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  • Provenance

    Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
    Akira Ikeda Gallery, Japan
    Private collection, Japan

  • 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

  • Literature

    Akira Ikeda Gallery, Andy Warhol: Reversal Series, Marilyns, Tokyo, 1982, pl. 2 (illustrated)
    Akira Ikeda Gallery, Black Red, Taura, 2004, pl.8 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. ANDY WARHOL

    (Andy Warhol quoted in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, “From A to B and Back Again,” New York, 1975, p. 111)

    When Andy Warhol created Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980, he had already been painting his famed silkscreens for nearly two decades. The first half of Warhol’s legendary artistic career dealt with the reproduction of American iconography; indeed, his Jackies, Soup Cans, Lizes, self-portraits, and, of course, portraits of Marilyn, each responded to a specific phenomenon in American culture. In turn, his artwork helped to cement the monumentality of these figures and ubiquitous images in the American consciousness. Many of our mental projections of Pop Culture iconography are not pictures from “Life” magazine or stills from a film, but rather Warhol’s radical illustrative manipulations of the icon in question. This achievement alone — being able to shape our modes of recollection — would itself have been an unarguable
    feat of genius.

    As he progressed through the 1970’s, Warhol continued to recreate myriad popular images. His incredible industry is so great, in fact, that one might suspect Warhol had his finger on the pulse of the times, keeping a visual diary of American culture’s most pervasive cultural icons. In that decade, he expanded his pool of iconography from mere entertainment celebrity to political celebrity and beyond. In addition to a newfound sex symbol in Brigitte Bardot, Warhol immortalized colleagues from the Factory, symbols of cultural weight (including Mao Zedong during the Chinese Cultural Revolution), and even his own dealer, Leo Castelli. In his doing so, Pop Art came to encompass not only the silver screen and the television, but also images which were personal, and, therefore popular, to Warhol himself. America’s embrace of Warhol’s style eventually reciprocated Warhol’s gift of Pop Art, for Warhol became a pop icon nearly as well-known as his subjects.

    But the present lot represents a major turn and a seminal zenith in Warhol’s career. After he had spent his early years enshrining the photographic existence of Monroe and other celebrities, Warhol returned to the same subjects with a different technical approach and a nostalgic artistic mission. The Reversal Series began with an enormous collage of Warhol’s previous artistic subjects in his Retrospective paintings of 1979. Instead of utilizing the developed image that he originally took from magazines and production stills, Warhol employed the use of the negative for each. The resulting images appear the way we might see them when we quickly shut our eyes: saturation fills the space of the pictures’ shadows, and darkness becomes light. Both the frame and the ground of the image, once bright with the photographer’s
    original lighting, become their opposite. Warhol followed this singular collage in the coming years with single or multiple “reversals” of each image. Many of these paintings possess a canvas of animated coloring, with the silkscreen laid over top.

    But Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980, entertains no such intrusions of the 1980s’ indulgences in overanimation. Instead, in its restrained and elegant gold, it draws upon a color that Warhol first utilized in the center of his soup cans. In its return to only a single color in order to illustrate a single unique image, the present lot is a pure demonstration of Warhol’s original silkscreening technique.

    Warhol used as his original image of Monroe a publicity still from her 1953 movie, “Niagara”. Taken nine years before the screen idol’s suicide on August 5, 1962, the image is the quintessential portrayal of Monroe during her meteoric rise to fame: lips suggestively parted, eyes sensuously relaxed, hair styled to perfection. The image showcases the star’s perfect facial structure and unabashed embrace of her own sexuality and powers of seduction. Warhol’s choice of this particular publicity still hit a tragic note when his first Marilyns went on display in Castelli Gallery in 1962, shortly after Monroe’s very public and tragic death; many spectators wept at the face before them, which bore the innocence of the 27-year old’s early career, far before the price of fame and illness took their fatal toll. Warhol ultimately preserved Marilyn Monroe’s
    beauty in an idealized state, one that would give her equal fame after her death. Much like Warhol’s paintings of the Mona Lisa, Marilyn in her youth represents an international standard of beauty, and, more importantly, one that continues to grow even as the living subject fades into history.

