Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips
  • Andy Warhol’s O.J. Simpson, 1977, brings together two of the most recognizable names of the 20th century. Part of the artist’s famed Athlete Series, consisting of over 200 portraits made between late March and early November of 1977, the present work reflects the artist’s interest in celebrity and more broadly, his reinvention of traditional portraiture. First debuted in his 1977 exhibition at Coe Kerr Gallery, New York in December of that year, and one of the few portraits signed by both the athlete and artist, O.J. Simpson captures the influence of a notorious figure in pop culture. The present work was previously in the collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and other portraits of the sitter are housed in esteemed university collections such as the University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park, and the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles.


    The present work installed at Athletes by Andy Warhol, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1978
    The present work installed at Athletes by Andy Warhol, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 1978. Artwork: © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    Commissioned by Warhol’s friend and collector Richard Weisman, the Athletes Series includes over 200 portraits—more than Warhol painted of Mao five years earlier—of famed sports stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali and Dorothy Hamil. Occupying the role of both movie star and athlete, Simpson was an ideal candidate for the project. A star running back for the Buffalo Bills and an aspiring actor, he was only 30 years old at the time of his meeting with Warhol. Showing up to their meeting in a Buffalo motel room on October 19, 1977, Simpson forgot both signifiers of his profession – his jersey and a football. Eventually sourcing a ball, Warhol snapped 46 Polaroids of the athlete dressed in a plaid shirt under a blazer, selecting two to use as source images for eleven subsequent portraits. The impermanence of these Polaroids—a medium Warhol used as early as the 1960s when he embarked upon his first commissioned portraits—reinforce the ephemeral nature of fame which Warhol was interrogating in his work. 

    “He [Simpson] had a five-day beard and I thought the pictures would be awful but Fred [Hughes] said no, that they’d be sexy, and he was right, they were.”
    —Andy Warhol

    In O.J. Simpson, Warhol composes the portrait so that the ball almost takes up as much space as O.J.’s face. He also takes a more painterly approach to his traditional silkscreen, especially when compared to his 1980s portraits rendered in the same 40 by 40-inch format, using swathes of red and orange pigment to brush gently across the surface of the canvas. When viewing this 1977 depiction, immediately the viewer is reminded of another, less glamorous portrait of Simpson – his mugshot. Unaware of his picture’s impact years later, Warhol acknowledges and highlights the footballer’s budding celebrity.

    • Provenance

      Richard L. Weisman, California
      The Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio (donated by the above in 1992)
      Christie’s Private Sales, New York (sold by the above in 2011)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Coe Kerr Gallery; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Athletes by Andy Warhol, December 9, 1977–April 2, 1978
      Mänttä, Serlachius Museum Gösta, SuperPop!, June 14–September 14, 2014, pp. 198-199 (illustrated, p. 199)

    • Literature

      Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne Paintings and Sculptures 1976-1978, vol. 05A, London, 2018, no. 3806, pp. 401, 403 (illustrated, p. 401)

    • 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


O.J. Simpson

signed "Andy Warhol" on the reverse; further signed by O.J. Simpson on the reverse
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
Executed in 1977.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $482,600

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023