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 2002, pp. 28-9) 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. 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. Having been rooted in heroic tales of immigration, American history evolved over two centuries through narratives of migration and ceaseless movement. Whether by horse, stagecoach, steam train or the automobile, this vast continental expanse was traversed by countless generations in the quest for opportunity and betterment. In the Twentieth Century there came to be no more potent symbol of the freedom and independence that are such monolithic cornerstones of the American Dream than the automobile. From John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night to Nicolas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause; Chuck Berry’s Get Your Kicks on Route 66 to the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe; America’s love affair with the automobile became profoundly endemic to its cultural identity. 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. Fittingly Time magazine declared the highway the “true index of our culture.” (“The New Highway Network,” Time, no. 69, June 24, 1957, p. 92) 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. 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. As Neil Printz relates, "the car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare." (Neil Printz in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16) 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. Walter Hopps succinctly describes that "Warhol took for granted the notion that the obvious deployment of traditional rendering need not be revealed or employed, thereby expunging manual bravura from his work." (Walter Hopps in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 7) 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. In an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963 Warhol stated that "when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect." (the artist interviewed by Gene Swenson, "What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In his 1970 monograph, Rainer Crone discussed how, although the car crash photos "evoke the immediacy of the actual event... this decreases as such occurrences become more frequent." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29) Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of violence and brutality. The tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression bleakly particularizes the mangled figure and dramatizes the finality of deathly stillness. The atrocity here is highly quotidian: it is a thoroughly everyday catastrophe, typical of what Hopps calls the "unpredictable choreography of death" amidst the "banality of everyday disasters." (Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol, himself obsessively fixated with the fragility of existence, here scrutinizes the public face of a private disaster and questions why anonymous victims are elevated to celebrity through their unexpected encounter with death. The source was an unidentified newspaper photograph, and despite the horror of the scene before him, the photojournalist nevertheless intuitively cropped the image through the view finder to engender narrative and provide an aesthetically satisfying picture according to compositional convention. Warhol selectively accentuated lights and darks on this photograph to intensify the contrast of the reproduction on the screen when he ordered his mechanical, in order to improve its legibility as well as enhance the compositional polarization of the image. In purely formal terms, the composition is bifurcated in two by the vertical tree or telephone pole that proved the automobile’s undoing, invoking both the double take and before and after narratives in our reception. Our eye is drawn to travel side to side, up and down, and diagonally between the four principal arenas of pictorial data. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate twentieth-century history painter. Inasmuch as his canvas implicates our fascination with mortality and a certain voyeurism of death, as well as being sourced in the reportage of controversial contemporary events, Warhol’s masterpiece advances a heritage proposed by the likes of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat, Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, Theodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. It continues this illustrious line of precedent as a defining History Painting of the Twentieth Century. On 5 July 1816 the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground off the coast of Africa, near today’s Mauritania. With insufficient capacity of lifeboats, at least 147 passengers and crew were forced onto a makeshift raft. After thirteen days’ drifting, all but fifteen of those souls perished, either by starvation, drowning, dehydration or cannibalism. When the twenty-five year-old Théodore Géricault heard of the widely-reported events he launched into an unprecedented undertaking that would culminate in one of the most celebrated paintings of all time, The Raft of the Medusa, which he finally completed in 1819. Interviewing survivors, visiting morgues and hospitals, working from severed limbs and creating a scale model of the raft, Géricault worked in isolation for eighteen months. Utterly dedicated to an uncommissioned, spectacularly controversial work that retold a highly-charged recent event, Géricault created a seminal History Painting that still thunderously resonates through its sheer evocation of unknowable human suffering and endurance. There perhaps remains no greater metaphor for, in the words of Christine Riding, “the fallacy of hope and pointless suffering, and at worst, the basic human instinct to survive, which had superseded all moral considerations and plunged civilised man into barbarism.” (Christine Riding, "The Fatal Raft: Christine Riding Looks at British Reaction to the French Tragedy at Sea Immortalised in Géricault's Masterpiece 'The Raft of the Medusa,'" History Today, February 2003) On 26 July 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian warplanes acting for Spanish Nationalist forces annihilated the village of Guernica in northern Spain, indiscriminately massacring innocent civilians with bombs and gunfire. The atrocity incited widespread outrage and having read the eyewitness account by British journalist George Steer in the French newspaper L’Humanité, Pablo Picasso, living in Paris and then Honorary Director-in-exile of the Prado Museum, conceived perhaps the most recognized artistic expression of anti-war sentiment ever to come into being, Guernica.  As memorialized by Michel Leiris, “In a rectangle black and white such as that in which ancient tragedy appeared to us, Picasso sends us our announcement of our mourning: all that we love is going to die, and that is why it was necessary to this degree that all that we love should embody itself, like the effusions of last farewell, in something unforgettably beautiful.” (Michel Leiris, Cahiers d’Art, 1937, Nos. 4-5, cited in Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd Ed., Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981 [first published 1958], p. 309) Like Géricault and Picasso before him, here Warhol created a painting for the ages, that would always speak something essential about humankind’s struggle with existence. Confronted by the tragedy of death and its incongruous by-product of celebrity, Andy Warhol nullified the news story zeitgeist through the effects of replication and multiplication, so undermining the manipulative potentiality of mass media. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the absurdity of human transience inhabit every pore of this breathtaking painting, and this compelling work stands as a treatise on the emotional conditioning inherent to our culture. Scrutinizing the public face of a private disaster, it questions how anonymous victims are elevated to notoriety via the exceptional conditions of their demise, or as Thomas Crow describes, "the repetition of the crude images does draw attention to the awful banality of the accident and to the tawdry exploitation by which we come to know the misfortunes of strangers." (Thomas Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America, May 1987, p. 135) The uncertain interplay between anonymous suffering and the broadcast exposure of bereavement is here locked forever into the silver and ink lamina of this masterwork. Left: signed twice and dated 63 on the overlapright: signed and dated 63 on the overlap

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  • 2013-11-14
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Mao

“[Warhol] has given us an image of Mao with such brutal force that, however we formulated our mental picture of the Chinese leader a moment ago, he has supplanted it with his own.” (Douglas Crimp, “New York Letter,” Art International, vol. 17, no. 2, February, 1973, p. 46) 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; in a similar turn, Andy Warhol’s own daring and incisive portraits of China’s first communist leader today pervade the most prestigious art institutions across the globe. With rouged lips, peachy skin and a navy tunic set against a backdrop of pale blue, the present work is the very first Mao painting designated in The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné. In total, Warhol executed an ambitious 199 Mao paintings in 5 set scales across 5 individual series between 1972 and 1973. This painting, executed between March and May 1972, is from the very first group of works, and belongs to a corpus of only 11 paintings (cat. nos. 2277-2287) each measuring an immersive 82 inches in height. Of the other 10 paintings in this cycle, half are known to reside in some of the most prestigious public and private collections worldwide including the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart (cat. no. 2278); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humelbaek (cat. no. 2281); The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (cat. no. 2283); The Brant Foundation, Greenwich (cat. no. 2284); and the Fundació Suñol, Barcelona (cat. no. 2286): a list which provides a clear indicator of the precedential and creative importance of this foundational cycle. Conceived at the time of President Nixon’s historic trip to China in February of 1972 and executed only weeks after his return, the present work, and its inaugural counterparts, is a masterpiece of symbolic manipulation. 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. Described by the catalogue raisonné as the 'early Mao' paintings, these portraits are remarkable within the series at large for being executed entirely by Warhol himself. Without the aid of a studio assistant and without commissioning an external company to print his canvases (as he would with later works in the series) Warhol took on the technical challenge of wielding a single screen spanning in excess of 6 feet. Dragging a squeegee loaded with printing ink across this expansive screen and onto canvas would undoubtedly have been tricky; indeed, the particular aesthetic of this series takes its character from the irregularities of Warhol’s one-man manufacture. Starting with the present work which possesses a chromatic brilliance and a screen of astonishing clarity, as the sequence progresses a pattern of uneven squeegee pressure accumulates whilst the screen print register increasingly fades. As Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero have noted, these “fade-outs” are most likely owing to the fact that the 11 early Mao paintings were executed in a single run without cleaning the screen of ink clogs and build-ups. (Sally King-Nero and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1970-1974, Vol. 03, New York, 2010, p. 196) The very last work in this cycle is testament to such a hypothesis; found in Warhol’s studio after his death, cat. no. 2287 solely consists of a ghost-like single black silkscreen print on an unpainted raw canvas ground, and undoubtedly marks the end of Warhol’s print run. In addition to this progressive 'fading-out,' the sequence narrates a cumulative experimental treatment of the painted surface. Departing from the mask-like precision of his 1960s portraits of Marilyn or Liz, Warhol becomes increasingly loose with his brushwork in this series, even making painterly flourishes and in-fills after the screen’s application – a feat heretofore unthinkable within Warhol’s striving for factory-like mechanization. This comes to a head in cat. no. 2286 whereby the order of execution has been entirely reversed: the screen, which seems to have been printed directly onto raw canvas, appears beneath a chromatic patchwork of expressionistic paint. This series thus radically broke with Warhol’s hard-edged 1960s facture and instead invited the artist’s hand and a register of brushstrokes into the works’ core aesthetic. Archetypally prescient yet ambivalent in its meaning, it has been suggested that Warhol adopted this 'painterliness' in response to, or in critique of, developments in contemporary painting; for example the Neue Wilden in Germany, whose key proponents Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer had just begun to forge a renewal of painting as a product of gestural expression. In the Maos Warhol reduced expressionistic brushwork to a painterly codex and juxtaposed it with the machine register of his iconic screen print methodology. However, far from an all-over painterly abandon (an approach that would increasingly emerge in the late 1970s and 1980s  works)  these brushy fields are for the most part contained within the parameters of Mao’s portrait. The present work is a remarkable example of this balance between precise control and free-flowing gesture: it possesses a screen that is perhaps the most clear and regular of the entire suite of 11 paintings and a wonderful clarity in the application of colored fields – particularly the modulation of the skin tonalities and full brightness of the pink lips under which Mao’s mole takes on the appearance of a Marilynesque beauty spot. Allied with a biting political awakening, this series heralded the dawn of a new stylistic impetus: Warhol's application of a markedly expressionistic hand set the precedent for his latter oeuvre, acting as the spearhead and anchor around which Warhol’s colossal corpus of Society Portraits would proliferate. Between 1972 and 1974 the 10 fully realized early Mao portraits were part of a highly successful promotional program of exhibitions across Europe, which included the series’ debut in 1972 with Zehn Bildnisse von Mao Tse-Tung at the Kunstmuseum Basel. The following year these 10 paintings would travel to the Galerie Galatea in Turin, however it was not until 1974 that the series as a grand and holistic project would be exhibited together for the very first time. Set within the grandiose environs of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode la Ville de Paris, Andy Warhol: Mao delivered a spectacular display of Warhol’s first body of new paintings since his Flowers of 1964. Taking inspiration from his 1966 exhibition at Leo Castelli in which the gallery was famously covered in cow wallpaper, Warhol plastered the walls of the Musée Galliera with Mao wallpaper – a repeated graphic taken from the suite of Mao drawings onto which he painted purple ellipses over each face. Alongside the 10 early Mao paintings, he exhibited a further 3 series of works including 4 colossal Giant Mao canvases measuring 177 by 137 inches, 11 large 50 by 42 inch canvases, and 42 smaller 26 by 22 inch canvases. Exhibited in sequence abutting each other and hung at a level just above the viewer’s eye-line, the Mao portraits magnificently inhabited and transformed the tremendous architecture of the gallery into an extravaganza of color and political daring. Echoing the omnipresence of Mao’s portrait in schools, the workplace, and in public spaces in China, Warhol took on the inherent seriality of Mao’s likeness and subverted it. Displaying incessant repetition, yet with each work possessing individual schemas of gestural candy color, this exhibition delivered the full force of Warhol’s Mao project by reducing an irreproachable image power to the level of surface decoration. As Warhol himself commented on using Mao’s image: “Mao would be really nutty… not to believe in it [Mao]. It’d just be fashion.” (the artist cited in Ibid., p. 166) 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. Bob Colacello recalled the genesis of the Mao paintings in a conversation between the artist and his gallerist in 1972: “It began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger, who had been pushing Andy to go back to painting… Bruno’s idea was that Andy should paint the most important figure of the twentieth century.” (Bob Colacello, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Up Close, New York, 1990, p. 111) Albert Einstein was suggested for the impact of his Theory of Relativity in both precipitating “technological richness and technological terror”; however by this point, Warhol had already conceived of Mao Zedong: “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?” (the artist cited in Ibid.) 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. The idea to paint Mao had taken seed in Warhol’s imagination ever since Nixon’s televised announcement in July 1971 of a sanctioned visit to China. Following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, America’s refusal to recognize the new communist government drew an iron curtain between China and the US that lasted over twenty years. In an effort to thaw Sino-American relations and in a tactical move to help resolve the Vietnam War, Nixon - famously hardline in his anti-communist policy – was to be the first President to visit the People’s Republic of China. Every part of the historic visit was highly orchestrated and planned; confident in the visual power of television, Nixon ensured that the whole event was choreographed as though it were a TV extravaganza. Resembling a media circus, almost one hundred journalists were invited to cover the trip, with the most dramatic events televised live in time for the morning and evening news bulletins. That Nixon was up for re-election in 1972 was a fact not lost on journalists who commented upon the heavily propagandist nature of the event. Despite such obvious strategic motivations however, Nixon’s highly atypical scheme ironically laid the groundwork for reshaping the global balance of power; his radical steps to assuage anti-American sentiment in the East are today considered a landmark of twentieth-century foreign policy. Far from apolitical, Warhol was famously left-wing (as can be gleaned from the fundamentally democratic core of Warhol’s career and choice of subjects – a coke is a coke no matter who you are) and was known to hold anti-Nixon sympathies – the very same year he started the Mao paintings Warhol ran a suite of screen prints in contribution to the Democratic opposition’s campaign; beneath a demonic looking green-faced Nixon ran the slogan "Vote McGovern." Following Nixon’s trip in February 1972, Warhol was quick off the mark; work on the present paintings as part of the very first Maos began the next month. The choice of subject was thus timely and suited Warhol’s trademark vacillation between detachment and censure. Undoubtedly motivated by the extremity of media coverage, particularly televisual, Warhol’s controversial validation of Mao the celebrity icon and consumer brand announced his return to painting with the fan-fare Bischofberger had duly hoped for. As stated by Colacello: “Andy wasn’t apolitical; he was ruthless. Mao was a brilliant choice, and Andy’s timing was perfect. The Mao paintings, when they were exhibited a year later in New York, Zurich, and Paris, were greeted with universal acclaim. They were controversial, commercial, and important, just like the man they portrayed and the man who painted them. And they were all about power: the power of one man over the lives of one billion people.” (Ibid.) 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. The depiction of power through a sovereign body, and the subversion of such iconography, has a lineage as long as art history itself. The power of images to construct ideas and communicate ideals has been manipulated in portraits of power dating back to the busts of the Roman Emperors. From the glorious pomp and majesty of royal portraits through to those of officials in acquired positions of power, state images idealize, manipulate perceptions, and assert the right to dominion. However, there are those examples in art history which are remarkable for their disruption of such codes of power. For example Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X (1650): as elucidated so powerfully in the work of Francis Bacon, in Velázquez’s portrait Pope Innocent X comes off as a power hungry dictator rather than a benevolent father; an undercurrent that cuts right through to Innocent X’s reputation for war-mongering. Or take Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ magisterial Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne (1806): a portrait so over-stuffed with imperial symbols and art historical tropes that in its unbridled effort to present Napoleon as the rightful sovereign ruler strains to hold itself together; Napoleon appears as a doll dressed up and playing a role, a pretender that doesn’t fit the livery of power he has adopted. Although coming from a critical and external standpoint, Warhol’s subversion is just as ambiguous and complex as those examples in art history: Warhol unravels the internal architecture of power behind Mao’s image via a similar internal reworking and in so doing works loose the binary opposition between capitalism and communism. The juxtaposition of this mythic, deified image of the communist leader with an art form that fetishized consumerist objects is wonderfully seditious. Fascinated by the ubiquitous proliferation of this single image, Warhol would undoubtedly have picked up on affinities between the mass-media derivation and seriality of his own work, and the propagandist role of Mao’s official portrait. The pervasiveness of Mao’s portrait possesses a mass produced aesthetic, a quality that led Warhol to remark to David Bourdon: "I've been reading so much about China. They're so nutty. They don't believe in creativity. The only picture they have is Mao Zedong. It's great. It looks like a silkscreen." (the artist cited in David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 317) As Printz and King-Nero have noted, in drawing this parallel between the aesthetic of communist propaganda and his own assimilation of the visual traits of ubiquitous mass production, the artist seemed to have sensed that “Mao’s portrait was, in effect, already a Warhol.” (Sally King-Nero and Neil Printz, eds., Op. Cit., p. 166) To the artist, Mao’s image demonstrated all the characteristics of a brand; a readymade icon that consecrated the cult of personality, and its attendant consumer value, endemic to his own capitalist culture. Where Warhol’s 1960s work depicting Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy sought to expose the power of the mass-media in simultaneously idolizing and commodifying figureheads of popular culture, this corpus exposed the potency of the Chinese state-controlled propaganda machine to apotheosize a powerful political persona. Mao’s visage thus proved a fascinating and fertile dichotomy for Warhol: on the one hand the power of the capitalist free-market paradigm, driven by the tabloid press and the mechanics of advertising; on the other, its direct antithesis, the communist paradigm which sought absolute political and cultural control by the same means. With these works, Warhol uncovered the shared goals of both societal models: consumerist advertising and the centrally controlled propaganda apparatus of the People’s Republic to commodify personality for the purpose of collective absorption. 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 (Ibid., p. 167). 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. Resting on a knife’s edge, Warhol’s ambivalence between complicity and criticism, apathy and consequence is truly definitive in the Mao portraits – a controversial standpoint wittily enacted in the photographs that document Warhol’s pilgrimage to China and the Forbidden City ten years later in 1982. By channeling Mao through the mechanistic swipe of his trademark screen print, and highlighting his features and iconic suit in brightest tones of gesticular paint, Warhol transmuted political significance: no longer representing a symbolic threat to the American dream, Mao became Warhol’s newest player on the vacuous fashion circuit and member of the celebrity circus. Signed on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-12
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Mao

[Warhol] has given us an image of Mao with such brutal force that, however we formulated our mental picture of the Chinese leader a moment ago, he has supplanted it with his own.  (Douglas Crimp, New York Letter, Art International, vol. 17, no. 2, February, 1973, p. 46) Evincing the same commanding presence and indelibly charged graphic force of the state portrait which inspired it, Andy Warhols extraordinary 1972 masterwork Mao is among the most historically potent, culturally significant, and incomparably iconic paintings of the Twentieth Century. Fixing the viewer with a gaze both utterly penetrating and entirely opaque, Warhols universally recognizable portrait of Chairman Mao commands our full attention with a provocative bravura that rivals that of the artists quintessential Pop images of Campbells Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe. With vivid scarlet lips, illuminated by a radiant golden glow against a richly saturated backdrop of variegated blues and teals, the present work is a singularly vibrant example from the artists acutely limited number of large-scale Mao paintings; although Warhol executed an ambitious 199 Mao paintings in 5 set scales across 5 individual series between 1972 and 1973, this painting belongs to the very first group of only 11 paintings, executed between March and May 1972 and each measuring an imposing 82 inches in height. Of the other 10 paintings in this rarefied corpus, half are known to reside in some of the most prestigious public and private collections worldwide, including the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humelbæk; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, among others. Uniting infamy with celebrity, reducing the politically germane to the glossy levity of fashion, and marrying the communist multitude with the capitalist market, Mao exemplifies the provocative bravura and incisive social commentary of Warhol at his most brilliant. Conceived at the time of President Nixons historic trip to China in February of 1972 and executed only weeks after his return, the present work, and its inaugural counterparts, announced Warhols return to painting with tremendous force and conceptual brilliance. Following Warhol's premature declaration of his retirement from painting, boldly announced at an exhibition of the Flowers in Paris, the mid-to-late 1960s had seen his artistic focus shift towards filmmaking, music, performance and other entrepreneurial projects; indeed, it was not until the early 1970s that Warhol began contemplating the topic of his painterly reprise. Recalling the genesis of the Mao paintings in a conversation between the artist and his gallerist in 1972, Bob Colacello reflects: It began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger, who had been pushing Andy to go back to painting Brunos idea was that Andy 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, to which Warhol wryly replied, Thats a good idea. But I was just reading in Life magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldnt it be the most famous person, Bruno (the artist cited in Bob Colacello, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Up Close, New York, 1990, p. 111) Remarkably, Warhol executed the initial Mao portraits without the aid of either a studio assistant or external printing service, instead confronting the technical challenge of wielding a single screen spanning in excess of 6 feet completely alone. Despite the extraordinary scale of the Maos, Warhol covers the immersive canvas of the present work with brilliantly chromatic pigment, enhancing the extraordinarily precise screen with virtuosic dashes of electrifying color. In its arresting juxtaposition of expressionistic brushwork with the machine register of screen print methodology, the present work is a remarkable example of Warhols precise balance between exacting control and free-flowing gesture; evincing a screen of unparalleled clarity, most notable in the precise delineation of the Chairmans crisp ivory collar and subtly modulated facial features, Mao stands as an irrefutable testament to Warhols remarkable technical abilities as a painter. Amongst the other members of the original Mao cycle, the present work heralded the dawn of a new stylistic impetus, setting the precedent for Warhol's application of a markedly expressionistic hand in the paintings that would follow. Warhols subsumption and subsequent re-appropriation of communist symbolism into his legendary Pop vernacular both metaphorical, as in Mao, and physical, as in his later totemic renderings of the Soviet Hammer and Sickle profoundly refocused the artists ground-breaking aesthetic energies on the political realities of his time. Emphatically testifying to Warhols finely tuned ability to articulate the central sociopolitical and cultural tensions of his day, the Mao paintings' arrival in 1972 evinced a cutting retort to contemporary American foreign policy: in rapid response to the highly orchestrated media frenzy that was Richard Nixons visit to China in 1972, Warhols series of paintings subversively turned Chinas 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 July 1971, during a televised announcement of Nixons sanctioned visit to China, that Warhol began to contemplate the contentious international concerns at the forefront of the global political consciousness and headlining the Western media. Following Nixons trip in February 1972, Warhol was quick off the mark, initiating work on the initial Maos, including the present work, the next month. Remarking upon the controversial nature of Warhols mockery of Nixons grandiose political posturing and simultaneous validation of Mao as celebrity icon, Colacello reflects: Andy wasnt apolitical; he was ruthless. Mao was a brilliant choice, and Andys timing was perfect. The Mao paintings, when they were exhibited a year later in New York, Zurich, and Paris, were greeted with universal acclaim. They were controversial, commercial, and important, just like the man they portrayed and the man who painted them. And they were all about power: the power of one man over the lives of one billion people. (Ibid.) Derived from the Peoples Republic of Chinas official state portrait of Chairman Mao, undoubtedly one of the most iconic images of the Twentieth Century, Mao enacts a captivating conflict between the propagandistic fervor of communist China and the quintessentially American production of Warhols celebrated Pop oeuvre. The juxtaposition of this mythic, deified image of the revered Chinese leader with an art form that fetishized consumerist objects is irresistibly seditious, eloquently transforming the distinguished portrait into an ironic Warholian emblem par excellence. Fascinated by the ubiquitous proliferation of this single image, Warhol would undoubtedly have picked up on affinities between the mass-media derivation and seriality of his own work, and the propagandist role of Maos official portrait; remarking upon the pervasiveness of Maos portrait, Warhol once remarked, "I've been reading so much about China. They're so nutty. They don't believe in creativity. The only picture they have is Mao Zedong. It's great. It looks like a silkscreen." (the artist cited in David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 317) To the artist, Maos image demonstrated all the characteristics of a brand; a readymade icon that consecrated the cult of personality, and its attendant consumer value, endemic to his own capitalist culture.  A truly magnificent work from Warhols most politically potent and universally iconic series, Mao is a profound and enduring testament to Warhols legacy, not only as the singular figurehead of American Pop, but as the consummate history painter of the modern age. Signed on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-11-17
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Six Self Portraits

