Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    "Coming to the world of ‘fine' art from a successful career in commercial design, Warhol showed little hesitation in adopting appropriation as the permanent modus operandi of his work. Indeed, his citations of images from the mass media and art history are notable for both their relatively unmediated appearance and their ‘aggressively antipictorial' execution. Treating them as readymades, Warhol used his borrowings to produce work characterised by a ‘radical mechanisation' of technique, favouring arbitrary colour schemes, random repetition and industrial-style seriality over conventional indicators of artistic quality and authorial intention: i.e. the painter's mark (possession of a ‘style'), the author's message (proof of ‘genius') and the work's inimitability (proffering of a ‘masterpiece'). Simultaneously banal and sensational, Warhol's work collapses the barrier between ‘high' and ‘low', repackaging mass culture as art and art as mass culture. His appropriations also transform indexical signifiers (original images) into simulacral signifieds (spectral copies). Severed from any real-world referent, and displaying only the most minimal of deliberations, his images suggest an author whose presence, paradoxically, can only be detected as an absence, who is simply a conduit for pre-existing images, and in whom there apparently exists neither the desire to feel on his own behalf nor the desire to trigger any kind of affect in the viewer - only effect. In other words, an extreme, perverse and apolitical hybrid of Walter Benjamin's ‘producer', Roland Barthes' ‘scriptor' and Michel Foucault's ‘author-function'. Or, more to the point, exactly the kind of artist he was aspiring to be when he confessed: ‘Paintings are too hard . . . Machines have less problems. I'd like to be a machine."(Lucio Crispino in Sealing The Entrance to Plato's Cave, The Voltaire's Monkey, May 02, 2008)
    Throughout Warhol's artistic career, he exhibited a clear obsession with the status of fame and with all things famous. Surrounding himself with the likes of celebrities – from actors, singers to other high-profile artists – Warhol would integrated his crave for prominence into his works, adopting the art of appropriation to the extreme.
    Executed in 1984, Warhol's The Scream (After Edvard Munch), has become one of Warhol's most recognised appropriations. Drifting away from immortalising the celebrity portrait onto canvas, Warhol began to concentrate on the ‘Duchampian' idea of the ready-made. Although slightly differing in execution, Warhol, like Duchamp created art from something pre-existing – from something that was in essence already made. Although stemming from the same idea, Warhol's approach to the ready-made became somewhat re-vamped by appropriating a pre-existing image.
    As with all things ‘Warholian' the idea of appropriating would come with its twists and turns, so that in the late 1970s, when Warhol embarked on a journey that would focus on creating art from artworks, he would be sourcing those images from the canon of art history. From Botticelli, Picasso and Matisse to one of the most well-known images of all time – Edvard Munch's The Scream, Warhol would transform the most famous Expressionist painting into a signature Warhol. Executing only five canvases depicting The Scream, Warhol realised that these with their varying colour schemes would have the same visual impact as a commercial image such as Mickey Mouse and would appeal to the same consumer culture. Like Munch's The Scream Warhol went back further into the art history discourse to appropriate two of the most famous paintings ever to have been executed by Leonardo da Vinci. In 1970s, Warhol first created silkscreens of Mona Lisa and in the mid 1980s went on to adopt da Vinci's famous ‘Last Supper', both works becoming emblems of Warhol's reflection on art history. Just as he had turned Marilyn Manroe, Jackie Kennedy and Liz Taylor into products of the Warhol factory, so he took the stars of the art world and their products and made them into his own creations.
    The notion of appropriation in an artistic context is defined by an artist who reuses elements of well-known media to create a new work with a different message, often one opposed to the original. In the present lot, Warhol has used the most iconic image by the Norwegian artist to include within his artistic repertoire. With its ghostly presence and minimal colour, the present lot is seminal in capturing in fact the original inspiration, which evoked Munch to produce the painting. Almost sterile in appearance, as if all colour had been stripped from the painting, Warhol manages to exude the initial message of the painting:
    "I was walking along a path with two friends - the sun was setting - suddenly the sky turned blood red - I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence - there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city - my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety - and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature." (Edvard Munch)
    It is with this knowledge that we begin to understand that in effect this appropriation captures Warhol at his most self-referential. By reproducing The Scream, Warhol both underlines the iconic status of the work and shows how it can also be a mass-produced consumer product – ironically a process first begun by Munch when he created a lithograph of the work in 1895. It is yet through Warhol's adaptation of this famous painting and through the process of ‘descalling' Munch's The Scream that Warhol realised he could eternalise the image of a man's profound existential angst within the Warholian machine.

  • Artist Biography

    Andy Warhol

    American • 1928 - 1987

    Known as the “King of Pop,” Andy Warhol was the leading face of the Pop Art movement in the United States 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 like Campbell's soup tins, and celebrities like 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 a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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The Scream (After Edvard Munch)

Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas.
132 x 96.5 cm. (52 x 38 in).

£800,000 - 1,200,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm