Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Andy Warhol’s final series of self-portraits, created in the months before his untimely death in 1986, are the culmination of the artist’s lifelong fascinations with fame and death in the cult of celebrity. Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), 1986, is named for the spiky, peroxide blonde wig Warhol wears in the original Polaroid image. Warhol’s final self-portraits encapsulate the enigmatic celebrity persona Warhol cultivated throughout his career, reminding us that Warhol’s own performance of celebrity is an artistic feat on par with his accomplishments in silkscreen, portraiture, and film.


    The 1986 Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) series builds upon Warhol’s previous explorations of self-portraiture over the course of his career. Reaching as far back as the artist’s student work, such as Nosepicker I, 1948, Warhol’s identity as an artist is predicated on his self-representation in an artful manner. In each set of portraits, he takes on a persona of himself as an artist: the cool trench coat and sunglasses of his photographic 1964 portrait series; his features subsumed into blocks of color as the haughty King of Pop in the silkscreen portraits of the same year. The 1966 silkscreens show Warhol the mysterious artist, hand to chin in a contemplative gesture, features partially obscured by shadow. In each set, Warhol carefully constructs himself as an artist, and the 1986 group is no exception.


    [Left] Self-Portrait, 1964. Private Collection. Artwork: © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [Center] Self-Portrait, 1964. Museum Brandhorst, Munich. Image: akg-images, Artwork: © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [Right] Self-Portrait, 1967. San Francsisco Museum of Modern Art. Image: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Like the earlier 1960s series, the 1986 self-portraits were the result of a commission; a connection indicative, perhaps, of Warhol’s understanding of portraiture as a performance of the self for an audience. In this case of Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), 1986, the influential gallerist, Anthony d’Offay, recalled the origins of his commission in detail: “I realised two things; first that Warhol was, without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th Century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait.”i After visiting with Warhol and suggesting that the artist make a new self-portrait, a month later, Warhol “had a series of images to show me, in all of which he was wearing the now famous ‘fright wig’… [we chose] a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity.”ii The resultant work was the subject of Warhol’s first—and only—gallery show dedicated to self-portraiture; the exhibition of self-portraits at d’Offay’s London gallery would prove to be Warhol’s final commercial venture. Richard Polsky, a collector, dealer, and Warhol expert, purchased the present work from d'Offay, and reproduced it on the cover of his 2003 book, I Bought Andy Warhol. The art world tell-all, and its sequel, I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon), center on Polsky's purchase and sale of Self-Portrait (Fright Wig).


    In the present work, Warhol stares out at the viewer, the pallor of his skin and blonde wig rendered in a shocking green hue against the black background. By rendering the rest of his body invisible, Warhol elevates his self-representation to that of an icon. But the term “icon,” as applied to Warhol, is a deceptively nuanced term. Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) recalls both Warhol’s own pop cultural icons—presenting Warhol-as-artist on the same level as famous subjects like Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong in the same signature silkscreen technique—and religious portrait icons familiar to Warhol from his Byzantine Catholic upbringing.iii 


    [Left] Detail of Andy Warhol's Gold Marilyn Monroe, 1962. Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [Right] Detail of a Byzantine icon, featuring the head of St. John the Baptist, c. 16th century. Collection Paul Canellopoulos, Athens. Image: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

    The floating head of Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) recalls the way in which saint’s heads are isolated against a gold halo, particularly in the Byzantine tradition. A visual parallel to this form shows up earlier in Warhol’s oeuvre, with his first silkscreen portrait of Marilyn Monroe, Gold Marilyn, 1962, the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Christian saints are also commonly represented by just one body part, such as St. John the Baptist, recognizable as a head on a silver plate, for example, or St. Veronica’s veil, which shows Jesus’s face imprinted on a cloth, like a silkscreen on canvas. Preeminent Warhol scholar Dietmar Elger suggests that “the face of Christ with the crown of thorns [on Veronica’s veil] is given a secular reinterpretation in Warhol’s wildly standing strands of hair” in Self-Portrait (Fright Wig).iv Formally, these icons of worship, like Warhol’s own pop culture icons, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) includedisolate the figure from the background, elevating the visage for extended contemplation.


    Albrecht Dürer, Saint Veronica between Saints Peter and Paul, from The Small Passion, 1510. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of Junius Spencer Morgan, 1919, 19.73.192

    As Robert Rosenblum writes, “we are tempted to experience [Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)] as a last will and testament,” given the work’s execution so close to the artist’s own death, and Warhol’s lifelong preoccupation with sudden death, most visible artistically in his Death and Disaster and Electric Chair series, among others. Some scholars view Self-Portrait, like the aforementioned, more gruesome works, as a memento mori, or reminder of death. As John Caldwell wrote in 1987, “[Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)], coming as it does twenty years after the last great self-portraits in the sixties, has by contrast with them a strange sense of absoluteness. Perhaps this comes in part from the fact that the artist’s neck is invisible, or it may derive from the oddly lit nimbus of hair that seems posed forever over his head. Certainly, the portrait derives part of its power from the sense that we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon.”With Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), Warhol lets us know that he is more than an image; for all his talk of emulating machines—from the glossy, jet black surface of Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), to the processed blonde of his wig—Andy Warhol is human, after all.



    Anthony d’Offay, quoted in Dietmar Elger, ed., Andy Warhol: Selbsportraits/Self-portraits, exh. cat., Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstmuseum, et al., 2004, p. 127.

    ii Ibid.

    iii The 2019 exhibition at the Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Andy Warhol: Revelation, explored the artist’s relationship to religion in depth.

    iv Elger, 131.

    John Caldwell, quoted in “A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie,” Carnegie Magazine, Pittsburgh, 1987, p. 9.

    • Provenance

      The Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
      Richard Polsky (acquired from the above)
      Christie’s, New York, May 12, 2005, lot 285
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Mänttä, Serlachius Museum Gösta, SuperPop!, June 14–September 14, 2014, p. 212 (illustrated, p. 213)

    • Literature

      Richard Polsky, I bought Andy Warhol, New York, 2003, pp. 233-234 (illustrated on the cover)
      Richard Polsky, I sold Andy Warhol. (too soon), New York, 2009, pp. 5, 7-10, 14-18, 248, 258

    • 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 an Esteemed Private Collection


Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)

stamped twice by the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York, and numbered "VF P040.010" on the overlap
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)
Executed in 1986.

Full Cataloguing

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,633,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2023