Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Someone once asked me to state once and for all the most beautiful person I’d ever met. Well, the only people I can ever pick out as unequivocal beauties are from the movies."
    —Andy Warhol 

    [left] Andy Warhol, Orange Marylin, 1962. Private Collection. Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Andy Warhol, Liz [Early Colored Liz], 1963. The Broad, Los Angeles. Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Andy Warhol’s The Star (Greta Garbo as Mata Hari) marks the artist’s celebrated return to one of his most enduring preoccupations: celebrity and commodification. The present work extends the legacy of Warhol’s earliest investigations into these concepts, defined by his now iconic images of starlets such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Closely related to the candy-colored paintings of Marilyn and Liz from the early 1960s, in the present work, Warhol once again displays his prowess with color. Emerging from a lava red background, Warhol articulates the details of Mata Hari’s elaborate costume and boldly offsets Garbo’s luminous skin with blue eyeshadow and scarlet lips. Conceived as part of his Myths series in 1981, The Star is an iconic tribute to one of the major silver screen goddesses in the artist’s Pop pantheon. Rarely seen in public, the present work has resided in the same private collection for over three decades.

    "The most dangerous spy of all time, men worshipped her like a goddess, only to be betrayed by a kiss."
    —Tagline from Mata Hari, 1931

    Greta Garbo in Mata Hari, 1931. Image: John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

    In The Star, Warhol immortalizes Greta Garbo at the peak of her celebrity in the guise of the eponymous character from the 1931 film Mata Hari. Based on the exotic dancer convicted as a German spy during World War I, the film became a sensation in America and Europe, cementing the legend of Mata Hari and the stardom of Garbo. Warhol’s tribute, however, is not celebrating the infamous character the actress played but the iconicity of Garbo herself. While his female icons of the 1960s were born out of his contemporaneous preoccupations with the cult of celebrity, The Star derives from the theme of reinvestigation that embodies the artist’s mature practice from the late 1970s until his death. Here he takes his own visual lexicon developed in the early 1960s one step further by selecting the press photo of the actress in the guise of her character as his source image. Warhol’s insistent link between fame and nostalgia often generated from his appropriation of earlier photography is abundantly present here. Indeed this publicity photo of Garbo predates the painting by nearly half a century and foreshadows her sudden retirement from acting in 1941 at the age of 35 after starring in nearly 30 films. His choice to return to the image some five decades later underlines his fascination with the endurance of iconicity.



    "Warhol's Myths reside in the funny papers, in movies and ads. And in the mirror. Warhol nurtures the nonlife, the un-death of glamour." 
    —Carter Ratcliff

    The Star forms part of Warhol’s Myths that assembled a cast of ten nostalgic figures from childhood including Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Uncle Sam, Howdy Doody, and Superman. As Greg Metcalf notes, “While these mythic figures carry a range of important cultural attributes, their shared celebrity stature arises from their being heroes of commercial art. Each of these cultural icons is also a commercial icon, a ‘logo,’ the symbol of a corporate identity. Each is also an artistic creation from which the artist has been erased.”i However, The Star and The Shadow, which sees Warhol place himself in the character of the crime-fighting hero from the 1930s radio show, are distinguished in the series: it is not the characters themselves which act as the protagonist but rather Garbo as Mata Hari and Warhol as The Shadow who are the commercial icons. In so doing he intentionally blurs the boundary between individual and symbol, artist and celebrity, hero and commodity.


    Warhol at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York with his Myths, 1981. Image: Robert Levin, Artwork: © 2022 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "These frozen images are modern-day Madonnas...[they] become religious relics, and like Leonardo’s La Gioconda. They are portraits of women radiating beauty. They are not photographs of public stars but… icons of our time." 
    —Peter Brant

    In many ways, Warhol had always felt he and Garbo were two sides of a single coin. Indeed the elusive Garbo was arguably the Hollywood starlet that impressed Warhol’s sensibility the most. Since his youth, the artist consciously fashioned himself after Garbo, adopting her poses in photographs. While many critics attributed Warhol’s evasiveness to the influence of Duchamp, Charles Lisanby, one of Warhol’s closest friends of the 1960s, recalled, “I realize, knowing Andy then, that if you ask him a direct question he will not answer it...It was some kind of a mystique. Greta Garboesque kind of thing. He loved Garbo.”ii


    [left] Photograph of Andy Warhol, 1949. Image: George Klauber [right] Greta Garbo as Mata Hari, 1931. Photographed by Clarence Sinclair Bull. Image: ScreenProd / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo


    i Greg Metcalf, "Heroes, Myth, and Cultural Icons,'' in Reframing Andy Warhol: Constructing American Myths, Heroes and Cultural Icons, exh. cat., The Art Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, 1998, p. 7.
    ii Charles Lisanby, quoted in Patrick S. Smith, Andy Warhol’s Art and Films, Ann Arbor, 1986, p. 10.

    • Provenance

      Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc., New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989

    • 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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Property from a Distinguished American Collection


The Star (Greta Garbo as Mata Hari)

signed "Andy Warhol" on the overlap
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Executed in 1981.

Full Cataloguing

$7,000,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for $9,580,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022