Signed, titled and dated "9 Gold Marilyns, Andy Warhol, 1980 Reversal Series" along the overlap.
$8,000,000 - 12,000,000
Sold for $9,125,000
MORE LOT DETAILS
Provenance Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich Akira Ikeda Gallery, Japan Private collection, Japan Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, Contemporary Art Part I, November 7, 2011, lot 8 Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Exhibited Tokyo, Akira Ikeda Gallery, Andy Warhol: Reversal Series, Marilyns, May 10 – June 12, 1982 Taura, Akira Ikeda Gallery, Black Red, September 4 – October 30, 2004
LiteratureAndy Warhol: Reversal Series, Marilyns, exh. cat., Akira Ikeda Gallery, Tokyo, 1982, pl. 2 (illustrated) Black Red, exh. cat., Akira Ikeda Gallery, Taura, 2004, pl. 8 (illustrated)
“Some people spend their entire lives thinking about one particular famous person. They devote almost their entire consciousness to thinking about this person they’ve never even met, or maybe met once. It feels so strange to think that someone is spending their whole time thinking about you.”
– Andy Warhol
Emblematic of Twentieth Century popular culture, Andy Warhol’s Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series) is a study in contemporary iconography – an important homage to a commercial and fame-driven society captured through Warhol’s lens. Revisiting arguably his most renowned subject almost two decades after his first portrayal in 1962 of America’s femme fatale – and his first foray into the silkscreen medium – Warhol re-imagines Marilyn Monroe’s iconic beauty in a warm, almost metallic, golden hue, a transition not only from the colorful age of disco, but to a new period in the artist’s career, reflecting his desire to distinguish this later body of work from his earlier silkscreen depictions of the actress. As the artist himself noted, “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” (quoted in K. Honnef, Andy Warhol 1928-1987 Commerce into Art, Cologne 2000, p. 90). Nine Gold Marilyns is, then, the manifestation of this Warholian philosophy; in transforming the visual motifs that came to define the genre of Pop Art, Warhol reinvented himself and his work, once again exhibiting the artistic bravado that established his own cultural legacy.
Immortalizing one of Hollywood’s most beloved and tragic figures, Warhol’s fascination with Marilyn Monroe extended beyond her celebrity and striking beauty. Considering the actress a kindred spirit whose acting and performance talent was often underestimated and overlooked by her peers, Warhol eschewed this pre-fabricated reputation, instead manufacturing a legacy of his own for Monroe, and in turn, creating one of the most enduring images of his career. Describing his enchantment with the legend and her persona, and with reference to his vibrant screenprints, in 1966 Warhol explained, “As for whether it’s symbolical to paint Marilyn in such violent colors: it’s beauty, and she’s beautiful…” Warhol returned to his remarkable images of the screen siren throughout his career, rendering her broad lips and seductive gaze in the neon colors of Pop Art – a marked break from his New York School predecessors that ushered into the broader American consciousness the recognition of a new, artistic representation of commerciality. Indeed, re-examining his own imagery in the late 1970’s, Warhol became acutely aware of his own celebrity and his role in the saturation of contemporary culture with such imagery. Exploiting the visual discourse manufactured in the 1950s and ‘60s, Warhol revived and reversed his Pop Art subjects – from his own portrait to the pervasive Campbell’s soup cans – producing reimagined icons in the negative, as in Nine Gold Marilyns.
In the subsequent decade, Warhol repeated and reinvented his bright, energetic commercial and figurative portraits, extending his legacy and securing his place in the anthem of Twentieth Century popular culture. In fact, the proliferation of his imagery is so immense, so pervasive, that his place in history may even be described as a chronicler or visual biographer of cultural icons, fashioning celebrity into legend. In addition to his colorful renderings of screen siren Marilyn Monroe, Warhol immortalized sex symbol Brigitte Bardot, colleagues from the Factory, symbols of cultural weight (including Mao Zedong during the Chinese Cultural Revolution), and even his own dealer, Leo Castelli. In doing so, his Pop Art came to represent Hollywood giants in the public imagination; however, also depicting those in his immediate circle of friends, Warhol publicized his own world and, therefore, himself. America’s embrace of Warhol’s unmistakable style eventually reciprocated Warhol’s gift of Pop Art, for Warhol became a pop icon nearly as popular as his subjects.
