Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Piss & Sex Paintings and Drawings, September 19 - November 2, 2002, p. 99 (illustrated, pp. 54-55)
    New York, Gagosian Gallery, Major Works, July 30 - August 24, 2012

  • Literature

    Sally King-Nero and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978, vol. 5B, London, 2018, no. 3931, p. 145 (illustrated, p. 143)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “’It's a parody of Jackson Pollock,' he told me, referring to rumours that Pollock would urinate on a canvas before delivering it to a dealer or client he didn't like. Andy liked his work to have art-historical references, though if you brought it up, he would pretend he didn't know what you were talking about…” Bob Colacello

    Suffused in luminous abstraction, Andy Warhol’s Piss, 1977-1978, brilliantly articulates how the artist’s conceptual investigation of painting in the final decade of his life mirrored his trailblazing experimentation in the early 1960s. A thin veil of gold staining spreads across the vast canvas, unfolding like the abstracted landscapes in Chinese ink painting in a manner that belies the subversive process of its creation. Radical, brazen and highly conceptual, Warhol’s Piss paintings occupy a singular position in Warhol’s oeuvre; entirely camera-less, they see an artist reinventing his practice and pushing it to its unprecedented abstract pastures. Within this series, comprising a total of 29 canvases, the present work takes a unique position as one of the three largest Piss paintings. Rare both for their size and dramatic panoramic format, these works notably remained hidden from the public in Warhol’s studio until after his death.

    Executed in 1977-1978, the present work encapsulates the radical departure that Warhol embarked upon mid-career. Over a decade after becoming a household name in the early 1960s, Warhol kept up a concerted effort to make sweeping changes in his work. Having returned to painting in 1972 in the form of his Celebrity Portraits and Mao series, Warhol longed for a stimulation of new ideas and seemed intent to launch a radical metamorphosis of his practice: “Between 1976 and 1978, he not only recaptured the radical trajectory of his 1960s work, he set his paintings on a distinctly different course” (Sally King-Nero and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978, vol. 5B, London, 2018, p. 15). Shifting away from the dominant visual matrix of portraiture that had defined the early 1970s, starting in late 1975, Warhol began phasing into two new bodies of work based on the art historical tradition of the still-life, his Skull and Hammer and Sickle series. A year later, in late 1976, he started his radical Torso and Sex Parts series, and in the summer of 1977 set in motion his perhaps most radical body of work in that period: his camera-less, non-representational Piss, Oxidation, and Cum paintings. For the first time since 1961, Warhol had suddenly dispensed with the photograph.

    With his Piss paintings, Warhol was effectively revisiting an idea that he had begun circa 1961, though only one example is known to have survived. The present work is one of the paintings Warhol created in mid-1977 in a direct continuation of his first Piss paintings, consisting of urine on primed canvas. While the majority of Piss paintings were produced on pre-stretched canvases, this work is one of only eight giant canvases that were produced unstretched, with the canvases unrolled on the floor of his painting space, and later cut and stretched. Avoiding painterly gesture and personal touch, Warhol created these works by moving around the canvas in such a way that, as his assistant Ronnie Cutrone recalled, “it became almost a sort of performance. Like an Yves Klein kind of thing; with women rolling on the canvas. We would instead bring in boys and girls and have them standing on the big canvases. So the studio would become like a toilet, a giant urinal" (Ronnie Cutrone, quoted in Andy Warhol: The Late Work, Munich, 2004 p. 92).

    Though Warhol’s Piss paintings never left the studio during Warhol’s lifetime, he did exhibit his Oxidation paintings. His observation regarding the exhibition of these works in public for the first time in 1978, offers intriguing and unexpected connections between the aesthetic of this body of work and his Byzantine Catholic upbringing: “They looked like real drippy paintings…you can understand why those holy pictures cry all the time” (Andy Warhol, 1985, quoted in Annette Michelson, ed., Andy Warhol (October Files), Cambridge, 2001, p. 125) Evocative of the gold-leaf backgrounds of icon paintings, these works speak to Warhol’s interest in the precious, sacral quality of metallic surfaces. Elevating the rudimentary to the sacral realm of high art, Warhol offers an ingenious riff on art history.

    Indeed, the creation of these works was of course not dissimilar to Jackson Pollock’s famous mode of action painting. Warhol, who had pioneered his Pop art practice in direct opposition to his Abstract Expressionist forebears, here offers a iconic comment on Pollock’s allover gesture. This connection becomes particularly apparent in the three largest Piss paintings, including the present one, whose horizontality and size echo those of such paintings as Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, or Blue Poles (Number 11), 1952, which at 83 by 191 inches possess near identical dimensions as the present lot. As Rosalind Krauss observed, speaking of how Warhol decoded the liquid gesture of Pollock’s drip technique, these paintings “were simply once again motifs that connected high and low culture – action painting and the world of the baths and their golden showers…” (Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, Cambridge, 1993, p. 276). In many ways, Warhol was here pushing Marcel Duchamp's urinal ready-made sculpture Fountain, 1917, to the extreme. Just as Duchamp questioned the limits and definitions of art, Warhol, too, tested the boundaries of painting with a similar spirit of parody, allusion and wit. Demonstrating a deep conceptual investigation of notions of process and time, Warhol’s Piss painting stands as one of the purest and most radical articulations of abstraction within the Pop master’s oeuvre.

  • 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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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection, New York



numbered "PA 45.144" on the stretcher and "PA 45.155" on the overlap
urine on linen
78 1/4 x 194 in. (198.8 x 492.8 cm.)
Executed in 1977-1978.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $644,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue