Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
    Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
    Private Collection

  • Literature

    N. Frei, G. Prinz (eds.), The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings and Sculpture 1964-1969, vol. 02A, New York, 2004, n.p, no. 1318 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “In the middle of the party, Jim Rosenquist’s wife happened to pluck a carnation from one of the centerpieces. Ethel zeroed in on her and screamed, ‘You put that right back! Those are my flowers!’”

    ANDY WARHOL, 1964

    As the most recognizable Pop motif by the artist, and arguably one of the most identifiable paintings in the canon of Western art, Andy Warhol’s Flowers from 1964 is the icon of an era. The broad swath of electric green ground, overlaid with the black screen of grass and other brush, all punctuated by four large, non-specific flowers is at once representational and abstract, sunny and dark, uplifting and somber. First executed in the summer of 1964, the Flowers came during a transitional period within the artist’s life and career. Struck upon almost haphazardly by Warhol at the suggestion of his friend, then curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henry Geldzahler, the Flowers would inaugurate Warhol’s time at Castelli and symbolize the establishment of Pop as a global phenomenon.

    Ever since their inception, Warhol’s Flowers have solidified their position as the most iconic of the Pop imagery popularized by the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and others. Their effervescent beauty has come to be emblematic of the rapidly changing post-war culture and the manner in which it was manifested throughout social, political, and cultural avenues. Unlike the artist's legendary subjects of that period, principally consumerism, celebrity, death and disasters, the Flowers corpus was a significant departure to the more abstract; not only in terms of aesthetic character, but also of philosophical import. While the paintings that immediately preceded the Flowers typically represented narrative fact, recorded through the objectivity of the camera lens and re-contextualized through the artist's impassionate silkscreen, this series re-presents an ultimately quotidian subject devoid of context. There is no story of a spectacular rise to fame or untimely death behind these petals; no self-evident critique of the agents of celebrity culture or the manipulation of collective psychology through the engines of mass-media. Even the Dollar Bills and Campbell's Soup Can pictures that pioneered his concept of endlessly proliferating imagery were wedded to the specific cultural inheritance of the American Dream and consumer culture. With the indeterminate content of the Flowers, Warhol invited, for the first time, a far greater degree of interpretation, questioning and reflection from the spectator, thereby instituting a far grander range of individual subjective responses. Indeed, it is precisely due to the conceptual accessibility of the anti-didactic and egalitarian imagery of the Flowers that it has proliferated as such a potent symbol of an entire artistic movement.

    In the spring of 1964, Warhol decided to leave the representation of the Stable Gallery and to join that of Leo Castelli, the grand impresario of the Pop Art movement in New York. As epitomized by his presentation of 32 Campbell's Soup Cans at the Ferus Gallery in July 1962, the Elvis show, again at Ferus, in September and October of 1963, the Death paintings at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in January 1964 and the Brillo Box sculptures at Stable in April 1964, Warhol characteristically preferred to dedicate his gallery exhibitions to a single theme, subject or sequence. The summer of 1964 afforded Warhol the time and space needed to conceptualize a new series that he could show at his inaugural exhibition with Castelli in the fall. While mulling over options in the Factory, he was visited by his friend Henry Geldzahler, who, according to legend, was the one who suggested to Warhol that he paint flowers. He claimed, “…I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death. I said, ‘Andy, maybe it’s enough death now.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, how about this?’ I opened a magazine to four flowers.” (H. Geldzahler quoted in T. Sherman and D. Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York: HarperCollins, 2009, p. 235) The magazine that Geldzahler had picked up was the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography in which there was an article describing a new Kodak color processing system. The layout was comprised of one image of seven hibiscus blossoms reprinted numerous times in order to illustrate the differing effects of the processing system. The seriality of the spread and the subject matter itself seemed tailor- made to catch Warhol’s attention, and indeed he seized upon the idea for his next series.

    While it may seem that Warhol simply appropriated the image and had it screenprinted on canvas, the amount of alteration to the source material was significant. After cropping the photograph and rotating one of its blossoms to achieve his desired square format, Warhol heightened the image's contrast to such an extent that it was entirely unrecognizable as a hibiscus flower. Flat, planar shapes and vivid outlines characterized the final format, and Warhol transferred the design onto canvas in fluorescent paint, making each blossom appear to float over a grainy pattern of black and neon green. The silkscreened Flowers capture Warhol's increasing interest in mass-produced, assembly-line construction--in fact, these 1964 paintings coincided with the artist's first Factory on 47th Street and 3rd Avenue, which opened that spring.

    Between June and September of 1964, Warhol's studio was a production line for Flower paintings of different sizes. Throughout this phase of his artistic development, Warhol pioneered and refined the screenprinting process that he had made his own. The first artist to make extensive use of the still revolutionary process, Warhol was attracted to the connotations of mass production and the effacing of the hand of the artist. The production underwent three phases: firstly, the forms of the flowers were stenciled and the colored paints were applied by hand onto the primed canvas; once dry, the flowers were masked and the green acrylic of the surrounding ground was applied with a wide brush; finally, the screenprint image was applied over the dried color fields. According to Warhol, “Factory is as good a name as any. A factory is where you build things. This is where I make or build my work. In my art work, hand painting would take much too long and anyway that’s not the age we live in. Mechanical means are today and using them I can get more art to more people. Art should be for everyone.” (A. Warhol quoted in B. H. D. Buchloh, “Andy Warhol’s One-Dimensional Art: 1956 – 1966” in K. McShine (ed.), Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, New York, 1989, p. 40)

    The square format of the paintings particularly satisfied Warhol because its regular shape allowed the flower paintings to be hung any side up. “I like painting on a square because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter: it's just a square,” Warhol said. (A. Warhol cited in D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1989, p. 191) In addition to its repositioning in a square-format, Warhol flattened the original image by translating the background – through the silkscreen medium – into a dark tangled two-tone image of the grass undergrowth. Flattening color and form in this way generated what is probably the most abstract of all of Warhol's 1960s images and indeed a certain relishing of the abstract painterliness of his creation can be seen in these works in much the same way as it later appears in his Shadow paintings of the late 1970s. Warhol had, of course, developed as an artist under the shadow of the Abstract Expressionists, whose heady blend of machismo, tortuous soul-searching and insistence on painterly gesture as a means of inner expression were anathema to him. Concerned throughout his life that such bombast actually represented the 'real' painting, Warhol often reveled in the purely abstract nature of his art, greatly enjoying placing empty monochrome canvases next to his image-laden ones and, as in his Flowers, in the flat vacancy of monochrome color.

    “They are so goddamn beautiful. And so simple. And their glamour was so intense. What killed you, killed you, was the grainy black-and-white of the stems. That grainy look with that Day-Glo color was killer, and still is. I think it still hasn't been acknowledged that the whole critical debate should have been over at that moment. Because these Flowers paintings had all the Kantian principles that Greenberg was pushing. Suddenly there were so many things that were supposed to be problems that were not problems. The Flowers resolved all the formal issues Greenberg had been talking about, but with a realistic, not an abstract, image. And why not? Who bought it as a picture of flowers anyway? It was about the mediation. Does it matter how much was going on consciously in him? There were artists at the time who were mulling over the issues very consciously. I don't see him doing that. That's why we reach for the word 'genius.' Genius is what goes, 'That's not a problem.' He sees clearly. He just does it” (P. Schjeldahl quoted in T. Sherman and D. Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, pp. 236-237)

    In the selection of color for his flowers, Warhol deliberately chose unnatural-looking hues of brilliant synthetic color. The clearly man-made splashes of vibrant color that form the flowers of his pictures seem to mock the gestural splashes of abstract expressionist painting as much as they do the romanticism and pantheist sense of wonder usually associated the art historical genre of flower painting. These paintings also look like an attack on nature, as if such natural wonder has here been subordinated and synthesized by a simple mechanical process. The abstract, manufactured look of Warhol's Flowers emphasizes both their commercial application as a saleable commodity and the mass-producible process by which these natural symbols of beauty have come into being. In this, these works echo his portraits of other mass-produced beauties such as Marilyn and Liz, Elvis and Marlon. They are an extension of Warhol's synthetic vision of the universe into the realm of nature.

    While the subject of flowers appears in one sense to be highly self-effacing, by selecting the disarmingly innocuous motif of hibiscus blossoms, Warhol implicitly confronted the centuries-old art historical tradition of still-life painting. "With the Flowers, Andy was just trying a different subject matter. In a funny way, he was kind of repeating the history of art. It was like, now we're doing my Flower period! Like Monet's water lilies, Van Gogh's flowers, the genre." (G. Malanga quoted in D. Dalton and D. McCabe, A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol, New York, 2003, p. 74) Warhol's updated interpretation of this age-old motif, however, is consciously banal and synthetic. In the first instance, he rejected the intricate and hierarchical compositions of the grand tradition of still-life painting in Western art history in favor of an overhead perspective which banishes the horizon and flattens and distorts the shape of each petal. Secondly, the complex color harmonies of that tradition, from Dutch still-lifes to Monet's water lilies, are abolished in favor of planar zones of flat, unnatural color, rendered in artificially bright paint.

    As colorful and attractive as the Flowers paintings are to the eye, they nevertheless have a more subversive and subliminal reference to the presence of death in life, a constant theme throughout Warhol's output, even before Valerie Solanas entered the Factory and attempted to kill him when she shot him repeatedly in 1968. From his images of Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, suicides, car crashes, and electric chairs to the skulls and even self-portraits of his later career, the brevity of life frequently lingers under the acrylic and silkscreen ink of his canvases. Flowers are symbols of nature's fragile impermanence and the fugitive quality of beauty, as noted eloquently by John Coplans. "What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings (especially the very large ones) is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol's art - the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer's gaze. The garish and brilliantly colored flowers always gravitate toward the surrounding blackness and finally end in a sea of morbidity. No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one's gaze, as if haunted by death.'' (J. Coplans, Andy Warhol, New York, 1978, p. 52)

    Having transitioned in his use of imagery from the supermarket to celebrity and its flip-side in disaster, the flower paintings extract the kitsch and the plastic from man's vision of natural beauty and present the mechanical under-side of popular taste. At the time of the Castelli show in 1964, Warhol's Flowers were considered a far happier subject and perhaps an antidote to his recent death and disaster paintings which, importantly for Warhol, he had been unable to sell. At the Flowers show which ran from September to December 1964, Castelli was inundated with orders for flower paintings of all sizes, from the large two-flower works through the eight-foot, four-foot, two-foot and smaller versions, and the whole exhibition rapidly sold out. In retrospect, these works can be clearly seen as a consequence and a progression from Warhol's increasingly dark earlier work dealing with death, perhaps even as a kind of funereal coda to it as well as a frightening extension of Warhol's bleak vision into the realm of the natural world. Warhol's assistant Ronnie Cutrone recalled of these works that while many people enjoyed the Flowers paintings as happy-go-lucky works, he, and many of those closer to Warhol at this time, responded to their darker side.

    Warhol spent much of his career striving to capture on canvas the fleeting nature of both fame and life, and with Flowers he found the perfect vehicle for doing so. The work distilled the era's captivating virulence even as it seemed to foreshadow the late 1960s Flower Power movement. "A lot of Andy's work revolves around that subject. The Marilyn paintings are about life and death and the Flowers are with their black, menacing background. Not the watercolor Flowers - there is nothing menacing about those flowers at all. I'm talking about the first Flowers from 1964 - they are a bit menacing. We kids - Andy used to call everyone a 'kid' until they were eighty-five years old - all knew about that. Lou Reed, Silver George Milloway, Ondine, and me - we all knew the dark side of those Flowers. Don't forget, at that time, there was flower power and flower children. We were the roots, the dark roots of that whole movement. None of us were hippies or flower children. Instead, we used to goof on it. We were into black leather and vinyl and whips and S&M and shooting up and speed. There was nothing flower power about that. So when Warhol and that whole scene made Flowers, it reflected the urban, dark, death side of that whole movement. And as decorative art, it's pretty dense. There is a lot of depth in there... You have this shadowy dark grass, which is not pretty, and then you have these big, wonderful, brightly colored flowers. It was always that juxtaposition that appears in his art again and again that I particularly love." (R. Cutrone, quoted in J. O'Connor and B. Liu, Unseen Warhol, New York, 1996, p. 61)

    The work remains a pioneering example of appropriation art, and paved the way for important distinctions of authorship. Despite Warhol's multifaceted manipulation of the original source photograph, Patricia Caulfield, the executive editor of Modern Photography and the one who shot the images of the flowers that appeared in the magazine, brought a lawsuit against Warhol in 1966. After a long, costly court case, Warhol eventually agreed to give her several paintings and a percentage of all profits from future reproductions of the painting as prints. "Andy realized that he had to be very careful about appropriating for the fear of being sued again. He opted to start taking his own photographs. His entry into photography vis-á-vis his creation of silkscreen paintings was done out of necessity." (G. Malanga, quoted in The Andy Warhol Museum (ed.), Andy Warhol Photography, Pittsburgh, 1999 p. 116) Not only did this set precedents for appropriation of imagery, it stimulated Warhol's exciting delve into photography that he would continue for the rest of his career. The Flowers were the last of Warhol’s true painting series as he would soon declare his retirement from painting to focus on films. Indeed, his next show at Castelli would be the infamous Wallpaper and Clouds exhibition in which he filled the gallery with Mylar balloons and yellow wallpaper silkscreened in a repeating purple cow motif. Seeing as he would continue to paint throughout the entirety of his career, this pronouncement proved premature; however, the Flowers did represent a drastic shift in the artist’s career and the manner in which he approached his work from thenceforth. The current example, being one of the 24 original 48-inch canvases produced, even before he had officially determined that the Flowers would be the focus of his first show at Castelli, marks the beginning of that transformation in no uncertain terms. Bold and brash, abstract and representative, uplifting and depressed, Flowers is the perfect representation of the artist at the apex of his early years, and one who would continue to innovate and develop well into the Twentieth century.

  • Artist Biography

    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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acrylic, silkscreen ink on canvas
48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.)
Stamped twice with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. along the overlap; further numbered "PA53.012" along the overlap and stretcher bar.

$10,000,000 - 15,000,000 

Sold for $10,245,000

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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM