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  • A variation on one of Andy Warhol’s most epochal works and truly one of the most iconic images in the history of Western art, Flowers, 1964, is emblematic not only of the apex of Pop art but also of Warhol’s idiosyncratic approaches to imagery, art making, and appropriation. Flowers — which, according to legend, was originally undertaken at the suggestion of famed curator and friend of the artist Henry Geldzahler — marks not only the convergence of Warhol’s core artistic interests, but also a thematic point of departure from his work prior to this series. The present work, a unique screenprint on paper of the Flowers motif, stands in stark contrast to the morose and sensationalized themes Warhol confronted in earlier Pop works and, in true Warholian fashion, is a variation on a variation in its truncated form compared to other works from this series.

     

    Borrowed Inspiration

     

    Many stories of Warhol’s life and work are shrouded in myth, legend, and rumor; some are more credible than others. Few stories, however, come as directly from the source as that of the inception of the Flowers series. In the spring of 1964, as Warhol left the representation of the Stable Gallery to join the Leo Castelli Gallery, the undisputed powerhouse of Pop art in New York, the artist was afforded an opportunity to conceptualize a new series that he could show at his inaugural exhibition with Castelli in the fall. While considering his options in the Factory, Warhol was visited by Henry Geldzahler, the gregarious gadfly of the New York avant-garde and the first Curator of 20th Century Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


    Geldzahler, according to legend, suggested that Warhol paint flowers rather than, “all the Marilyns and disasters and death” hanging on the studio walls.i Geldzahler claimed that he opened a magazine to a spread of flowers and presented the images to the artist as inspiration for his next series; that magazine was the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, in which an article described — and, importantly, illustrated — a new Kodak color processing system. The layout consisted of one image of seven hibiscus blossoms reprinted four times, conveying the differing effects of the system. The seriality of the spread and its subject matter were perfect to catch Warhol’s attention, and he indeed utilized the flowers as the idea for his next series.

     

    The Creation of an Icon

     

    While it may seem that Warhol simply appropriated and reproduced the photo from the magazine, the source image was actually significantly altered. After cropping the photograph and rotating one of its blossoms to achieve his desired format, Warhol heightened the image's contrast to such an extent that it was entirely unrecognizable as a hibiscus flower. Flat, planar shapes and vivid outlines characterized the final format, and Warhol transferred the design making each blossom appear to float over a grainy black background, flattening color and form to create what is probably the most abstract of all of Warhol's 1960s images.


    Warhol’s previous works were infamous for their instant recognizability; contemporary viewers were confounded by the aggressive directness and unartistic artifice of the Marilyns, Campbell’s Soup Cans, and Brillo Boxes that presented the ubiquitous banality of everyday life exactly as it was, only recontextualized in apparently artistic settings. Flowers subverts this process by abstracting an anonymous image to the point of its apogee as an icon. Since their unveiling at the Castelli Gallery, the Flowers works have become among the most famous parts of Warhol’s oeuvre and the most recognizable images of Pop art, imbued with the artist’s celebrity to become icons in their own right.


    The Flowers capture Warhol's competing interests in mass-produced, assembly-line construction and fortuitous variation. If the square Flowers, whose regular shape allowed the paintings to be hung any side up, reflect Warhol’s fondness for mechanical uniformity, the present work, truncated and cropped, captures his interest in accidental dissimilarity and recalls another famous Warholian legend. In 1960, seeking to immortalize his friendship with the socially ascendant Ted Carey, Warhol sought to have a portrait of the pair painted; he enlisted realist painter Fairfield Porter — Alex Katz had turned the offer of $150 down — to complete the work.  Warhol, ever entrepreneurial, later claimed he commissioned the work with the ulterior motive of cutting the canvas in half to produce two portraits for the price of one. Porter, however, foiled the plot by painting a portrait of the men, which is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, standing closely side by side. If Warhol’s thrifty machinations with the Porter portrait failed to materialize, perhaps he achieved his ambitions of alteration with the present work, bringing both his artistic adjustments and enthusiasm for aberration to fruition.

     

    i Henry Geldzahler quoted in Tony Sherman and David Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, p. 235

    • Provenance

      Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Literature

      Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints, A Catalogue Raisonné 1962 - 1987, Milan, 2003, no. I. 6b, p. 48 (illustrated)

    • 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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169

Flowers

stamped by the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York, initialed and numbered "VF OP 24.13" on the reverse
silkscreen ink on Strathmore drawing paper
40 1/8 x 30 1/8 in. (101.9 x 76.5 cm)
Executed circa 1964, this work is unique.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $277,200

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

[email protected]

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020