Andy Warhol - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Seeing the Oxidation paintings for the first time at documenta 7, 1982…lavishly installed by Rudi Fuchs in a grand room, gave me one of the rare, and increasingly impossible experiences that one searches for in exhibitions: to be utterly stunned by an unknown work by an unknown artist…" 
    —Benjamin Buchloh

    The alluringly lustrous expanse of Andy Warhol’s Oxidation, 1977-1978 belies the base material that forms its creation. Presented on a heroic scale akin to the sublime canvases of the Abstract Expressionist movement that dominated the art landscape during his formative years at Carnegie Tech, Warhol conceived just twelve paintings in this scale, with examples held in the permanent collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Formerly held in the prestigious Froehlich Collection, the present work was one of three Oxidation paintings exhibited at documenta 7, Kassel in 1982. Only shown three times in his lifetime, the Oxidations’ inclusion in documenta 7 anointed their status as a radical contribution to the canon of abstraction.


    "And then these nice older women were asking me how I’d done them and I didn’t have the heart to tell them what they really were because their noses were right up against them. And it was so crowded." 
    —Andy Warhol

    When Warhol made his triumphant return to painting in 1972 after swearing off the medium at his 1965 exhibition of Flowers at Sonnabend Gallery, Paris, he was an artist altered. By the time Warhol embarked on Oxidation, he was an internationally renowned artist whose radical contribution to contemporary art had been solidified some 15 years prior. This, coupled with his brush with death in 1968, has left his painterly pursuits from this period to be read with a degree of macabre. In the case of the Oxidations—and the closely related Piss and Cum paintings—however, it is the bodily and the visceral that takes center stage. 


    Extending from his investigations on primed canvas, the Oxidations are distinct from the Piss paintings for their metallic ground of either copper or gold-colored paint from which an alchemical transformation would occur when in contact with the acidic properties of the “medium.” The corrosion of the surface, especially in the copper paintings like the present one, produces a proliferation of shades from dark green, to blue green and black that have a textural depth and luminosity. Their luxe metallic backgrounds reverberate in the annals of Warhol’s practice: from his gold-leaf work of the 1950s, to his silkscreens of Marilyn, Liz, Jackie, and Elvis, to his Death and Disaster paintings. Manifested in this context, the metallic quality continues to play on often incongruous notions of desirability, the sacral, and the machine.


    Yves Klein, Untitled (fire-color painting), 1962. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York /Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


    These works are singular in Warhol's practice as one of the few times in his prolific career that he deviated from a photographic antecedent. It would not be until the Rorschach paintings in 1984 that he would set aside the medium again. However, like a Polaroid developing before our eyes, oxidation is a transformative process that, once set into motion, is autonomous. It is unsurprising then, that the critical reception of these paintings found their greatest resonance in Europe when they echo the performative acts of creation through desecration conceived by artists such as Alberto Burri and Yves Klein. As with the fire and combustion practices of these European forebears, Warhol's Oxidations are absent of any signature mark or painterly gesture, relying instead on voiding or pouring to incite the chemical reaction on the metallic ground. This element of chance memorialized in his earliest silkscreens of the 1960s then still forms a basis of these investigations of his late practice. It is curious to note that his scatological interests were first explored around 1961 [no. 3928] in parallel with his engagement with silkscreen.

    "For Warhol, the Oxidation Paintings, were simply once again motifs that connected high and low culture—action painting and the world of the baths and their golden showers—along the vector of notoriety or ‘fame.’"
    —Rosalind E. Krauss
    The Oxidation paintings have often been read as a reaction to Jackson Pollock—his “drips” a subversion of Pollock’s “heroic” compositions heralded by critics like Clement Greenberg as the pinnacle of artistic creation.i Of course a biographical reading could see these paintings as having the last word on Abstract Expressionism – a movement that asserted dominance over the art world at a time when Warhol was finding his place within it. Pollock was hailed by Life magazine as the greatest living artist in America in the summer of 1949, just when Warhol moved to New York after graduating from art school. But there is more at play in Warhol’s Oxidations than a simple reaction.


    Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    As with Pollock, gesture is a crucial component of creating a successful Oxidation composition. "They had technique, too,” Warhol espoused, “If I asked someone to do an Oxidation painting, and they just wouldn't think about it, it would just be a mess.”ii Both worked on a horizontal orientation; and just as Abstract Expressionism was perceived to be successfully inhabited by the male artist, the Oxidations were a distinctly male endeavor, too. When studio assistant Ronnie Cutrone would bring women to the studio, Warhol would say, “Oh my God, she doesn’t have a brushstroke, Ronnie.”iii As in Abstract Expressionism, a “brushstroke” is critical.


    Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917 (replica 1964). Tate Gallery, London. Image: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Marcel Duchamp / 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The Oxidation paintings also bring high abstraction into conversation with New York’s queer culture of the 1970s, through Warhol’s subversive use of male anatomy in both his paintings and personal life. Some of the “painters” involved in the Oxidation paintings were men recruited from local gay bathhouses, and their marks upon the copper-primed surface are, in a way, inherently queer.iv

    The Oxidation paintings effectively turned Warhol’s studio into a toilet, recalling one of the most infamous sculptures of the 20th century: Marcel Duchamp’s readymade Fountain of 1917. How fitting, then, that in “painting” Oxidation paintings with the body, Warhol and his collaborators use a substance that needs no modification; as Bruce Hainley once wrote, “piss is paint readymade.”v


    i Neil Printz, ed., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne: Paintings 1976-1978, Vol. 5B, New York, 2018, p. 113.
    ii Andy Warhol, quoted in, Kenneth Goldsmith, I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, New York, 2004, p. 327.
    iii Ronnie Cutrone, quoted in Benjamin Liu and John O’Connor, Unseen Warhol, New York, 1996, p. 68.
    iv Ibid.
    v Bruce Hainley, Andy Warhol: Piss & Sex Paintings and Drawings, New York, 2002, p. 6.

    • Provenance

      Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York
      The Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart (acquired from the above in 1987)
      Christie’s, New York, May 13, 2008, lot 25 [illustrated in the inverse orientation]
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Kassel, documenta 7, June 19–September 29, 1982
      New York, Larry Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Oxidation Paintings 1978, November 7–December 24, 1986 (installed in the inverse orientation)
      London, Tate Gallery; Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Kunsthalle Tübingen, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; The Froehlich Foundation: German and American Art from Beuys to Warhol, May 20–November 24, 1996, no. 300, p. 281 (illustrated)
      London, Tate Gallery, May 5–September 20, 1998 (on loan)
      Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Andy Warhol: Series and Singles, September 17–December 31, 2000, no. 97, pp. 15, 198 (illustrated, p. 177)
      Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast; Vaduz, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein; Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall; Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, Andy Warhol: The Late Work, February 14, 2004–May 8, 2005, pp. 56, 153 (illustrated, p. 57)
      Cologne, Museum Ludwig, The Eighth Square: Gender, Life, and Desire in the Arts since 1960, August 19–November 12, 2006, p. 292 (illustrated, p. 137)
      New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Klein/Warhol: Fire/Oxidation, May 8–June 21, 2014, p. 46 (illustrated in the inverse orientation, pp. 47, 72; installation view of the present work in the inverse orientation illustrated, pp. 82, 87)

    • Literature

      Andy Warhol: Diamond Dust Shadow Paintings, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2000, fig. 1, p. 5 (illustrated, p. 6)
      Jill Gasparina and Benjamin Thorel, "Andy Warhol Dossier," Art 21, no. 2, March/April 2005, p. 14 (illustrated)
      Hal Foster, The First Pop Age, Princeton, 2012, fig. 3.23, p. 135 (illustrated, p. 138)
      Warhol/Basquiat, exh. cat., Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna, 2013, fig. 8, p. 16 (illustrated, p. 17)
      Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, Pissing Figures 1280–2014, New York, 2017, fig. 136, p. 103 (illustrated in the inverse orientation, p. 176)
      Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings, 1976-1978, vol. 05B, no. 3956, pp. 165, 176 (illustrated, p. 166)

    • 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 of a Distinguished American Collector



urine and copper paint on linen
76 x 52 1/4 in. (193 x 132.7 cm)
Executed in 1977-1978.

Full Cataloguing

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,450,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022