Utterly compelling, urgent and sensational, Six Self Portraits of 1986 represents the undiluted quintessence of the brand of Andy Warhol; the perfect manifestation of his declaration “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am; there’s nothing in between.” (the artist cited in Gretchen Berg, ‘Andy: My True Story,’ in Los Angeles Free Press, March 17 1967, p. 3) An art-world revolutionary who was responsible for an entirely new visual lexicon to re-present a transformed society, it was ultimately Warhol who became more famous than many of the celebrities he depicted. Throughout his career, self-representation was the lifeblood of Warhol’s work, and of all the Self-Portraits he made throughout his lifetime it was the 1966 and 1986 series which are most revered. Executed only months before his unexpected death on February 22, 1987 while recovering from surgery, the 1986 Self-Portraits are universally acknowledged as Warhol's last great artistic gesture in which he re-attains the artistic high-ground of his seminal works from the 1960s. They are the final, definitive self-image that Warhol left for posterity. This unique group, Six Self Portraits, acquired by the present owner at the time of the exhibition at Anthony d'Offay Gallery in 1986, was specifically assembled by the artist, giving the clearest indication possible of the importance of cohesion and repetition to this unquestionable masterwork of Warhol’s late career. This acclaimed series of final portraits was first unveiled by Anthony d'Offay at his London gallery in July 1986, the first and only show in Warhol's career dedicated to the theme of self-portraiture. The gallerist recalls the genesis of the series: "I realised two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous 'fright wig'. One of the images not only had a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity." (Anthony d'Offay cited in Exh. Cat., Andy Warhol, Self Portraits, Kunstverein St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, 2004, p. 131) This remarkable image became the anchor for one of his greatest exhibitions in a commercial gallery. Today, works from this landmark exhibition grace the collections of Tate, London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Warhol made the first self-portrait of his mature career in 1963, in which his appearance is masked by dark glasses and the graininess of the then new screen-printing process, followed by a subsequent small series in 1964, similarly based on a photo-booth source photograph. The emergence of the Self-Portraits charted a turning point for Warhol: now, among the images of the rich and famous, he became an icon in his own visual repertoire. By 1966, the year of his third great series of self-images, he was a star in his own right; an artist, musician and increasingly acclaimed film maker whose constructed public persona was almost as famous as his artistic production. Propelled into the public limelight, the world now bestowed on him the same degree of celebrity status that he found so intriguing and captivating in those that he chose to depict. In his archetypal 1966 portraits, at once iconic and iconoclastic, Warhol succeeded in capturing on canvas the most alluring and elusive star in his firmament of celebrity: himself. It was not until twenty years later, in the series to which the present work belongs, that Warhol would find an equivalently powerful self-image. While in the 1960s, Warhol was an aloof commentator on the consumer culture that was sweeping through an economically prosperous America, by the time of the present work he and his art had become synonymous with contemporary American culture itself. Such was his fame and the success of his artistic vision that it shaped the worlds of art, fashion, film and the media throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In his last Self-Portraits, the ever insightful commentator packages and presents himself as a product to be consumed by the machinery of the commodity culture which he himself helped to define. While the 1963 and 1964 Self-Portraits were based on a photo-mat strip of photographs, in the 1986 series Warhol used a Polaroid photograph as his source image, a technique which he had refined in his portraiture throughout the 1970s. Wearing a black turtle-neck sweater and one of his many elaborate wigs, in his diaries Warhol recalled the making of the image: "At the office Sam tried to take pictures of me that I needed to work from for the self-portraits for the English show, and I'd done my hair in curlers and everything and he just couldn't get it right." (the artist cited in Jennifer Higgie, 'Andy Warhol' in Frieze, 5th September 1996) Comparing the final canvases to the original image, it is evident that Warhol chose the image in which his top best covered his neck. In this way, Warhol made his body disappear entirely, so that his severed head hovers in space. Here more than in any other of his Self-Portraits, Warhol tackled the challenge of self-depiction with an unrivalled and up-close theatricality, presenting an image both of Warhol the man and Warhol the artistic phenomenon. As David Bourdon observed, "Warhol's visage by this time was, of course, almost totally invented: the hair belonged to one of dozens of wigs, the skin had been dermatologically transformed and constantly taughtened through the use of astringents, and the sunken cheeks had been smoothed out with collagen injections." (David Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Warhol exposed his starkly isolated, distinctive appearance to our sharp scrutiny in unparalleled photographic detail. His last Self-Portrait catalogued the transformation in his ageing features in dialogue with the technical transformation in his art from maverick to master. Using his face as an arena for technical and compositional experimentation, by now Warhol had harnessed and honed to sheer perfection the silkscreen process which he had introduced to fine art practice in the early 1960s. While the 1966 Self-Portraits are characterized by often rough printing and serendipitous outcomes, here the image is of such controlled clarity that it resounds in our memory even when we cease to look. The silkscreen captures every minutiae and contour of Warhol's features, from his sunken cheeks, the slight jowls around his pursed lip and that incredibly penetrating stare. If Warhol's credo was the seductive surface, here it reaches its apogee, in the flawlessly slick, black, even lamina of ink which lends the works a surface unity worthy of the clean, flat surfaces predicated by Minimalism. Unlike his works from the 1970s which had thick, brushy acrylic surfaces, here Warhol returned to the ineluctable flatness of the picture plane. Warhol had an obsessive preoccupation with sudden death, even before Valerie Solanas entered the Factory and shot him, nearly killing him, on June 3rd, 1968. This morbid fascination is openly reflected in his work, especially in the often gruesome Death and Disaster and Electric Chair series. Here, the mysterious image of the artist's gaunt features reflects this lifelong fascination with the transience of life, and seems to convey an awareness of his own impending death. While there is no way that Warhol could have known what fate had in store for him, there is an almost tangible sense of the ageing artist confronting his own mortality. As John Caldwell noted of Warhol's last series, "The new painting, coming as it does twenty years after the last great self-portraits in the sixties, has by contrast with them a strange sense of absoluteness. Perhaps this comes in part from the fact that the artist's neck is invisible, or it may derive from the oddly lit nimbus of hair that seems posed forever over his head. Certainly, the portrait derives part of its power from the sense that we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon." (John Caldwell, "A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie," Carnegie Magazine, Pittsburgh, January - February 1987, p. 9) Despite their colors and high-keyed tonality, these are stark faces, moribund like a spectral head. Set against the inky black background, Warhol's disembodied head takes on the resemblance of a skull, the consummate vanitas motif, a reminder of the ubiquity of life and death. Warhol had already explored this motif of the memento mori, first in a series of Skulls from 1976 and subsequently in a small series of self-portraits with a skull made two years later when the artist was fifty. In the present series, however, Warhol himself becomes the vanitas object. The heightened contrast emphasizes the bone structure of the skull below the taut skin. As Warhol's friend and biographer David Bourdon recalled, the public's immediate reaction to these works when they were exhibited was one of shock, with many viewers leaving the show deeply moved: “Some spectators interpreted the pictures as a memento mori, an unblinking, unsentimental view of a hurriedly approaching mortality.” (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Ever since the Ethel Scull commission in 1963, Warhol understood the power of working in multi-panel, multicolored, repetitive compositions, which allowed him to exploit the given image to its limit. In his portraiture, this allowed him to explore the subtle nuances and permutations of the sitter, creating extra sensitivity through repetition. This is how he chose to exhibit his works - as a series - from the time of his breakthrough Campbell's Soup exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962 onwards. Yet it is rare today to find such series still intact, rendering the present group exceptional. The presence of the repeated image here further rarefies an already iconic portrait of the artist. Indeed the disembodied heads can fuse to create a single image, as our eye scans from one to the other, never resting as no single head dominates. By repeating his self-representation, Warhol revealed in these pictures a fractured self-image where unity only exists in multiplicity. Through mechanical reproduction and anonymous facture, Warhol's multiple Self-Portraits contradict the genre's ideal of intimate self-expression; yet in fact, in harnessing the technique of the screen-print to such unbridled international success, the resulting image is anything but anonymous. On the contrary, Warhol's image is here packaged and presented in his own instantly recognizable brand of Pop, on par with his 1960s portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Liz Taylor. Each signed and dated 86 on the overlap

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Popeye

Jeff Koons has an eye for Pop. Heir to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Koons is the unmitigated twenty-first century successor to the Pop revolution of the 1960s. Celebrities, cartoon characters, paradigms of popular taste and archetypes of kitsch sentimentality all articulated in saccharine candy colors, faux-lux materials and high gloss comprise the quintessential Koonsian universe. This supreme eye for Pop, or indeed Pop-eye, is the very concept (and Duchampian linguistic pun) that underlines the powerful metaphoric significance of his most accomplished and major work of recent years – an immaculate and gleaming six and-a-half foot tall heroic statue depicting the swarthy cartoon sailor of the very same name. As for Warhol and Lichtenstein in the 1960s, for Koons, Popeye the Sailor Man is a true icon of twentieth-century popular culture; though over 80 years old, the all-American cartoon hero is nevertheless as relevant and universally famous across the globe today as he was almost a century ago. Immortalized by Koons’s aforementioned Pop forefathers in 1961, Popeye became a vehicle not just for ‘low-brow’ entertainment, but for a new high-art expression that adopted the ephemera and brand icons of a rapidly proliferating consumer age. Originally conceived in 1929 as a newspaper comic-strip, Popeye grew to the status of cultural phenomenon amidst the adversities of the Great Depression: resolutely ordinary yet tough, resilient, confident and super-strong, this self-made man personified the American dream in a time of international hardship. Koons has re-appropriated this American champion as an icon for the new millennium. Herculean in stance with cleft-chin proffered and outrageously proportioned muscles swelling, Popeye is three-dimensional and over life-size, incarnated with Brancusian reflectivity in Koons’s signature material: stainless steel. Created with the very highest level of craftsmanship and flawlessly finished in kaleidoscopic jewel-like glazes of extraordinary clarity, Popeye stands at the very apotheosis of a long line of monumental sculptures and statues in which Jeff Koons has courted controversy and sought banality to re-frame the terms of high art for the masses. Popeye embodies a mighty hybrid subtly nuanced with the essential traits synonymous with Koons’s most celebrated pieces and famous bodies of work. The seminal stainless steel Rabbit from the Statuary series of 1986, the porcelain sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles from Banality in 1986, the erotically charged yet Disneyesque flowers from Made in Heaven in 1991, and the irresistible and colossal stainless steel Balloon Dog and Hanging Heart of the Celebration series from 1994, together form the Koonsian arena within which Popeye, resolutely tied to the Twenty-First Century, now takes center stage. In 1929 Popeye made his debut as a bit-part in a long established comic-strip Thimble Theatre in the New York Journal.  Created by the Illinois born cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the comic first appeared in print in 1919 but was radically transformed with Popeye’s appearance ten years later, propelling the cartoon, and moreover the character, to national fame and popularity. Having originally centered on the adventures of Olive Oyl and her family, Popeye was introduced as a straight-talking, quick-tempered mariner only intended to serve a sea-faring story-line. The new character, however, far outstripped the popularity of the cartoon’s existing premise and in turn sparked a radical transformation that witnessed Popeye’s elevation to main protagonist. The storylines thereafter developed with Popeye at the center apprehending villains and overcoming seemingly hopeless tasks by calling upon the strengthening properties of canned spinach. With his squinting eye, trademark corn-cob pipe, bulging forearms and salty attitude, Popeye became an icon of triumph over adversity - a status made all the more prevalent during the early 1930s owing to a dramatic decline in the social and financial climate. A product of the years between two world wars blighted by social powerlessness and economic hardship, Popeye was a cultural phenomenon. At its height the comic strip was reproduced in over 600 newspapers across the United States, was credited with singlehandedly saving the spinach industry during the depression, and alongside Mickey Mouse became one of the most successful animated cartoon franchises of the Twentieth Century. Reinterpreted for a new century and elevated to the status of high art statuary, Koons’s larger than life cartoon colossus is an opulent and heroic allegory expressed in the instantly accessible vernacular of Pop culture. With the help of a can of spinach Popeye is able to metamorphose from ordinary sailor into a hero with superhuman strength and cunning. As an unlikely champion, he represents a kind of everyman transcendence; in this sense Popeye is the perfect Koonsian hero. “For me, Popeye is a figure who has his limitations, but there’s this sense of acceptance.” (the artist in conversation with Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, 2009, p. 69) Besides signifying confidence and courage in times of adversity, Popeye embodies the essential metaphor that underlines the very core of Koons’s practice: the acceptance of cultural history and the acceptance of self. Since the early 1980s Koons has worked within the remit of Pop art and its embrace of consumer driven visual culture to eradicate intellectual guilt and critical shame from an appreciation of mass taste. Through a lexicon of immediately recognizable ‘secular archetypes’ sourced from consumer goods, childhood icons and celebrity culture, Koons suspends judgment and employs superficial and kitschy taste to deliver exalted meaning and big concepts. This focus was first fully broached in 1986 with Banality, a body of work comprising the giant sculpture of a kitten dangling from a clothes line, Buster Keaton straddling a diminutive horse as well as Pink Panther and Michael Jackson and Bubbles porcelain statues. Proposing an altered concept of the Duchampian readymade, Koons creates objects based on emblems or ideas drawn from the mass consciousness as the cipher for a new conceptual dialogue. As Koons explains, “In the Banality series I started to focus on my dialogue about people accepting their own histories… I was just trying to say that whatever you respond to is perfect, that your history and your own cultural background are perfect… that it’s ok to give in to what you respond to.” (Jeff Koons, "Dialogues on Self-Acceptance" in Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, 2012, p. 24) Popeye’s very own dictum, “I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam,” is thus intentionally apt yet signals an inherent contradiction essential to Koons’s artistic project: though a champion of acceptance, the will or necessity to overcome and go beyond ultimately prevails. Katy Siegel has argued that this conflict reflects that of American culture in general, “which swings between the poles of ‘I’m, OK, you’re OK’, an almost belligerent insistence on not needing to learn or change, and the desire for self-improvement and social mobility.” (Katy Siegel in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 260) Triumphantly holding a can of spinach squeezed open by a giant hand and tumescent forearm, Popeye wields the key to his own self-mastery and transformation. For Koons, Popeye represents the essential übermensch and ultimate metaphor for the potential of art: “… Popeye transforms. He eats his spinach and he transforms. And art is the spinach. Art can transform your life.” (the artist in conversation with Pharrell Williams, ARTST TLK, Reserve Channel, 23 November 2013) As first fully articulated in Banality, Koons sees art as a form of ‘self-help’ heavily invested in a very traditional notion of enlightenment: art as a vehicle for a purer sense of being and empowerment. With Koons’s monumental Popeye, overt virility and inescapable phallic prowess is on display through a masquerade of bulging musculature and exultant posturing. Where Koons portrays Jackson in the guise of a tragi-kistch pietà, Popeye is undoubtedly steeped in classical tropes of heroic masculinity. Indeed, Popeye was framed within this very classical context in the recent exhibition Jeff Koons: The Sculptor at the Frankfurt Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, in which super-reflectivity and radiant color contrasted with the idealism of ancient marble. Evoking the straining biceps of the Hellenic Laӧcoon in the Vatican, possessing a bulk that summons the heavy musculature of the Farnese Hercules, and echoing the exquisitely rounded athletic curves for which the Discophoros of Polykleitos is paradigmatic, Popeye represents the meeting of American Pop and Minimalism with the European figurative tradition. Articulated in mirror polished stainless steel – the fabric of Minimalism and according to the artist, “symbol of the proletariat”– the present work reasserts the classical tradition of public statuary as an ideal projection of the body politic (the artist cited in Norman Rosenthal, "Notes on Jeff Koons" in The Jeff Koons Handbook, New York, 1992, p. 20). During the French Revolution, and most markedly associated with the radical tyranny of the Terror between 1793 and 1794, Jacques-Louis David cast the public seal of the Republic in the guise of Hercules. Symbolic of the glory of the French people, Hercules represented action over reason and the triumph of strength, courage and labor over the throne’s despotism. Intended to reside over the Place de la Concord, David’s unrealized 46 foot colossus combined an expression of democracy with threatening proletarian power. At once half-man and half-god, this mythological figure is the very historical archetype of empowered masculinity conjured by Koons’s Popeye. The prominent tattoo of a tank visible inside Popeye’s left bicep – an adaptation on the typical anchors tattooed on both forearms – affirms an equivalence between Hercules and the bellicose chauvinism of Popeye’s proletarian transcendence. The concept of the ‘self-made man’ utterly permeates Koons’s practice and finds its supreme articulation in the figure of Popeye. Extolling the virtues of transformation, whether via spinach supplements for Popeye, by means of radioactivity as in the Hulk, or the social mobility afforded by basketball for Dr. Dunkenstein, Koons is consistent in his emphasis of the work involved or physicality inherent to the act of transformation. As explicated by Katy Siegel, “A psychologist might opine that these characters simply allow the ‘real’ self of Clark Kent et al., to emerge. And yet this view doesn’t really make sense in Koons’s universe; all of the figures are distinguished by a physical – rather than psychological – transformation of speed, skill, size, costume, or coloration (the King of Pop turns white just as the Hulk turns green). That is, they seem to change from the outside in, often in response to some material event (downing a can of spinach, exposure to radioactivity), or in pursuit of social reward (cultural or athletic stardom). If at the beginning of his career Koons warned about the dangers of trying to become something one was not, he has increasingly emphasized what one makes of oneself in the world, rather than a natural self.” (Katy Siegel in Op. Cit., p. 510) Suspended in a continual state of becoming, the chameleon form of Popeye evokes a bipartite, and even tripartite, discourse on identity formation. In a signature gesture, Koons invites the viewer to consider their own reflection across an encasement of wonderfully rounded colored mirrors. As such we are not only witness to Popeye’s becoming and transformation but subject to reconsider and overcome our own sense of self. Interpreted this way, there is no better example in Koons’s oeuvre than the figure of the artist. As Arthur C. Danto has outlined, there is no doubt that the heroic Popeye is Koons by proxy in the world he is creating (Arthur C. Danto in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Jeff Koons: Pop Eye Series, 2009, p. 31). Indeed, beyond possessing a Pop-eye, Koons is in fact Mr. Popeye himself. Signed, dated 2009-2011 and numbered 3/3 on the underside of Popeye's right foot

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate)

"I like money on the wall" – Andy Warhol's infamous statement from 1975 gives verbal expression to a dialogue initiated thirteen years previously in 1962 (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again), Orlando 1975, p. 133). During this year Warhol would paint the very first in what would become a lineage of canvases depicting the ultimate symbol of status and wealth: money. This painting is One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate). Unimpeachably important, it signifies the very foundation upon which Warhol forged his career, the one painting to which Warhol’s fascination with consumption, wealth, celebrity, and glamour is rooted. Indeed, the iconographic power of the American dollar bill inhabits the symbolic core of Warhol’s radical Pop dialectic. Signalling Warhol’s full transition to fine art superstar, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) ranks amongst the most important works from his unparalleled artistic legacy. Executed in the pivotal year of 1962, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) is completely unique and signals the dawn of a new era for Andy Warhol, located as it is at the threshold of his experimentation with mechanical processes of image making. Herein, not only is this the very first dollar painting, it is the only one to have been painted by hand, and joins those other early hand-painted masterpieces that announce his arrival as a cultural force. Created alongside the breakthrough Ferus Gallery Campbell Soup Can paintings of 1962 – the artist's first solo exhibition and first use of serial repetition – One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) belongs to an elite pantheon of twentieth-century masterpieces and provides an historically important expression of the seductive power and symbolic potency of the American dollar. The Silver Certificate was the original one-dollar bill and had been used as official legal tender from 1878 until 1963. Monumentalised by Warhol on an arresting scale it bears the markings and declarations that constitute American history. Magnifying its intricate design and statutory affirmations into a consummate painterly transcription, Warhol demarcates its undulating form with thin, silver lines and bold definition. Severe contrasts and a dark field of shadow along the top edge imbue One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) with graphic depth. Similar to the ripped labels that peel and crumple away from the cylindrical surfaces in the Campbell Soup Can paintings (catalogue raisonné numbers 86–102), this shadow implies the three-dimensionality of the original bill – a concession to verisimilitude that would soon be ironed out with his discovery of the silkscreen method. Aligned with Warhol’s early paintings, the present work’s composition was achieved by hand tracing a photographic projection onto canvas. The photographic source was taken from a series of images showing dollar bills in varying arrangements. Taken by Warhol’s close friend Edward Wallowitch at the artist’s behest, the original contact sheet reveals three one-dollar bills in a triangular configuration; Warhol cropped and inverted this image to achieve his final composition. Although the present work was the only painting created, Wallowitch’s contact sheet was used as the source for a multitude of other drawings by the artist. Following Wallowitch’s photographic source, these drawings depict dollar bills arranged in various groupings and shapes, tied in a roll, torn in half, ripped and crumpled, as well as in combination with Campbell’s Soup cans. This unique union of Warhol’s most iconic subjects was aptly described by Allison Unruh as a “Pop primal scene” (Allison Unruh, ‘Signs of Desire: Warhol’s Depictions of Dollars’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 138). Warhol’s unconventional treatment of the dollar bill in this critical series of drawings concurred with his idiosyncratic approach to currency as something to be valued and celebrated, but also handled in a casual, nonchalant way on a day to day basis. As the artist explained: “The best way I like to carry money, actually, is messily. Crumpled wads. A paper bag is good” (Andy Warhol, op cit., Orlando 1975, p. 130). Interestingly Warhol mostly painted bills of small denominations. Similar to the way he painted Campbell’s Soup for its classless and everyman status – Arthur C. Danto refers to this Warholian subject as “the democratic soup, the soup of the people” – he depicts bills that have been owned, handled and cherished by ordinary people, the general masses with whom Warhol, the democratic everyman, aligned himself (Arthur C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol and the Love of $$$$$’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: $, 1997, p. 8). On the other hand, Warhol luxuriated in the potential of money and the glamour and wealth that it promised. Above the image of George Washington bold shaded lettering delineates the heading “United States of America”, whilst underneath the certificate's function is defined, clearly stating the legal mandate “one silver dollar payable to the bearer on demand”. Herein the inscription and title of the work underpins Warhol’s ongoing appropriation and evocation of precious metal in his work. Having first introduced gold leaf into his shoe drawings of the 1950s, gold and silver played an important part in his work: from the mesmeric environment of the artist’s silver-foiled Factory, his installation of Silver Clouds at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, through to his Gold Marilyn Monroe of 1962 and the 1963 series of silver Liz and Elvis’. Of the latter Warhol used a simulacrum of precious metal as tribute to the iconic status of 1950s silver screen idols. Indeed, very much attuned to the way Warhol valorised icons of a by-gone era, the Silver Certificate was on the verge of obsolescence. Warhol’s immortalisation of soon-to-be ‘old money’ signalled an important economic change, in which the backing of American legal tender was no longer linked to precious metal, but instead prescribed an economy centred on exchange value rather than industrial production. This transition was seminal in achieving the systems of capitalist exchange that epitomised the hyper-consumerist society, which Warhol so enthusiastically supported. Warhol had previously introduced the theme of money and the American dollar in a number of his commissioned illustrations and early drawings. For the 1954 issue of Dance Magazine for example, Warhol produced a commercial illustration depicting a sack of gold with several coins marked either with loosely sketched dollar signs, the number twenty, or miniature portraits, pouring from it. For a Charles of the Ritz face powder advertisement the artist portrayed a female face on a coin and marked it with the inscription “liberty”, playfully applying the notion of freedom to consumer culture. Moreover, a humorous drawing from around 1957 depicts a tree of money, with dollar bills hanging off the branches instead of leaves. Considering the fact that Warhol’s first corporate entity was founded that same year, his depiction of a tree sprouting money was a pertinent visualisation of his artistic and entrepreneurial ambition. These early illustrations and drawings not only prelude Warhol's choice of subject matter, but introduced aesthetic tendencies and techniques that would inspire several of the artist's early paintings of the 1960s. In his seminal essay for the Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh highlights the significance and stylistic influence that Warhol’s commercial illustrations from the 1950s had on his subsequent artistic output: “… a more extensive study of Warhol’s advertisement design would suggest that the key features of his work of the early 1960s are prefigured in the refined arsenal and manual competence of the graphic designer: extreme close-up fragments and details, stark graphic contrast and silhouetting of forms, schematic simplification, and, most important, of course, rigorous serial compositions” (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh,  ‘Andy Warhol’s One-Dimensional Art, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, pp. 42-44). In particular, Warhol's appropriation and manipulation of photographic source material was a formative technique that furnished his transition from illustrator to fine artist. At the time his invalidation of free-hand drawing was met with disapproval, however, in his transition into the realm of fine art, his inventive use of the photographic medium was an effectual technique that allowed him to achieve the speed and efficiency of output that concurred with the commercial subject matter of his works. As one of the salient examples of this initial adaptation of the tracing method for his fine art practice One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) was thus the early harbinger of an expedient technique that preluded the silkscreen process, which would define the rest of Warhol’s oeuvre. Warhol’s deliberation upon the thematic potential of the dollar as a subject coincided with the post-war boom in America and the dollar's rapidly increasing omnipotence as international currency. Looking back at this period in American history Germano Celant considered the signs and symbols endemic at that time: “What quasi-metaphysical entity, having risen to the level of absolute value, could present itself as omnipotent and omnipresent? ... Something unreal that had invaded the whole society, transforming itself into quantity and monumentality?” (Germano Celant in: Exhibition Catalogue, Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, SuperWarhol, 2003, p. 3). For Celant the answer to this question lay in Warhol’s pertinent choice of subject matter. He explained: “In 1960 Warhol identified this thing in the green bill of the American dollar, with its motto ‘In God we Trust’, in denominations of one and two dollars. It was an object liberated from its value, in favour of its function: a technical medium conveying a modality of existence in simulacra, an element transcending the functionality of need and assuming the meaning of economic overdetermination in symbolic exchange” (Germano Celant quoted in: ibid., p. 3). Identifying the American dollar as a leitmotif of American culture, Warhol famously declared that: “Americans are not so interested in selling. What they really like to do is buy” (Andy Warhol, op cit., Orlando 1975, p. 229). The ultimate symbol of the American Dream, the dollar represented not just status and wealth, but also hope and desire. Without parallel in its internationalism and potent iconography, it stood, and still stands, as the archetypal symbol for the systems of exchange that have shaped and moulded our turbo-Capitalist era. Created at the very crux of the artist’s transition from commercial illustration to the realm of fine art, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate) is heralded as the genesis of one of Warhol’s most important artistic obsessions: money. Monumental in scale and prodigious in scope, it stands as an astute allegory of its time and is truly without parallel within the salient artistic accomplishments of Andy Warhol's oeuvre.

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 2015-07-01
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Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)

Within an artist’s oeuvre there is no greater symbiotic conflation of practice and practitioner than in the self-portrait. Yet at the heart of this genre lies a paradox: these precious relics offer rare access to the creative geniuses that shaped our visual culture, but their function as an honest record is compromised by those artists’ ability to engineer profound illusions to fashion their image. In his 1986 magnum opus Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), Andy Warhol – arguably the Twentieth Century’s best and most poignant representation of this paradigm – offers himself as a monument to the ages: as Warhol the celebrity, ‘Warhol’ the artistic style, and Warhol the man. Painted just months before his untimely death, the present work’s monumental 80-inch format –exceeded only in scale by seven known 108-inch examples – endows it with a unique status as both an engulfing cenotaph and a highly personal encounter. Signifying the artist’s ultimate mastery of his long-sustained and iconic silkscreen method, the perfected clarity of the transferred image in the present example is arguably unparalleled within his oeuvre. Every single printed raster is discretely discernable and brought into the sharpest of focus, chiming in sonorous contrast with a phantasmal white as Warhol’s starkly illuminated countenance emerges from an abstract darkness. Offering a sense of unmediated access never before afforded to his public, Warhol finally allows full scrutiny of his visage.  Each furrow of skin is perfectly discernable as the deep set lines of gaunt cheeks frame a penetratingly existential stare. Whilst the catalogue raisonné for works of this period is still forthcoming, extensive research reveals that of all other large format works from this series, the present work maintains the most luminous and pure white ground. Evoking the primacy of raw unedited film or the printed newspaper, this slick and glistening monochromy recalls the stars of the silver screen whom Warhol had venerated in his early career, and indeed whose fame he had now come to surpass. Furthermore, the present work’s exclusive cold white light articulates a rare instance in which the artist’s visage recalls not just a portrait but the stark appearance of a skull, invoking the longstanding motif of the memento mori. Like an anticipatory death mask, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) crafts the most iconic vision of the artist who, having been so obsessed with the transience of life and the enduring power of the image, finally faces his own looming mortality. By giving this intimate moment visual form, the present work inducts Warhol into the limited cadre of great self-portraitists who define the genre’s captivating history. At 6:32am on February 22, 1987, Andy Warhol unexpectedly passed away in a Manhattan hospital when recovering from routine surgery. Whilst the artist had been suffering from intermittent bouts of ill health, to both friends, family and followers, the sudden death of an artist who had recently regained widespread critical acclaim seemed all the more tragic. Warhol’s profound symbolic repertoire had contributed to art history interminably pertinent ideas surrounding fame, mortality and the superficiality of images. Having established his international renown with his groundbreaking appropriation of mass-media and consumer imagery in the early 1960s, Warhol became synonymous with Pop Art, a reputation that was cemented by the legendary corpus of celebrity portraits he executed during the critical first years of his mature career. From Marilyn Monroe to Liz Taylor and Elvis Presley, it was at the dawn of the 1960s that Warhol assembled his cast of visual icons who, rendered in his unique Technicolor vision, came to define an entirely new aesthetic movement. To turn in the wake of this breakthrough success, however, by Warhol’s own admission, posed a significant challenge: “Gee, What’s happened to Andy Warhol?” the artist reflected “the 70s were sort of quiet… I think the 80s are going to be more exciting…in the 70s, nothing really different happened in art.” (the artist cited in Paul Gardner, “Gee What’s happened to Andy Warhol?,” Art News, 79, November 1980, p. 26) With the exception of his Mao series created from 1972-73, Warhol’s output in the 1970s was dominated by a string of portrait commissions which formed an atlas of American and European high-society, much decried by critics for a lack of originality; rather than being an astute commentator on the consumer market, Warhol was pandering to consumer demand.  The 1980s however offered an opportunity for renewal as the wave of Neo-Expressionism that came to dominate the landscape for painting served as a provocation for Warhol to reengage with his former glory. As critic Robert Pincus-Witten observed in 1980, “Glitz, glitter, glass seem the real subject of contemporary art… I suppose the real critical issue today is the beauty of the skin deep and the life of the mind as epitomized by Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. In the ‘60s, Warhol was a burning critical issue. In the ‘70s, Warholism had superseded Warhol. In the ‘80s, the Return of Andy Warhol.” (Robert Pincus-Witten, “Entries: Big History, Little History,” Arts Magazine, 54, April 1980, p. 184) Whilst as early as 1978 Warhol had begun to re-appropriate his own art with his Retrospectives and subsequent Reversal series, by returning to the genre of self-portraiture in 1986 Warhol was able to recall the aesthetic and conceptual genius of his former years whilst producing a body of work that was simultaneously timely and radically original. As one of the last series Warhol undertook, the 1986 Self-Portraits are universally acknowledged as the Pop-art pioneer’s last great artistic gesture in which he truly re-attains the artistic preeminence of his seminal art from the 1960s. Warhol’s initial foray into self-portraiture began as a student in Pittsburgh in 1948, with an irreverent painting that he submitted to the city’s annual artists' exhibition entitled The Broad Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Own Nose. Whilst lacking the effected cool of his later output, this stridently humorous and attention-seeking performance anticipates the awareness of audience that would characterize the artist’s subsequent self-reflections. Warhol’s first series of self-portraits as an established artist, created from 1963-64, were in fact born out of a commission from the collector Florence Barron. Ingeniously reversing the traditional role of artist patron within the realm of portraiture, Warhol used the same photo-booth format that he had for his commissions from collector Ethel Scull and cabaret star Bobby Short. Shamelessly self-styled with dark glasses and a trench coat, here Warhol presents a sense of enigma exacerbated by his crude mastery of the silkscreen process at the time. Mirroring the playfully equivocal image that he was consciously constructing at the time with regards to his media persona, Warhol’s third series of self-portraits from 1966-67 show an aloof face half caught in shadow and adopting a pensive hand-to-mouth pose. Much like the immediately preceding set of full frontal portraits from 1964 in which the artist’s features are subsumed in the vibrant pop tones of the background, the 1966-67 works revel in blasts of dramatic color blocking which vibrate with the sensations of thermal imagery and through which the artist is almost enveloped in his own abstractions. In these images we witness the complete conflation of the artist and the sensational style that he had become known for. In contrast to the long idealized view of a self-portrait stemming from an artist’s introspective volition, from its genesis Warhol’s self-portraiture was a means of performing for a public other. By 1966 Warhol was firmly a star in his own right. Maintained through his aloof conduct in interviews, wild social calendar and the styling of his physical appearance, his fastidiously constructed and highly affected public image was almost as famous as his artistic production. Embodying the constructs of fame, value and appearances that he examined, indeed Warhol’s genius lies in the fact that this persona was itself intrinsic to the conceptual purview of his practice. Fundamentally what these early portraits represent is both the highly self-conscious construction and maintenance of the celebrity that Warhol so fervently valorized in earlier works, and which existed for Warhol intrinsically within the realm of superficial appearances. In essence they foreshadow a comment made by Warhol in 1971: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am.  There's nothing behind it." (the artist cited in Hal Foster, “Death in America,” in Annette Michelson & Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Eds. Andy Warhol, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001, p. 71) Whilst Warhol would return to the self-portrait on a few select occasions over the proceeding decades, it would be 20 years before he executed his next, and final, major series. The retrospectively named Fright Wig paintings are similarly the result of a commission, but this time from the highly influential gallerist Anthony d’Offay. The revered patron subsequently recalled its beginnings: "I realized two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the Twentieth Century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous 'fright wig'. One of the images not only had a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity." (Anthony d'Offay cited in Exh. Cat., Kunstverein St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, Andy Warhol, Self Portraits, 2004, p. 131) Unveiled at d'Offay’s London gallery in July 1986, the Fright Wig self-portraits formed the first and only show in Warhol's career dedicated to the theme of self-portraiture. Moving away from the photo-booth images of 1963-64, Warhol used a Polaroid photograph as his source for these paintings – the instantaneous image capturing method which had guided his portrait practice of the previous decade.  Looking at the original images we see that Warhol wore a black turtle-neck sweater for his portrait, which, when filtered through the stark contrast of the monochrome silk-screen, allows the neck to disappear completely. The result is an eerie illusion of a disembodied head floating in a black void. Whilst d’Offay had expressed his preference within the series of Polaroids that Warhol supplied, the artist chose to also use the far more confrontational image that gave birth to the present work. Here Warhol's eyes appear more deeply sunken, half concealed by the wild tufts of his spiked hair, and his strikingly gaunt cheeks trace lines up his face. All work together to frame the artist’s utterly penetrating stare. The macabre existentialism locked in this image was not lost on contemporary critics, as John Caldwell noted when these works were first revealed: "The new painting, coming as it does twenty years after the last great self-portraits in the sixties, has by contrast with them a strange sense of absoluteness. Perhaps this comes in part from the fact that the artist's neck is invisible, or it may derive from the oddly lit nimbus of hair that seems posed forever over his head. Certainly, the portrait derives part of its power from the sense that we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon." (John Caldwell, "A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie," Carnegie Magazine, Pittsburgh, January - February 1987, p. 9) Attesting to the undeniable and universally acknowledged significance of these works, other Fright Wig self-portraits of the same 80-inch format grace international museum collections including the Tate Gallery, London; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; the Baltimore Museum of Art; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Encapsulated most perfectly in the unique ghostly white of the present example, the stark chiaroscuro of the image endows the series with a spectral presence that is compounded by the proximity of its creation to Warhol’s passing. Undoubtedly the fantastic allure of this late works is the seemingly prophetic character they hold in which Warhol creates his ultimate memento mori; a reminder of the inescapable link between life and death. Through his compositional disembodiment Warhol’s likeness becomes distinctly skull-like. From the seventeenth-century Dutch still life genre of the vanitas, to Warhol’s own paintings and photographs, the skull as ultimate symbol of mortality has permeated art history. Warhol’s fascination with the transience of life permeated his choice of imagery throughout his career, from his earlier Death and Disaster and Electric Chair series to a corpus of Skull paintings executed in 1976 and a smaller group of 1978 self-portraits that show the artist posing with an anatomical skull. This preoccupation was not unfounded: in 1964 Dorothy Podber had walked into Warhol’s studio unannounced and with a loaded pistol, shooting at a 40 inch Marilyn canvas several times; in 1967 a man similarly entered the Factory, threatened Warhol and his staff and then shot at the wall; finally on June 3rd 1968 Valerie Solanas entered the Factory and successfully shot Warhol in the chest, leaving him in a critical condition. It is in these late portraits, after experiencing nearly two decades of ongoing health issues following the traumatic event of 1968, Warhol finally turns his fascination with mortality back onto himself. As Warhol's friend and biographer David Bourdon recalled at the time of their unveiling “Some spectators” were keen to recognize the paintings as an “unblinking, unsentimental view of a hurriedly approaching mortality.” (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Warhol’s seemingly morbid obsession was perhaps not with death per se, but rather the images that are left behind by the deceased and the fact that death imbues them with a sense of legend, myth and iconicity. At the very beginning of Warhol’s 1980 publication Popism, we are met with an indication of his sentimental enchantment with the status of the posthumous celebrity: “If I’d gone ahead and died ten years ago, I’d probably be a cult figure today.” (Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, Popism: The Warhol ‘60s, New York, 1980, p. 3)  Noticeably ageing and left physically wounded as a direct result of his fame, by 1986 the artist makes a final attempt to give his iconic status a lasting image. Yet, perhaps somewhat jaded by experience, he no longer adopts the tone of sweet Pop nostalgia that he indulged in with his depictions of former starlets such as Marilyn Monroe. Moving away from the vibrant colors used for his silver-screen stars, in this distilled black and white silkscreen we find the most melancholic manifestation of Warhol’s realization that, whilst he may rival Marilyn in fame, he will never be able to experience or influence his status as a legend; a true legend is a posthumous legend. Through the very act of punctuating his career with self-portraits, Warhol places himself in dialogue with the greatest painters of history. In the Sixteenth Century, Albrecht Dürer periodically returned to self-portraiture, rendering meticulous self-depictions throughout his career. Whilst the unrelenting frontality of the present work evokes Dürer’s arresting portrait from 1500, the appeal to melancholy also parallels the German artist’s concealed self-portrait in the detailed grisailles etching Melancholia I of 1514.  From the seventeenth-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, Warhol adopted a penetrating and contemplative stare. Yet falling just short of the emotional connection that Rembrandt articulated in paint, Warhol’s cold glare aims for timelessness and the sense of immortality embodied in an ancient marble bust. Contributing to the evocation of the scull motif, Warhol’s lifeless look shows him as almost prematurely deceased, once again beckoning the sense of legend he so fervently coveted. Unedited and brutally honest, Warhol’s presentation of himself also speaks with fluency to the discomforted self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh and the unflattering self-scrutiny of Francis Bacon. Moreover, assaulted by the harsh flash of the camera, here Warhol’s emaciated features and dark gaping mouth seem to recall the existential shock of Edward Munch’s Scream. The remarkable exposure of Warhol’s ageing features comes as a result of his undeniable mastery of the silkscreen method – his greatest technical gift to the art of portraiture. In Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) the expressionistic surfaces of his 1970s portraits is abandoned in favor of ineluctable flatness and perfected clarity of the silkscreen; an open window onto the subject. Whilst the enlargement of the original Polaroid image to this scale gives a wonderfully ethereal effect, the flawlessly slick print shows Warhol as absolute technical master of the technique that he pioneered. Most crucially, for the first time the artist is allowing us to look plainly upon his face. Obsessed with surface and image, naturally Warhol had occasionally expressed dissatisfaction with the details of his appearance. As David Bourdon observed, the penchant for modifying his appearance that was evident in the early portraiture took on corporeal effect in his later life: "Warhol's visage by this time was, of course, almost totally invented: the hair belonged to one of dozens of wigs, the skin had been dermatologically transformed and constantly taughtened through the use of astringents, and the sunken cheeks had been smoothed out with collagen injections." (David Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Yet submitted to a tight compositional focus and glaring light, here Warhol creates a strange dichotomy between his vulnerable exposed face and theatrically expansive wig that consumes almost two thirds of the frame. With the wild flashes of hair aggressively crossing his face at diagonals, this highly stylized take on the artist’s signature white wig evokes both the unruly locks of scientific genius Albert Einstein and the flamboyance of the artist’s self-portraits in drag from 1981.  From 1984-85 the wigs that Warhol wore got longer, more voluminous and appeared to be teased, as a staunch attempt to maintain the glamour of his identity against the inevitable process of ageing. Like an avant-garde crown, Warhol adorns himself with the most exaggerated visual symbol of ‘Warhol’ that he can construct. Seemingly engulfed by the wig’s structured locks, Warhol makes a final effigy of the bombastic public persona that had at points overwhelmed both the artist and his career. With the confluence of a renewed painting practice, bustling social life, multiple business ventures, print projects, television productions and fashion engagements, the late 1980s were undoubtedly some of the busiest years in Warhol’s career. Yet amidst a restored sense of success, the transience of life still weighed heavy on Warhol’s mind and, in part, propelled him to create what are undeniably some of his greatest masterpieces: “Really, what’s life about? You get sick and die. That’s it. So you’ve got to keep busy.” (the artist cited in Pat Hackett, Ed., The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p. 721) More than any artist before him, Warhol's image was inextricably bound to his art, as he lived within the sense of celebrity that it examined. While in the 1960s, Warhol was an aloof commentator on the consumer culture that was sweeping through an economically prosperous America, in his final decade he and his art had become synonymous with contemporary American culture itself. Yet despite being the most famous artist of his time, Warhol remained a private individual, shielded by the characters he played and the masks he wore. As such, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) is truly a culmination of everything that ‘Warhol’ stood for. Intimate yet performative, the present work bears witness to the clearest articulation of what curator Robert Rosenblum has described as “the endless contradictions” of Andy Warhol, “which constantly shift back and forth between telling us all and telling us nothing about the artist who can seem, even in the same work, both vulnerable and invulnerable, both superficial and profound.”  (Robert Rosenblum, “Andy Warhol’s Disguises’” in Exh. Cat., St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (and travelling), Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, 2004, p. 21) Substantiated in the salient tension between fragile human face and fantastical synthetic hair, it is by embodying this intriguing paradox that Andy Warhol has attained his truly mythical status within the history of visual culture. Stamped with the artist’s signature and inscribed I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1986 Frederick Hughes on the overlap

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 2016-11-18
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Big Electric Chair

“I never understood why when you died you didn’t just vanish and everything could just keep going the way it was, only you just wouldn’t be there.” Andy Warhol, America, 1985, p. 126 Nowhere else in Andy Warhol’s prodigious output does he more affectingly capture the metaphysical terror of living in the Technicolor Sixties than in Big Electric Chair. For the artist who singlehandedly defined the intense prismatic palette of Pop art, Big Electric Chair from 1967-1968 embodies the most daring and sophisticated deployment of color across all of Warhol’s most critically lauded Death and Disaster paintings. Exceptionally rare, it is one of only fourteen large-format depictions of the subject, of which the majority reside in major international collections such as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, and the Menil Collection in Houston. The present work is the sole Big Electric Chair that saw Warhol divide the canvas into three discrete fields of uniform color and silkscreen the surface twice—once in a dark purple and subsequently in a velvet green. The paintings that Warhol previously executed in 1963 and 1965 depicting the same electric chair were strictly black-ink silkscreens on monochromatic grounds, either on much smaller canvases or serially repeated in the same image. Emphasizing its inimitable singularity, not only were the Big Electric Chairs the largest isolated iterations of the subject, but none aside from the present work saw Warhol segment the image into more than two oblique zones of color. Its polychromatic, high-key tonality without doubt renders it the most compositionally complex of all Electric Chairs. A delirium of Fauvist colors spill across the tripartite surface, juxtaposing the vacant sobriety of the image with a vertiginous ecstasy of chromatic drama. The sequence of cobalt blue, acid-green and violet is paradigmatic of Warhol’s most powerful treatment of color, magnifying the nightmare of the image and its potent resonance. The 1967 Big Electric Chairs are further distinguished from earlier examples by their heightened immediacy—Warhol cropped the original source photograph to foreground the electric chair and eliminate the atmospheric emptiness of the background, pressing the chair closer to the viewer. Unlike any of Warhol’s other Death and Disaster paintings, the present work positions us within the center of its horror, implicating us as both spectators and potential victims. Meanwhile, Warhol’s doubling of the silkscreen within the same image creates a distinct off-register effect that haunts the picture, a heightened contouring that the artist attempted with only four of the fourteen Big Electric Chairs. The image portentously buzzes, a blurry irradiation whose shadows provide a sense of three-dimensional space to invite the viewer into its reality, emphasized by the cord spiraling toward us at the bottom left of the canvas. Much of the scholarship surrounding the Electric Chairs points to the potentiality of the image and the chair’s ominous invitation. However, the aggressive instantaneity of the present work’s color palette seems to transport us into the present moment of electrocution, metaphorically vibrating with the terrifying flash of death at the instant of its arrival. Invented at the end of the Nineteenth Century by Harold P. Brown and Arthur Kennelly, employees of Thomas Edison, the electric chair was the United States’ answer to finding a method of capital punishment to replace hanging. Strapped firmly to a wooden chair and attached to numerous electrodes, the condemned would be subjected to a rapid sequence of alternating currents—cycles varying in voltage and duration surged through their body, inducing fatal damage to the internal organs until the heart stopped and they could be pronounced dead. In its linear geometric progression, Big Electric Chair’s three skewed bands of color chromatically simulate the sequential detonation of the alternating current—each strip presses against the next, a tectonic whirl of color that pictorially renders the pulsing terror of the precise, serial jolts of electricity. This staggering effect exemplifies Warhol’s ability to operate within the palette of Pop, but expand the potential of color beyond the stasis of attraction toward a uniquely expressive sensation of motion. The virulent chromatic brutality impels the viewer to realize their own moral distance from the image, emphasizing and unveiling our desensitization to media violence. In a rare interview with Gene Swenson published by Art News in November 1963, Warhol said, “It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like ‘4 million are going to die.’ That started it. But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect.” (the artist cited in Art News, November 1963) Initiated in 1962 at Henry Geldzahler’s encouragement to put aside representations of consumer culture and engage with more serious subject matter, Warhol’s Death and Disaster series propelled the artist beyond celebrity toward critical gravitas. It was around this time, immediately following Marilyn Monroe’s tragic suicide in August 1962, that Warhol also began silkscreening images of the iconic leading lady. Rendering her visage in a panoply of electric Pop hues hauntingly mummified her celebrity, a shocking dissonance between death and exuberant excess that is echoed in Big Electric Chair. Douglas Fogle wrote, “Our fascination with the beauty and glamour of celebrities seems to have an inevitable flip side, which is our deep-seated obsession with tragedy and death.” (Douglas Fogle, “Spectators at Our Own Deaths” in Exh. Cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center (and travelling), Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters 1962-1964, 2006, p. 13) It is precisely this leitmotif of the uncanny juxtaposition between intoxicating bubblegum pop and mortality that permeates Warhol’s best pictures. Just as Warhol challenged our threatening voyeuristic impulses with his subversive depictions of celebrity, Big Electric Chair interrogates the moral psychoses of the mass media, as the candy-colored panorama of the canvas appealingly invokes the public’s voracious consumption of death on-screen. Warhol used as his source for the original silkscreen a photograph of the chair at Sing Sing penitentiary in Ossining, New York, an industrial vehicle of ritual killing that executed 614 individuals between 1891 and 1963. This photograph was published by the press on June 19, 1953—the day that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put to death at Sing Sing after being convicted of spying for the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, allegedly smuggling information to the Russians pertaining to the atomic bomb. Warhol’s source photograph demonstrates death as it is propped up for the public’s viewing, our alternating emotional index oscillating between fear and an insatiable fervor, reminiscent of the crowds that would gather for public hangings. Big Electric Chair’s phantasmagoria of color calls to mind the painting of Francis Bacon, whose most riveting canvases amalgamate the carnal horrors of disfigurement and profound psychological unrest with harrowingly bright hues. Michel Leiris wrote that Bacon’s paintings convey a modern mental state previously referred to as “le mal du siècle—the ardent awareness of being a presence permeable to all the charms of a world not notable, however, for its kindness, and the icy uncertainty that we are no more than this, have no real power, and are what we are only for a ridiculously limited time… he cannot do other than show the appalling dark side of life, which is the reverse of its bright surface.” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, 1983, pp. 45-6) If Bacon’s colors served not only to inflate the surreal unease of his pictures, but expose the harlequin masking the macabre lurking beneath, Warhol instrumentally deploys a similarly brazen spectrum to highlight the existential malaise of living in the media-saturated climate of 1960s America. Among the car crashes, suicides, and race riots, Neil Printz declared, “The Electric Chair, with its near-frontality and unchanging recurrence, is the most iconic of Warhol’s Death and Disaster images.” (Neil Printz in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1989, p. 16) A uniquely American industrial invention capable of mechanizing death, the electric chair encompasses Warhol’s overarching enthrallment with the relationship between technological reproducibility and mortality. Emulating the raw power of the Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) from 1963, Big Electric Chair sees man become the orchestrator of his own demise through his invention of this killing machine—Warhol spins a circuitous parable of birth and death that marks a particular moment in American history, yet is timeless in the unsettling dread that it bares derived from our very own making. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the absurdity of human transience inhabit every pore of this breathtaking painting, a treatise on the emotional conditioning of our time.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz)