    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.

    In Nine Gold Marilyns, (Reversal Series), 1980, we see a familiar grouping of three identical images laid out in three equal rows. In Warhol’s earlier work, we could clearly see the borders of each respective image, and, in doing so, we could mark the dimensions of each picture, as we see in Nine Marilyns, 1962. But in the present lot, Warhol’s use of the negative denies us 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. We cannot help but think of the widespread popularity of Marilyn Monroe during her own time; having completed nineteen films in four years, her omnipresence in the media seemed to suggest a supernatural multipresence in reality. Yet the picture as a whole evokes the notion 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 pour herself into her public persona. Alternatively, we see in the top left image only brilliant radiance of its exuberant gold, much as Monroe’s celebrity existence hid the shortcomings of her private life.

    The visual impact of the present lot’s silkscreened negative is haunting. Though she glares forward with the tempting grin of seduction, Marilyn Monroe’s image has been reduced to shadows only. The area below her chin and cheekbones command the heaviest areas of Warhol’s radiant gold, while the telltale signs of her vitality which Warhol chose to highlight in the early 60s—the red of her pouted lips and the unmatchable pink complexion of her cheek—have disappeared. It is as if the vivid figure of life over which the public wept has fled, leaving only her legend behind. It is no surprise that Monroe’s façade in Nine Gold Marilyns resembles less that of a celebrity icon, and evokes more the immortal marble busts of classical Greece and Rome, and the sacred portraits of the Madonna. Warhol has chosen a suitable color for a goddess,
    one that recalls the golden splendor with which she graced the screen.

    In giving us an almost Classical 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 that way, rendering the star 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 entertainment value, but believed in her as a constant companion in their lives. Monroe’s power to entice cult followers was itself worthy of making her a golden idol.

    Years before, in the early 1960s, Warhol’s Factory operated under ideals of artistic radicalism—in its large scale production of artwork, the Factory experimented with divorcing the personal relationship of the artist from his work. In turn, there came to exist an indifferent production of art, one where art was a product rather than an existential accomplishment. It was in this mode that Warhol operated throughout the end of the 1960s and into the next decade. Yet in the Reversal Series, we see Warhol returning to the fundamental relationship between an artist and his work, even if the work in question is the artist’s own history. In Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980, Warhol is no longer alienated from the production of his work, for he revisits his earlier series. This revisitation rings of reminiscence, of an artist’s
    nostalgic tie to the artist that he used to be.

    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 lot does not fall under the convenient category of 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 (Reversal Series), 1980, in this state thrice divorced from reality, becomes very near what 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 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. And, following Pop Art’s lineage, we see it as 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 Marilyn Monroe in death the same way that the public reproduced her in life—he also makes clear that his artistic process has advanced far beyond simple reproduction. In Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980, we observe Warhol looking back on his extraordinary body of work, and recognizing it as a popular phenomenon itself. Warhol’s multi-decade devotion to Monroe as a subject for his paintings is a testament to his deep appreciation for her in an aesthetic context; perhaps one reason that he chose to reproduce her image is that her beauty is a neverending source of inspiration. However, perhaps another is the similarity of
    Monroe to Warhol in a personal context; both Monroe and Warhol shared enormous talents of an artistic spirit, but what talents they offered often differed from what the public demanded. Monroe’s desperate journey to shed her pinup image closely mirrors that of Warhol’s drive to be the ultimate nonconformist. Though, ultimately, Monroe failed and Warhol succeeded, their ambitions to challenge our notions of normalcy unite them in Pop History.

    Yet, in its most straightforward 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.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States 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 like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like 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 a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series)

silkscreen and acrylic on canvas
54 1/8 x 41 3/4 in. (137.5 x 106 cm)
Signed, titled and dated “9 Gold Marilyns, Andy Warhol, 1979/80, Reversal Series” along the overlap.

$7,000,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for $7,922,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York