The present work, then, represents a notable departure from Warhol’s prior practice and the evolution of what would become the zenith of his career. Spending his early years enshrining the faces and brands of American popular culture in the collective memory of a nation, Warhol ironically succumbed to the influence of a collective nostalgia that he had himself propagated. Beginning his Retrospective paintings of 1979 with a large collage of his prior screen prints, the artist turned to a similarly nostalgic medium – photography. Inspired by the effect of photographic negatives and their embodiment of a sentimentality imprinted – physically and metaphorically – in the mind’s eye, Warhol approached his Reversals series with playful yet thoughtful creativity.
In matching Monroe’s image with his favorite artistic technique, Warhol gave his portraits a visual life far beyond that of his own reach. He was fond of the silkscreening process for the nature of its imprecision; while two identical images could be silkscreened onto two identical canvases with two identical pigments of ink, they would ultimately differ in both subtle and obvious ways—saturation of the ink, positioning of the image, etc. While his Factory produced many prints of the same image, no two were ever alike, and it was this notion of indefinition that give Warhol’s silkscreening work a wonderfully fatalistic edge. Though Warhol would roll the ink, chance would decide how the multiple images would exhibit their eccentricities; consequently, each silkscreen was a repetition, but one completely individuated.
A brilliant – both in palette and theory – combination of rich, deeply toned golden repetition, Nine Gold Marilyns is Warhol’s transfigurement of the Hollywood star in an inverted palette, relying upon the canvas’s negative space to recapture Monroe’s glamour. Echoing yet transposing his earlier impressions, Warhol’s Reversal here derives not from the icon’s youthful features, but from the absence of color in juxtaposition. The resulting canvas is suggestive of the visual memory or imprint that lingers after waking or closing one’s eyes for an extended period: luminous clouds fill the space in our mind’s shadows, transforming darkness to light. Both the frame and the ground of the image, once bright in their original form, become their opposite, the figure’s shape intimated only by the enveloping negative space. Elaborating upon the philosophy behind the production of his silkscreens, and the later Reversals, the artist noted in 1975: “I really believe in empty spaces, although, as an artist, I make a lot of junk. Empty space is never-wasted space. Wasted space is any space that has art in it. An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it would be a good idea to give them.” In Nine Gold Marilyns, it is the absence of color that intimates the legacy of a fallen idol, now etched into the collective memory of a bygone era – a shadow of her former self, the shimmering gold tonality calls forth Monroe’s powerful spirit. In this sense, Warhol invites us into his psyche, and that of his subject: “Warhol’s Reversals recapitulate his portraits of famous faces…but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator were looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward in electric hues. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights” (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 378).
In creating an otherworldly impression of Marilyn Monroe, Warhol redefines the notion of screen idol. Monroe was, in fact, a symbol in which the American public placed their faith, a presence through whom they could live vicariously. In this manner, rendering the subject in gold is not only fitting, but a study in the devotion of her adoring fans; many were not simply attracted to the star’s beauty or entertaining talent, but also believed in her as a constant symbol of the American ideal. Monroe’s power to seduce her audience and capture a cult following was itself worthy of her status as a golden idol.
In Nine Gold Marilyns, we see the familiar grouping of three identical images laid out in three equal rows. In Warhol’s earlier work, the borders of each respective image are apparent; the dimensions of each picture are delineated, as seen in Self-Portrait, 1963-1964. However, in the present lot, Warhol’s use of the negative denies the viewer this precision in the horizontals—the cusps of Marilyn’s hair seem to live directly above and below each other, giving us the illusion that three identical women posed for the same picture while standing next to each other. One cannot help but think of the widespread popularity of Marilyn Monroe during her own time; having completed nineteen films in four years, her ubiquity in the media seemed to suggest a supernatural omnipresence in reality. Yet the picture as a whole evokes a sense of the many faces of Norma Jeane Baker: in the top right image’s variations in saturation, we see the imperfections of Monroe’s personal life, those that made her unremittingly pour herself into her public persona. Alternatively, the upper left rendition of Monroe’s face radiates with the brilliance of its exuberant gold, much as Monroe’s celebrity existence publicly portrayed a persona that hid her private despair.
Continuing the rapid genesis and proliferation of artistic theory that characterized the first half of the century, Warhol’s commanding Nine Gold Marilyns captures in his reinterpretation of Monroe a spectrum of art historical and social ideology. Warhol cleverly references not only his own oeuvre, but also that of early Twentieth Century modernist giant Marcel Duchamp and his “readymades”. This paradigmatic re-definition of art, whether manifested as a bicycle wheel affixed to a stool, or a newspaper advert reproduced as a screenprint on canvas, could now - was now - considered to be art. By the time he painted Nine Gold Marilyns in 1980, Warhol’s style and visual vocabulary were already well-established as the voice of the post-war era. In characteristically Warholian fashion, in Nine Gold Marilyns the artist exploits an icon of his own making; his “readymade” Marilyn, appropriated and re-appropriated, is subtly differentiated in each reincarnation. Reaching beyond the art historical canons of recent memory, Warhol further implicates a certain religiosity as he frames his golden idol within an explicitly self-referential context. Monroe, a beacon of both hope and despair in a society guided by commerciality, re-imagined in the negative of her golden splendor, recalls traditional iconography and the golden age of cinema – a new religion in a world where celebrity became equated with godliness. Warhol would continue to develop this image in the coming years with single or multiple “reversals” of Monroe and her peers, ushering into the public consciousness a new lexicon of artistic representation.
Though Nine Gold Marilyns references the now ubiquitous publicity shot of Monroe used for her 1953 film Niagara, Warhol introduces his reversed version of this image with both irreverence for the past and anticipation of the future. Questioning the nature of art, particularly the self-referential implications of Pop Art, Warhol blatantly refuted the notion that his mass-produced images and vibrant reproductions of the mundane be elevated to the strata of “high art;” immediately accessible and created en masse, the broad recognition that Warhol’s work received only encouraged the artist to reinterpret his past vision. The genesis of Warhol’s work, from appropriation to re-appropriation, the quotidian to the extraordinary, poetically culminates where his iconography began: with Monroe. Perhaps the most recognizable beauty of the Twentieth Century, Monroe was part muse, part cultural commentary for Warhol. It is then fitting that the electrifying Nine Gold Marilyns, a simultaneously haunting and dynamic succession of impressions of the screen siren, represents not only the cultural zeitgeist of a generation, but the artistic apex of one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential innovators, ushering into our consciousness a renewed understanding of past and present.
Therefore, the importance of Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980, is in its self-referential origin. Rather than produce a single piece of Pop Art from a popular image in American culture, such as a celebrity, soup can, or politician, Warhol “referred to his own iconographic universe. He constructed the décor of himself, and, to renew its appearance, he only needed to cast a mirror-image of it (a reversal)” (G. Celant, SuperWarhol, Milan, 2003, p. 10). Consequently, the popular image of Nine Gold Marilyns, 1980 is not the image of Marilyn Monroe from Niagara, but Warhol’s own work from 1962.
Taking into account Warhol’s choice of subject, the present work cannot entirely be categorized as Pop Art, for it is in a class of its own. In the same way that we frequently mirror our lives based on ideals taken from movies or other media, Warhol models his work on something equally unreal: his impression of Marilyn Monroe from nearly twenty years before. Nine Gold Marilyns, in this state thrice divorced from reality, approaches that which French philosopher Jean Baudrillard calls the “hyperreal”—something continually referenced but with no referents. Perhaps it is this hyperreality which is the logical end of Warhol’s work: when all subjects of art continually refer to the past, it is our manners of reference which have value, not the objects to which they refer. Therefore, Pop Art’s importance – and Warhol’s legacy – is not in its choice of subject, but in its manner of depiction. Pop Art’s profound weight in philosophical matters makes it the continuation of a lineage begun with Duchamp’s readymades. Following Pop Art’s progression, this early prototype is the chief ancestor of conceptual art.
The present lot becomes as much about its subject as it does the history of Andy Warhol’s production of art. While he accomplishes the same end as he did in the 1962 Castelli show—reproducing the memory Marilyn Monroe the same way that the public reproduced her in life—he also makes clear that his artistic process has evolved far beyond simple reproduction. In Nine Gold Marilyns, Warhol reflects upon his extraordinary body of work, and recognizing and confirming its place as a popular phenomenon in and of itself.
In its most accessible interpretation, Warhol’s elegant painting of Marilyn Monroe is poignant in its simplicity—it shows, in the most literal way, her golden age on the silver screen, and the indelible impression that she continues to make on the American consciousness. However, Monroe’s, and Warhol’s, legacies encompass more than their celebrity; rather, their legendary status is a testament to the lasting impressions both made, in their respective talents, on the American cultural landscape.