Last Supper

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf
    Private Collection
    Phillips, London, June 29, 1988, lot 58
    Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989

  • Catalogue Essay

    “All art is at once surface and symbol.
    Those who go beneath the surface do
    So at their peril.”
    Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890

    “Paul Taylor: It’s odd because you normally see just one Jesus at a time”
    Andy Warhol: ‘Now there are two’.”


    Executed in 1986, Last Supper belongs to the final epic series that Andy Warhol executed before his untimely death. Initially conceived as a commission for the gallerist Alexandre Iolas, the series saw Warhol transform Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance masterpiece, The Last Supper, through his unique vernacular of appropriation, seriality and repetition. The present work belongs to a discrete group of fewer than 25 known silkscreen paintings based on an old black and white printed reproduction of The Last Supper that the artist cropped, stacked, overlaid and rotated in his silkscreen reinterpretations. The present work forms a handful of iterations the artist conceived on a 40 by 40 inch scale that presented the iconic image doubled and stacked in yellow, pink, green, blue or camouflage. The bright yellow uniquely doubles as a light source, imbuing Last Supper with a halo effect reminiscent of a religious icon, while also giving the effect of a flickering scene on a television screen – hinting at a movement, but frozen in time as a static image in the here and now.

    In 1984, Iolas approached the Credito Valtellinese located in the Palazzo Stelline to use their former rectory as an exhibition space. The Palazzo was located directly across the street from the Dominican cloister Santa Maria delle Grazie, which housed Leonardo’s The Last Supper, and so Iolas proposed to commission contemporary artists to re-image the masterpiece. According to Warhol, Iolas reached out to three artists but ultimately offered him the whole commission. The resulting exhibition, Warhol—Il Cenacolo (“Warhol – The Last Supper”) opened in January 1987, and presented around 22 of the artist’s silkscreen paintings. It is estimated that nearly 30,000 visitors flocked to the show that, in a poignant biographic coincidence, would be the last for both artist and gallerist. Iolas, who had given Warhol his first show in 1952, would die in June of that year and Warhol, who had been experiencing discomfort during the opening passed away after returning to New York on February 22, 1987 from complications following a gallbladder operation.

    Reimagining Leonardo was not a new endeavor for Warhol. Having riffed off the Renaissance master’s Mona Lisa in the 1960s, he had more recently returned to Leonardo in 1984 with his Details in Renaissance Painting series. Yet Leonardo’s The Last Supper brought about an almost obsessive preoccupation for Warhol, with the artist continuing to engage with the material even after the commission was fulfilled. Utilizing a wide range of variations in scale, orientation, color and techniques, he produced over 100 variations on the theme within just two years. Encompassing both works on paper and large-scale paintings, Warhol pursued two distinct styles in transposing the iconic source imagery. For his silkscreens, Warhol utilized a photograph of an engraving printed in the Cyclopedia of Painters and Painting, first published in 1885. His other works, based on projections of cheap sculptural reproductions and line drawing tracings of a 19th century engraving, evidenced his return to freehand painting.

    While challenging notions between low and high art in this way, Warhol effectively engaged in a century-long tradition of approaching The Last Supper through mediations of the original. Although The Last Supper is one of the world’s most celebrated and studied works of art, it has not existed in its original form for 500 years as the original deteriorated within a few years of its completion due to Leonardo’s experimental techniques. Studies of the work rely on engravings and reproductions, which themselves vary over the centuries according to the stages of erosion, restoration and the artist’s own ability to faithfully render The Last Supper. Even photography did not negate the challenges faced in capturing an accurate reproduction of the work. Indeed, Warhol tried unsuccessfully on and off for a year to work from photographs which he found too dark to convey detail for his purposes. Suspicious of the desire to authorize some form of “authentic” original, Warhol tellingly signed a petition in the midst of working on the series against the restoration of The Last Supper, stating,I only know that it is a mistake to restore – it is unbelievably beautiful just as it is!” (Andy Warhol, quoted in Andy Warhol: The Last Supper, exh. cat., Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, 1998, p. 48).