Andy Warhol’s magnificent Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz), executed between October and November 1963, is one of a rare series of Elizabeth Taylor produced by the master of Pop Art on colored backgrounds. 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. The numerical title of Liz #1 originates from the first exhibition of this series at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, where six of the colored Liz paintings appeared in a December 1963 show fittingly titled An American Viewpoint. Most importantly, it resided for several decades in the illustrious Sonnabend Collection, along with Liz #5 (Early Colored Liz) and Four Marilyns of 1962, both on turquoise grounds, among many other masterpieces of Pop Art. Ileana Sonnabend and her former husband Leo Castelli each held important exhibitions for Warhol in the months following the creation of Liz #1 - the Death and Disaster paintings at Galerie Sonnabend in Paris in January and the Flower paintings in New York at the Castelli Gallery in November - December 1964. As with his images of Marilyn Monroe or Jacqueline Kennedy, Warhol’s depictions of Elizabeth Taylor display not so much his ambition to record the prose of physical likeness, but more his love affair with the drama and glamour of celebrity. For Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor was much more than just a celebrated actress. She was the survivor of a near fatal illness, a goddess of the silver screen and the grand embodiment of the trinity of mortality, celebrity and fame which so fascinated the artist. Warhol’s deep involvement with the image of Elizabeth Taylor appeared very early in his career, beginning with his Death and Disaster paintings. When Warhol was still largely painting his canvases by hand, he borrowed subject matter from the front pages of tabloids and newspapers, beginning in 1961. Warhol’s second and largest "headline’’ painting, Daily News (1962), was based on the front and back pages of a March 29, 1962 newspaper with the front page headline "Eddie Fisher Breaks Down: In Hospital Here, Liz in Rome." For Warhol, tabloid papers were either vehicles for mass disaster, rendering tragic circumstances almost mundane by their commonplace repetition, or the purveyors of celebrity and fame to an avid audience. In figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy, Warhol found the ideal subjects that combined both aspects of the mass media culture where accessibility turned private tragedy into public myth. By isolating and then serializing such images, Warhol began the practice of essentially commodifying celebrity, just as he had earlier catalogued the darker side of life with his various images of car crashes, race riots and electric chairs. This, in turn, would affect a later generation of artists, most notably Jeff Koons, whose work seems to celebrate the Warholian process of ‘commodification’. In the early 1960s, Liz Taylor had emerged from a string of successful films that signaled her complete transformation from the child star of National Velvet (1944) to the heated sex symbol of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and Butterfield 8 (1960). Often, Taylor’s personal life superceded her professional accomplishments as the public passionately followed her early marriages, the tragic death of her third husband Mike Todd and her role as the other woman in the break-up of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ marriage – all before the actress had turned 30. Most tellingly for Warhol, the young voluptuous woman 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. In the summer of 1963, Taylor’s role as an icon of luxury, decadence, sexuality and celebrity was at its height, when Warhol chose a publicity shot of the actress in the late 1950s to match the iconic pose he was using in his silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe’s studio publicity shot. As in the case of Monroe, Warhol sought to capture her physical attributes – her public mask of hair and makeup – rather than a biographical or career moment. At first, Warhol screened this image over silver backgrounds in the summer of 1963, at the same time he was screening his Silver Elvis paintings, and both series were shown at the Ferus Gallery in October 1963. However in October-November 1963, Warhol soon moved to the multi-colored backgrounds that he was using for his 20 by 16 inch Marilyn paintings of late 1962.  With his Liz portraits, Warhol inaugurated the most classic format for his modern muses – the 40 by 40 inch canvases in which his goddess is centrally placed and evenly balanced. Set against bold colors, the thirteen Colored Liz paintings command our attention and seduce our senses. The Marilyn and Jackie paintings in this format followed in the summer of 1964. Like modern-day Madonnas, the images of these three women were refined down to their basic attributes contrasted dramatically against brilliant colored backgrounds; in the case of Liz Taylor, her abundant dark hair, her brilliantly hued eyes, her perfectly arched brow and her voluptuous red lips were the signs of her immortality as a public image. From the very first moment one encounters this painting, one is seduced by the bright, electrified yellow hue that bursts from the surface. It seeps into the sitter’s hair, displaying pyrotechnics of color and screen. Punctuating these bold passages are the shocking turquoise of her eye-shadow as well as the famous blue tones of her eyes. This strong chromatic field sets the stage upon which the star herself is realized. Warhol’s silkscreen technique, still a relatively new phenomenon to him in 1963, is beautifully executed here. There is a wonderful balance between the crisp record of the overall form, together with softer, more subtle areas of screen that shape the shadows around her nose, cheek and neck. One finds in this series of Colored Liz paintings a more confident Warhol with the silkscreen. The early experiments had been made, and now he wished to explore the various nuances this new technique presented to him. Liz #1 powerfully sums up the extraordinary contribution Warhol made to the lexis and praxis of art. An image of a film star, purloined from a publicity photograph, becomes iconic not just of the vagaries of life and death, but also of the questions of beauty, and how society embraces and nurtures such a dynamic. The aesthetic and the conceptual are thus inextricably linked, revealing Warhol’s focus on searching questions of how and why celebrity matters. Moreover, underpinning the visual and intellectual rewards we garner from Liz #1, the extraordinary technical achievement Warhol made, here perfected in the silkscreen technique, creates an astonishing work that truly broadcasts the essence of an icon. Signed on the stretcher

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-14
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Suicide

Visual aesthetics, rigorous use of composition and astute choice of subject matter come together in Andy Warhol’s, Suicide, 1964, to create a work of power, beauty and tragedy.  After decades of modernist abstraction, Pop Art restored representation and objective imagery to painting, reflecting the world in which it thrived via electronic and print media.  Many interpreted the subject matter of Pop Art as too readily recognizable and easily accessible and did not realize the deeper conceptual aesthetic issue that was central to Warhol’s oeuvre - how modern media was affecting modern life and consciousness.  Andy Warhol stands as one of the most acute observers of this phenomenon.  Suicide is an outstanding example of the artist’s Death and Disaster series that reveals Warhol’s pre-occupation with the contradictions inherent in public and private despair. The Death and Disaster series may have at first appeared to be a startling choice of subject for the new star of Pop Art and the painter of mundane consumer products such as the Campbell’s Soup Can.  Yet, over the intervening decades, this body of work has been recognized as his most important and complex.  Warhol had a striking fascination with death and, overtly or subtly, the theme is a vein that runs through a large portion of his overall output – from celebrity paintings to self-portrait to car crashes. The Deaths and Disasters were both self-inflicted, and socially determined.  They do not appear at all sentimental; capturing the choreography of death rather than the emotional import.  The raw humanism of the images of suicides, catastrophes, tragic car accidents and capital punishment is juxtaposed against Warhol’s desire to be detached and machine-like, revealing the contradictory impulse that led him to produce such powerful and moving works of art. In the 1960’s, items such as advertisements, movie stills, magazines and newspaper photographs played a dominant role in artists’ creative thinking.  A dramatic growth in leisure time among affluent societies increased readership of print and film media.  Often the same photograph or video clip was shown repeatedly in periodicals and on television screens, inuring the public to certain images no matter how potent their content.  The irony of this appealed to Warhol, who subtly used this brand of imagery to infuse raw emotion into his subject matter.  Warhol began his Electric Chairs in 1963, exploring the banality of death in the modern world.  An empty electric chair is a forceful and jarring image of death that is instantly recognizable as an iconic image of legalized and supposedly civilized killing.  In Warhol’s Suicides death is humanized.  In both series the viewer is presented with a sense of imminence.  There is an unsettling emptiness in the Electric Chair paintings, as though the victim is waiting to be brought to execution.  In the present work the viewer can not help but anticipate the ultimate fate of the free falling body. As opposed to the single image focus of the Suicides, Warhol at times chose to cloak images from the Death and Disaster series in repeated patterns. The Car Crash series depicts anonymous victims and indiscriminate death in a much more blatant manner, as we witness the brutal aftermath of accidents, yet when Warhol chose to screen the image multiple times, there is a sense of “slippage” in their impact that results both from the artist’s technique and the nature of news photography. Ultimately however, even within his detached stance, the artist’s actual intent was not to render the scene as anonymous but to point out the particularities and unique tragedy of an individual death.  In a 1963 interview, Warhol described his attraction to his source material.  “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect. …and I thought people should think about them some time. …It’s not that I feel sorry for them, it’s just that people go by and it doesn’t really matter to them that someone unknown was killed so I thought it would be nice for these unknown people to be remembered.” (Gene Swenson, “What is Pop Art?”, Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In 1962 Warhol created the artistic enterprise for which he is most famous – the use of silkscreen technique to create fine art.  The medium appealed to Warhol visually for its tonal contrasts and grainy cinematic effects, but more importantly he appreciated the flexibility of the medium.  Warhol is believed to have created his first Suicide silkscreen on paper in 1962, one of his earliest uses of the photographic silkscreen process.  In 1964, Warhol produced an elite corpus of works based on this photograph, creating one of the most powerful images of his entire oeuvre. The present work is an outstanding example from this esteemed series. Warhol’s silkscreens on paper, such as the present work, The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) and Cagney, have an individuality as they demonstrate the silkscreen process at its most basic – the variables in ink and the action of the screening itself.  The incredible tonal range, raw imagery, and intense subject matter of Suicide produce an effective impact on the viewer and make the work a resonant example of Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. Signed and dated 1964 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-14
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Invendu

Front and Back Dollar Bills

Encapsulating the ultimate marriage of art and money, Andy Warhol’s first series of silk-screened works, the Dollar Bills, perfectly reflect their maker’s own glittering transformation from artist to icon. Executed in 1962, these are the very first works through which the Godfather of Pop mastered his career defining and trademark artistic method: silkscreen printing. Executed in repeating sequences of dollar note green and inky black with landmark mechanical precision, Warhol’s Dollar Bills represent the very cornerstones of his entire artistic output. This series comprises of only eight works created in monumental proportions: today two are housed in the illustrious international collections of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin; while the extant works are held in world renowned private collections including the Froehlich Collection and the Estate of esteemed collector Myron Orlofsky. Incredibly boasting two of the remaining large Dollar Bills left in private hands, To The Bearer on Demand proudly includes the only diptych depicting one dollar billsin the series as well as the only work purely depicting the backs of Warhol’s favourite denomination, the two dollar bill. As key components of the Dollar Bills corpus therefore, Front and Back Dollar Bills and Two Dollar Bills (Back) (40 Two Dollar Bills in Green), together play a crucial role in Warholian history. Incredibly rare and utterly ground-breaking, the appearance of these works for public sale denotes a truly unique auction moment and quite possibly marks one of the very last appearances of Warhol’s small series of large Dollar Bills on the open market. With this series, Andy Warhol wholly revolutionised American art with his pioneering use of the commercial silkscreen technique. Responding to the consumer driven culture of the post-war climate, Warhol sought a technique that would eradicate traces of the artist’s hand, mirroring the distance and alienation that was proliferating in the modern world around him. Rather fittingly, and with typical Warholian irony, the subject matter chosen for this momentous shift in practice was the ultimate serial image and symbol of commerce – the mass-printed dollar bill. Depicting one of the most recognisable and potent motifs in the world, this series explores the cultural, creative and decorative potential of the dollar as a socially loaded emblem of wealth and status. The early silkscreened dollar bills should thus be seen as the very foundation of his lifelong fascination and celebration of celebrity, wealth and popular culture and are amongst the most significant pieces he ever created. Various anecdotes have been mythologised in art history as to who inspired Warhol to elevate the humble dollar bill to the realm of high art. One account attributes the suggestion to the famed art and antiques dealer Muriel Latow. Warhol's assistant, Ted Carey, gave this account of the fabled conversation between Warhol and Latow: “Andy [Warhol] said, 'I don't know what to do.' 'So,' he said, 'Muriel, you've got fabulous ideas. Can't you give me an idea?' And so, Muriel said, 'Yes.' 'But,' she said, 'it's going to cost you money.' So Andy said, 'How much?' So she said, 'fifty dollars.' She said, 'Get your checkbook and write me a check for fifty dollars' and Andy ran and got his checkbook, like you know, he was really crazy and he wrote out the check. He said, 'All right. Give me a fabulous idea.' And so Muriel said, ’What do you like more than anything else in the world?’ So Andy said, ’I don’t know, what?’ So she said ’Money. The thing that means more to you than anything else in the world is money. You should paint pictures of money’ and so Andy said ’Oh, that’s wonderful’” (Ted Carey quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 126). Alternately, New York art dealer Eleanor Ward attributes the start of this series to her promise of a solo show at her Stable Gallery should Andy paint her lucky two dollar bill. In typically drôle diction however, Warhol describes his reasoning much more simply: “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about. I’m working on soups and I’ve been doing some paintings of money. I just do it because I like it” (Andy Warhol quoted in: David Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1995, p. 90). At the beginning of 1962 Warhol announced the induction of the dollar into his repertoire with his large and now iconic hand-painted One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate). Up to this point, Warhol had been translating mass produced images, objects and commercial products purely by hand. Frustrated by drawing, however, he became preoccupied by visualising processes of industrial repetition and giving artistic expression to the factory production line, and so looked for a mechanical aid to produce his paintings. Having first experimented with the serial image by laboriously using stencils, as seen in his repeating soup cans such as 100 Campbell Soup Cans, and meticulously using rubber stamps as with his Airmail series, Warhol found that neither process allowed him to achieve his ultimate goal; a mechanical multiplicity of one image within the same work. The silkscreen, however, would prove to be Warhol’s perfect muse. During the months of March to April 1962 he employed the silkscreen method that was already widely used in the field of commercial printing. First, the artist approached his local printers, Tibor Press, and asked whether they would silkscreen actual money for him. Although the company initially declined, they agreed providing that Warhol would supply them with drawings rather than actual money to print. Herein lies the birth of his pivotal Dollar Bill series. For these works Warhol meticulously traced by hand the graphic detail of the dollar bill’s design; once on acetate these drawings were then transferred onto silkscreens by an external company. The process would have involved coating screens in photosensitive emulsion, placing Warhol’s dollar-bill acetate against the screen and exposing it to strong light; where the light exposed emulsion hardens and binds to the screen fabric, Warhol’s dollar drawing would have blocked the light and thus remained soluble. After being sprayed with water, the emulsion where the image was placed falls away to reveal a perfectly reproducible image template. A contemporaneous trade-secret of the printing industry, this extraordinary technical innovation was to have widespread and radical consequences not only for Warhol but also for the history of art. The only diptych created by Warhol in the Dollar Bills series, Front and Back Dollar Bills explores the graphic potential of the ubiquitous United States note to its fullest. Separating the dollar bill into its black and green constituent parts – whereby the left panel articulates the front of the bill in a sumptuous jet black and the right panel illustrates the back of the dollar in a rich, hookers green – Warhol creates the slick veneer that would come to typify his iconic Pop aesthetic. The reasoning behind the separation of green and black elements is most likely historic. The first government issued dollar bills were printed in 1861 under Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, and became commonly known as ‘greenbacks’. Printed in green on the back and black on the front, the ‘greenback’ is quoted in the present work and thus certainly reflects Warhol’s erudite knowledge of the history of the dollar. Sharing great affinities with the foundational dollar masterpiece, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), the left hand panel of Front and Back Dollar Bills depicts the obverse of the old Silver Certificate Dollar Bill, whose name is faintly legible across the top of each dollar, whilst the intense black paint strikingly picks out the facial features of George Washington in the centre. The right hand panel illustrates the mysterious reverse of the dollar bill, with the iconic motto of the United States, ‘In God We Trust’ clearly defined and emblazoned across its centre. To create the repeating hypnotic surfaces of Front and Back Dollar Bills, Warhol schematically arranged the individual prints in two rows of twenty across each panel to create two elegant, elongated portrait pieces that combine in a visually arresting masterpiece. As with Front and Back Dollar Bills, for Two Dollar Bills (Front) (Froehlich Collection), Forty Two Dollar Bills (Fronts and Backs) and the present Two Dollar Bills (Back) Warhol composed two rows of twenty, two dollar bills, to create an exquisite, slim-line portrait format. Reflective of the comparative rarity of the two dollar bill in circulation and the lucky status it has thus been accorded, Warhol created four two dollar bill works on a large scale. The two-dollar bill held a particularly important place in Warhol’s world. Obsessed and fascinated by the design of these rare bills, he would go to banks to stock up on them – not for their monetary value but purely to marvel at the beauty of their design. Indeed, Arthur C. Danto recounts that a significant cache of two dollar bills was found in Warhol’s apartment after his death, evidence not of miserliness but of Warhol’s mania to collect (Arthur C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol and the Love of $$$$$’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 7). It was this kind of money, the bills of small denominations, that Warhol loved the most. As with his Campbell Soup Cans, these bills were those used every day by ordinary people to buy normal goods and were easily accessible to all. Owing to the traced template of his dollar bills, Warhol was unable to fully remove his hand from the surface of these works. Furthermore, each work in this series exhibits a certain handmade aesthetic owing to the inconsistencies of placing the silkscreen and printing each dollar individually. To minimise evidence of this, Warhol mapped out a grid of pencil lines to guide the placement of the individual screens that are still visible today. In the present works, deep green and inky black areas create striking painterly contrasts to the white ground whilst fine drawing delineates President Thomas Jefferson’s palatial home, Monticello and the portrait of George Washington at the centre of the one-dollar bill. In order to distinguish his dollar bills from real life paper money, and to avoid being accused of counterfeiting, Warhol drew his dollar on acetate measuring approximately four by nine inches – considerably larger than real one and two dollar bills. The ensuing difference in size, Warhol’s use of drawing, and the irregular slips and impressions of the silkscreen surface help to distinguish these paintings both visually and technically from fake money. Herein, the Dollar Bills retain their concession to the tradition of fine art as emanating from the hand of the artist, whilst simultaneously signalling Warhol’s ideological aim to become like a machine. The relationship between art and money defined Warhol’s expansive oeuvre, charting his development from commercial illustrator, to fine art innovator and art world superstar. Unlike any artist before him, Warhol directly inhabited the interstitial space that separates art from commerce. Indeed, Warhol would have been acutely aware that the value of his paintings would far outstrip the cumulative worth depicted on each canvas. In this regard the Dollar Bills are unrivaled in embracing and simultaneously critiquing exactly what they represent. Unlike any works before or after, the Dollar Bills signal the absolute alignment of subject and object: money and art are presented in consummate yet dichotomous complicity. More than fifty years later, these works are as radical and ‘on the money’ today as they were in 1962. I) signed and dated 1962 on the overlap ii) signed and dated 1963 on the overlap

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 2015-07-01
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Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice)

"The car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare" Neil Printz, in Exh. Cat., Houston, Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16 "When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect...It's not that I feel sorry for them, it's just that people go by and it doesn't really matter to them that someone unknown was killed so I thought it would be nice for these unknown people to be remembered' Andy Warhol interviewed by Gene Swenson, ``What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61 Designated in Georg Frei and Neil Printz’s 2002 catalogue raisonné as one of the very first of Andy Warhol’s “car crash” paintings, Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) of 1963 is an historic paradigm of Pop Art from the heart of a breathtaking moment in twentieth-century Art History. This work's execution in January - February 1963 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. Warhol made just four paintings based on the specific car crash photograph that is repeated twice in the present work. One of these, Green Disaster #2, is now housed in the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt while another, Orange Car Crash, is in the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. As the very incipit of this legendary series, perhaps the most notorious and challenging of his entire illustrious oeuvre, Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) is truly a foundational masterpiece of one of the most influential artists of the last century. With deafening resonance Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) 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 out of the vehicle’s passenger side door and thrown towards the viewer. The elbow of its crooked arm points directly towards us, almost as if in a final, last-gasp accusatory gesture against our morbid voyeurism. 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 with glistening chrome and polished hubcap on the left, and the spectacularly crushed grille, wing and bonnet on the right is mediated by the strewn body, unfortunately caught at the precise 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. As Neil Printz relates, "the car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare" (Neil Printz in: Exh. Cat., Houston, Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16). Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) offers the nightmare, but also concurrently normalizes this dystopian vision of sanitized suburban brutality. As ever with Warhol's oeuvre, import is incited not only by subject, but also by method, process and context. Silkscreened on phthalo green, the notionally horrific and terrifying subject matter is revealed through the patterned gradations of anonymous dots against a determinedly anti-naturalistic hue that has been extracted straight out of the gaudy, attention-grabbing chromatic vernacular of mass-media advertising. 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. Hopps succinctly describes that "Warhol took for granted the notion that the obvious deployment of traditional rendering need not be revealed or employed, thereby expunging manual bravura from his work." (Walter Hopps, in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 7) In Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) 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. In an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963 Warhol stated that "when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect." (the artist interviewed by Gene Swenson, ``What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In his 1970 monograph, Rainer Crone discusses how, although the car crash photos "evoke the immediacy of the actual event...this decreases as such occurrences become more frequent." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29) Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of violence and brutality. The tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression bleakly particularizes the mangled figure and dramatizes the finality of deathly stillness. The atrocity here is highly quotidian: it is a thoroughly everyday catastrophe; typical of what Walter Hopps calls the "unpredictable choreography of death" amidst the "banality of everyday disasters." (Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol, himself obsessively fixated with the fragility of existence, here scrutinizes the public face of a private disaster and questions why anonymous victims are elevated to celebrity through their unexpected ultimate encounter with death. The source for Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) was an unidentified newspaper photograph, extant in the Warhol archive. Despite the horror of the scene before him, the photographer nevertheless intuitively cropped the image through the view finder to engender narrative and provide an aesthetically satisfying picture according to compositional convention. Warhol selectively accentuated lights and darks on this photograph to intensify the contrast of the reproduction on the screen when he ordered his mechanical, in order to improve its legibility as well as enhance the compositional polarization of the composition. In purely formal terms, the unlikely contrast between the utterly crumpled front of the car against its largely unscathed rear chassis is marked by the derelict corpse and the vertical axis of the still-in-tact armature of the side windows. This divides the composition in two, which, coupled with the double repetition of the silkscreen mechanical, provides a broad quartering of the entire canvas, encouraging our eye to travel side to side, up and down, and diagonally between the four principal arenas of pictorial data. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate twentieth-century history painter. Inasmuch as his canvas implicates our fascination with mortality and a certain voyeurism of death, it advances a heritage proposed by David’s Death of Marat and Géricault’s The Shipwreck, while also uniting the celebrity and anonymity of victimhood so harshly contrasted in those two paradigms. The seminal Death and Disaster Suicides, Car Crashes, and Electric Chairs; as well as the celebrity portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor; and the immortal Campbell Soup Cans and Coca Cola Bottles, were all executed within a matter of months in an explosive outpouring of astonishing artistic invention. Warhol was disturbed by the media's potential to manipulate, yet simultaneously he celebrated the power of the icon. Thus at the same time this painting encapsulates portraiture as biography and it acts as a memorial to the anonymous victim by eulogizing the subject’s story to the realm of high art. Like a tomb to the Unknown Soldier, Warhol enlists the simulacra of this stranger to commemorate all casualties of mass culture in a newly homogenized society. Confronted by the tragedy of death and its incongruous by-product of celebrity, Andy Warhol nullified the news story zeitgeist through the effects of replication and multiplication, so undermining the manipulative potentiality of mass media. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the threat of death inhabit every pore of this silkscreened painting. This compelling work stands as a treatise on the emotional conditioning inherent to mass culture. Scrutinizing the public face of a private disaster, it questions how anonymous victims are elevated to notoriety via the exceptional conditions of their demise, or as Thomas Crow describes, "the repetition of the crude images does draw attention to the awful banality of the accident and to the tawdry exploitation by which we come to know the misfortunes of strangers." (Thomas Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America, May 1987, p. 135) The uncertain interplay between anonymous suffering and the broadcast exposure of bereavement and loss is here locked forever into the acrylic and ink lamina of this remarkable painting.

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-14
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