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  • Provenance

    Stellan Holm Gallery, New York
    Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York
    Gagosian Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    In his final decade of life, Andy Warhol turned away from the celebrity-based content of his work in the 1970s and chose to reflect upon an earlier period of his artistic career, creating works rich with allusions to some of his first pieces. Many, such as the Reversal series, were his first pieces, iconic images on their own, turned into the photonegative versions of themselves. These works give us a glimpse of an artist in his last years of work, choosing to examine his oeuvre as a phenomenon and draw his inspiration from it. Some works that Warhol produced in his final days, however, drew their imagery from thematic constants in his life. The present lot, Map of Eastern U.S.S.R. Missile Bases, 1985-1986, is one of the latter: a terrifying and poignant portrait of continuing trauma, both national and personal.

    Trauma, as an influence, seemed to follow Warhol throughout his life. Many of his early Disaster series paintings, including his silkscreens of car accidents and the mortal dread of the electric chair, came into existence because of Warhol’s inability to cope with the violence perpetrated against both him and the peoples of the world. A minor incident in 1962 stayed with him through the rest of his career: “We walked outside and somebody threw a cherry bomb right in front of us, in this big crowd. And there was blood. I saw blood on people and all over. I felt like I was bleeding all over. I saw in the paper last week that there are more people throwing them—it's just part of the scene—and hurting people.” (The artist in interview with G. Swenson, Art News, 1963, n.p.)

    Indeed, as a theme, nuclear war represented the logical extent of horror and dread, one from whose trauma no one could possibly recover. Warhol found a cathartic solution in presenting himself as his objects of dread, putting forth a version of himself in art that reflected the pain that he carried around with him. “In 1965 he would commemorate the bomb and, indirectly, his birth, in a silkscreen painting, Atomic Bomb, an explosive self-portrait—an image of Andy as international trauma. Trauma was the motor of his life, and speech the first wound: painful for him to speak, to write, to be interviewed.” (W. Koestenbaum, “Andy Warhol”, The New York Times, September 16, 2001).

    This stayed true until the nuclear buildup of the 1980s, when the world felt itself hurtling toward an inevitable nuclear showdown between the United States and the USSR. The present lot is a fascinating response to Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, which stated the mortal enmity of the USA and USSR in no uncertain terms. The piece itself is stark in its use of only black and white polymer upon a white canvas, colors that conjure up the wintry deserts of the Soviet Union during the cold season. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the piece is its origins—though it seems to be a clipping from a magazine or newspaper, its feel is of a piece with the 1960s rather than the 1980s, suggesting that Warhol maintained a collection of clippings throughout the years, strategically exhuming one for explicit purposes of creation nearly two decades after he cut it out.

    The composition of the image itself is a map of missile bases for use in a nuclear attack. However, as the map is printed in English, it is necessarily a document of war, a plot for the destruction of the Soviet Union’s missile bases by the United States. The comic book-like drawing is imperfect, its geographic boundaries sometimes scrawled haphazardly, its letters shaped by hand. But, as it was created with the express purpose of mapping out the location of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Intermediate-range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs), its lack of professional draftsmanship does not diminish its terrifying power. As we witness the massive range of the destructive powers of American forces, we soon discard any imperfections that the map has to offer.

    Warhol’s conscious response to the dread perpetrated upon all citizens of the world at the threat of nuclear annihilation is his continuing protest against the horrors of the world, either in the form of a cherry bomb or a nuclear attack. Map of the Eastern U.S.S.R., 1985-86 also highlighted Warhol’s uncanny ability to imbue his simple silkscreens with visceral power; by abandoning color in favor of black and white, the picture’s aesthetics do not come to us in the distracting form of chromatics, but rather in the realization of every viewer that the reality of détente is a grim one. Warhol also produced a version of the present lot in the negative, presenting our horrifying scenario in a world of blackness.

    Though the trauma he carried with him—through his social ostracizing, his assassination attempt and a wealth of other experiences throughout his life—made death and terror a recurrent theme in his work, it also paved the way for Warhol as a committed pacificist. Upon his death in 1987, the present lot and six others were hung at the Leo Castelli gallery: “More than much of his recent work, these canvases give evidence of Warhol's continued evolution as an artist. They all give you something to look at, a combination of decoration and provocation that stops you in your tracks, however briefly. They all have a nervy, challenging air that dares us to take them seriously while also leaving us little choice but to do so. They sum up the elasticity of the Warhol formula: his combination of iconoclastic taste and seductively conventional touch, his brilliant use of a silk-screen technique to both disavow and approximate the look of handmade drawings and paintings”(R. Smith, “Art: 7 of Warhol’s Final Paintings”, The New York Times, July 10, 1987). Warhol managed to maintain evolution as an artist while preserving the tenets of his artistry that he believed were central to a career as a creator. The present lot, in its subtle and gorgeous protests against a world of war, is a thrilling and emotional testament to Warhol’s humanitarian gift.

  • 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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Map of the Eastern U.S.S.R. Missile Bases

synthetic polymer paint, silkscreen inks on canvas
58 x 80 in. (147.3 x 203.2 cm.)
Stamped by The Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. and numbered PA10.583 along the overlap.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Evening Sale
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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 11 November 2013 7PM