    Warhol’s Last Supper puts forth an image that is both referential and simulacral – one that not only provides a point of departure to explore tensions between faith and sexuality, mortality and redemption within the artist’s late oeuvre, but also represents a unique culmination of the artist’s career-long interest in issues of appropriation, seriality, and repetition. For Warhol, The Last Supper proved to be the mediated image par excellence; its fame seemingly only having grown through the circulation of reproductions, rather than through the direct experience of the original. When Warhol appropriated Leonardo’s The Last Supper, it was one of the most incessantly copied and circulated images in popular culture. It was one that Warhol was intimately aware of, having seen a reproduction of the work both in his mother’s kitchen during his childhood, as well as printed on her prayer card, which Warhol inherited after her death.

    The stacked repetition of source imagery in this work formally and conceptually plays with the inherent multiplicity and temporality of Leonardo’s masterwork, while also representing a reincarnation of the masterpiece within the contemporary context of Warhol’s time. Whereas in the 1960s Warhol was creating paintings that mirrored the 16mm film strip, here he was referencing television – the abutting black rectangles looking like stacks of television screens across which The Last Supper glows in Technicolor, the details of Leonardo’s image faded by their shadows. The duplication of the image vividly shows the viewer that this is a copy of a copy – itself based on an original that no longer exists. The seriality inherent to both Warhol’s process and composition essentially performs the Deleuzian concept of “repetition for itself”, whereby repetition is freed from being a repetition of an original.

    Leonardo’s The Last Supper provided Warhol with not just an incredibly iconic, but clearly also conceptually complex and symbolically loaded subject. It is, as curator Jessica Beck noted in her recent discussion of the series, “a kind of meaning machine”, the potential of which Warhol brilliantly understood to exploit for his own artistic agenda of ambiguity and ambivalence (Jessica Beck, “Andy Warhol Last Supper”, Gagosian Quarterly, Summer 2017, online). Just as the irresolvable ambiguity of Leonardo’s masterpiece has given rise to a multiplicity of interpretations as to what is represented and what it expresses, so, too, does Warhol’s final magnus opus resist unequivocal interpretations. As such, The Last Supper powerfully advances Hal Foster’s argument that Warhol’s images are both “referential and simulacral, connected and disconnected, affective and affectless, critical and complacent” (Hal Foster, “Death in America”, October, vol. 75, 1996, p. 39).

    While Warhol’s Last Supper oscillates between flatness and illusionistic depth in a manner that adheres to Renaissance painting tradition, Warhol’s strategy of repetition sets a challenging perceptual game in motion that makes his reprisal of the masterpiece wholly subversive. Not only does he transgress Catholic dogma by including two images of Christ in the same picture, the visual unity of the Church and doctrine as expressed through Leonardo’s use of central perspective is here turned on its head. The sacred and devotional is turned into a secular image of the modern age. It is this ambiguity between reverence and irreverence to the original subject matter that “leads to that incomparable symbiosis between reverence and irony, melancholy and cynicism, which no one has been able to disentangle” (Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, “Are you serious or delirious”, Andy Warhol: The Last Supper, exh. cat., Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, 1998, p. 10).

    While discussions of the series initially tended to focus on one-dimensional interrogations vis-à-vis Warhol’s religious faith or its biographical parallels with Christ prophesying his own death on the eve of his crucifixion, scholarship in recent years has shown the incredible complexity of The Last Supper series. Themes ranging from art as commodity, high and low culture, original and copy, sexuality, faith and mortality coalesce within this series in a manner that recalls earlier threads in Warhol’s oeuvre, yet without ever condensing with singular certainty – instead demonstrating the constant deferral of meaning so characteristic for Warhol’s trailblazing postmodern practice.

  • Artist Bio

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Andy Warhol was the leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the U.S. in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints and paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City. His use of mechanical methods of reproduction, notably the commercial technique of silk screening, wholly revolutionized art-making.

    Working as an artist, but also director and producer, Warhol produced a number of avant-garde films in addition to managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

     

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Last Supper

stamped with the artist's signature "Andy Warhol"; signed and inscribed by Frederick Hughes "I certify this to be an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1986 Frederick Hughes" on the overlap
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1986.

Estimate
$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 

sold for $8,232,500

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018