Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    The Estate of Andy Warhol, New York
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Barry Blinderman:
    The image of The Witch is really striking. Is that Margaret Hamilton, the same woman who played the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz?
    Andy Warhol: Yes, she's so wonderful. She lives right in this neighborhood. She looks and acts the same as she did back then. 1981

    Andy Warhol’s The Witch forms part of his celebrated Myth series executed in 1981. The works depict fantastical characters and imaginary heroes that typify and epitomize American childhood. Finding origin in allegorical tales, traditional media-adapted creations and ancient beliefs, the images include the figures of Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus and Dracula. Each depiction presents an immediately recognizable and identifiable icon and represents a nostalgic version of the American dream.

    For the execution of this particular lot, Warhol invited Margaret Hamilton, the actress who portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, to recreate her iconic pose in his workshop. The resulting shot is one where the actress is portrayed in an emphatic still of an otherwise highly animated image. Mouth agape and caught mid- scream, she quintessentially embodies her role within American culture as an iconic antagonist. The canvas features the use of electric pastels, which reflect the subject matter with almost satanic energy: the witch’s face is depicted in a lurid green and the background in a vivid pink. Impromptu, gestural and impulsively colored, vigorously applied paint splatters are whipped across the canvas, as if creating a physical depiction of her almost-audible shrieks. The silkscreen image is delineated by clear, black outlines that depict the witch’s facial features and emphasize her distinctive witch’s hat.

    In the present lot, a curtain of perfect pink serves as the backdrop to the drama that occupies the forefront. The wicked witch, with her gaping mouth and burning eyes rolled back in demonic ecstasy, seems to be crying out an invocation. Splatters of crimson, orange and bright yellow are streaked across the left half of the picture, suggesting a far more violent incarnation of our childhood nemesis than we may remember. However, through the lens of Warhol, the brutality is mitigated by a vibrant palette and intentionally flattened representation. Similar to the water that undoes her in her iconic demise, a wash of pink threatens to dissolve her very image on the canvas.

    Hailing from the Myths series, The Witch holds its own within an elaborate world of mythical celebrity. The title of the series refers not to the Greco-Roman Gods of classical tradition but rather to the fictional, more celebrated characters of the twentieth century. Warhol’s fascination with iconic figures and motifs has its pictorial roots in the early 1960’s, continuing throughout the many series which followed. In this selection of works, rather than using celebrities from his contemporary social circle, the artist chose to feature fictitious characters, taken from 1950’s television, Old Hollywood films and Walt Disney cartoons. This choice reflects the myth-making ability of the entertainment industry, which has come to be formational in understanding heroes and villains. One of the artist’s greatest abilities was appropriating these images and expounding upon their commercial value. While their functionality as commodities was already proven, Warhol took advantage of this in employing them as his subject matter, guaranteeing a wonderfully resonant reception.

    Although the ten pieces of the series have very different origins and sources, it is possible to identify a common thread between them. “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 (G. Metcalf, Heroes, Myth and Cultural Icons, exh. cat., College Park, The Art Gallery of the University of Maryland, 1998, p. 7) Warhol’s singular subject choices for his canvases defy commonplace decisions: “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.” (C. Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, p. 101)

    Warhol's Myth series thus recognizes the conditions behind the manufactured quality of public images and serves to “remind us that anyone (living or not, human or mouse) can be a cultural icon that sells, a celebrity. When celebrity is seen through its ability to sell, then being packaged to sell makes one a celebrity.”( G. Metcalf, Heroes, Myth and Cultural Icons, exh. cat., College Park, The Art Gallery of the University of Maryland, 1998, p. 9) Warhol’s profound understanding of this principle ultimately reflects his own notorious status: testimony to the cultivation of his own, celebrity image, the artist had personal experience with the demands of ideology and projected perfection. The Witch, as a part of this series as a whole, gives a profound comment on the nature of society: where myths emerge from popular culture and inspirational figures are epitomized by commercialized celebrity status.

    Ultimately, the original implications of The Witch’s open-mouthed curse are rendered moot in the face of her new role as a symbol of American identity. Alongside the heroines of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie Kennedy, she is the feminine anti-hero, more powerful in her broader function as a cultural villain than her specific role in Oz.

  • 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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The Witch (from Myths)

acrylic, silkscreen ink on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Signed and dated "Andy Warhol 1981" on the reverse. Stamped with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. along the overlap; further numbered "PA51.012" along the overlap.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $725,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm