Andy Warhol - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galeria Quintana, Bogota
    Christie's, New York, Post War and Contemporary Art Sale, 14 May 2009, lot 166
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) represents the emblematic peak of Andy Warhol’s famed career. Featuring the image of both celebrated and tragic American Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe, the present lot distils the paradigm of fame into an alluring play of silhouette and colour. Characteristic of Warhol’s masterful play with subject and technique, Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) includes the added dimension of a forward progression as well as a certain lingering and melancholic nostalgia. The painting alludes to the transformative power of art, in which a symbolic act of transference can result in instant immortalisation. Within the work there lingers an inherently retrospective and introspective quality that belies the artist’s own complex relationship with celebrity.

    Warhol, who was a public figure in his own right, was fascinated by the notion of stardom; Monroe was the singular and intense object of his obsession in both life and death. Considering the actress a kind of kindred spirit whose talent was often undervalued and overlooked by her peers, Warhol eschewed this reputation, instead manufacturing a legacy of his own for Monroe, and in turn, creating one of the most enduring images of his career. After the actress’ premature passing on August 5, 1962, Warhol reacted with a series of paintings so pointedly astute that they remain closely associated with the actress to this day. Warhol represents Marilyn at the peak of her career and in the glare of the public spotlight; yet, the work was executed almost fifteen years after the actress’ death. The original representation of Marilyn by Andy Warhol acquired iconic status in 1962, soon after Marilyn’s death, when the artist first paid tribute to the star in his painting Gold Marilyn. This first interpretation marked a life-long creative obsession with the film star that would not only define the artist’s career but also cement the actress’ legacy in the collective mind.

    Marilyn became Warhol’s muse and this particular version, taken from a publicity shot from the 1953 film Niagara, became a symbol of her universal renown and success. Even with its darker undertones, the work solidified the relationship between the two icons: creating an instantly recognisable ‘logo’ of Warhol’s art in her well-formed likeness. Gold Marilyn became an emblem of the Pop Art movement and a symbol of the connections between art, culture and celebrity. The qualities pertaining to Pop Art, such as its association with and questioning of the nature of art and beauty, render it particularly self-referential. Warhol’s choice to revisit his own earlier paintings is thus a logical progression, demonstrating his adaptability and ingenuity.

    This particular adaptation, executed almost two decades after the 36-year old actress’ tragic death and Warhol’s first Marilyn painting, uses the same original appropriated image from the production still of the low brow Hollywood thriller Niagara. However, in this instance, Warhol instead uses the photographic negative of the image rather than the positive image previously reproduced through silkscreen. The final effect is a reversal of colour and form. This reversal hints at the technical process of photographic reproduction, which involves subject, film and paparazzi, ultimately abstracting the original subject through the transference from reality through lens and film. Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) hints at the distortive nature of the photographic process, in which images become alternate windows of perceptive reality. In the present lot, the artist has completely disengaged the original subject of the painting through a many layered approach to reproduction: this is a re-working of an earlier painting adapted from a promotional photograph of an actress whose appearance was carefully crafted by Hollywood producers.

    The use of the negative film image also alludes to the duality of self that Warhol himself struggled with. This dark image of the starlet is a probing and wistful interrogation into the psyche of a woman who, to this day, remains largely shrouded in mystery. This conceptual manipulation successfully captures the zeitgeist of the new decade. Haunting and resonant, Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) represents a rich aesthetic whilst demonstrating deeply evocative and reflective existential undercurrents. In the same way Warhol appropriated banal images of mass culture commodities like soup cans, he re-appropriates his own earlier imagery, in a Duchampian manner which is a post-modern exploration of meaning and originality. By transforming the visual motifs that came to define the Pop Art, Warhol reinvented himself and his work, once again exhibiting the artistic bravado that established his own cultural legacy.

    This particular lot exemplifies the evolution of the movement and the progression of both artist and celebrity as individuals. The figure of Marilyn Monroe had become fragmented and fractured - multiplied and replicated on the screen and off, across tabloids and newspapers—to satisfy the public’s demand for the femme fatale. Warhol was also dealing with his own sense of detachment, addressing his own fame and consequent criticism. Four Marilyns (Reversal Series), redirects commodity into the realm of art and confirms the versatility of the artist’s aesthetic. At a time when many expected the decline of his artistic relevance, Warhol instead re-invented his status and re-appropriated his own art to again bolster his prominence. By borrowing from his own catalogue of works and using the same original sources for his new paintings, the old motifs are injected with a new mood and reflect a contemporary context. Removed from their original context, which was innately reactionary, these images became charged with new meaning. This re-visitation of the past and appropriation of earlier imagery echoes post-modernist ideals: undermining the hierarchical and traditional pre-conceptions of art.

    The recycling of source-material reveals a disregard towards the generic process of ‘progressive’ modern art, instead creating a sense of objective detachment, seeing validation in the context of his own production. ‘By ransacking his own past to produce the Reversals and Retrospectives, Warhol revealed himself to be one of the shrewdest of the new wave of post-modernists. While modernism had been an ideal that survived throughout most of the 1960s, continuing its self-conscious search for new forms of expression, post-modernism, which gained currency in the ‘pluralist’ 1970s, reflected an ironic attitude towards all aesthetic camps and displayed an indifference to the traditional hierarchies of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art’ (D. Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 380). This act of re-appropriation would inspire the practice of later artists like Richard Prince, Banksy, Rob Pruitt and Kelley Walker, among a host of others.

    The muted tones of the painting, in combination with the silhouetted negative image of the actress, reveal a psychological angle to Warhol’s production of Four Marilyns (Reversal Series): ‘I really believe in empty spaces, although, as an artist, I make a lot of junk. Empty space is never-wasted space. Wasted space is any space that has art in it. An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it would be a good idea to give them’ (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York ,1975).

    Set against a pitch black background and illuminated in meagre segments that emerge from the shadows, Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) is a haunting image, surreal and mythical in its evocative depiction. The silkscreened image of Marilyn becomes Sphinx-like; Warhol invites us to question the human psyche. At once poignant and detached, the painting alludes to the alter-ego dualism of celebrity: the tragic truth beneath the superficial, perfected projection of fame. The captivating canvas radiates from beneath its initial darkness and seems incandescent by some unrecognisable force, possessing an ‘otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by infernal footlights’ (D. Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 378).

    Exemplary of the artist’s larger oeuvre, the piece includes a new incarnation: inverted palettes and selective highlighting pierce the largely dark depiction with occasional and impactful flashes of lightening-like luminosity. These bursts of illumination mimic those found in the silence of the darkened cinema, the film projector emitting a ghostly stream of light in rapid succession. A place of nostalgia, excitement and mystery, the movie theatre is a temple for the cult of celebrity; the light beam of the projector transmits its ‘heavenly’ presence onto the film screen. The subtle hints of Marilyn’s silhouetted face pierce through the enveloping blackness of the canvas ground, projecting out of the picture plane towards the viewer. Warhol’s painterly use of monochrome and subtle depiction alludes to the silver-screen and further emphasises the connections between art and celebrity as well as culture and commerce.

    The silkscreen process also furthers the enigma of the woman and the painting. In Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) the subject gazes forward, directly towards the viewer, but seems to be veiled and almost concealed from her audience in the enveloping rich black which surrounds her. The image of the actress has been reduced to shadows, rendered discernible only through the lightly illuminated quality of her features. The area below her chin and cheekbones, her iconic pouted lips and hooded eyes and the perfect curls of her coiffured hair are the only elements that emerge into the light. The concept of the façade is at its most prominent: the figure has become an enigma, identifiable only by her recognisable and notable facial characteristics. This highly manicured appearance was cultivated by Hollywood producers, who transformed her from ‘Norma Jean’ to Marilyn. Similarly, Warhol’s portrayal exerts a similar artistic control over the female image. A branded icon, the portrait of Marilyn Monroe is as much a symbol of Warhol’s oeuvre as it is a representation of the actress.

    As a brand of movie star still vague to the collective American psyche, both erotic yet deeply vulnerable, the image and its connotations challenge physical and societal perceptions. With a unique and inimitable appeal, the image of Marilyn Monroe has universal power. A relatively unknown image until Warhol’s appropriation, the adaptation of the Niagara production still presents the actress in a period that has now come to represent the peak of her career. Released in 1953, reviews of the film dwelled on its highly-charged sexuality. Although it pre-dated more ambiguously witty, sex-laden comedies like The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), the film itself would foreshadow her later future as a ‘sex symbol’ in the American mind. Speaking about her relationship to fame, Monroe said, ‘Fame will go by, and, so long, I've had you, fame. If it goes by, I've always known it was fickle. So at least it's something I experienced, but that's not where I live’ (M. Monroe, 1962 from interview with Richard, Meryman, ‘Great interviews of the 20th century,’ The Guardian, September 2007). By disengaging Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) through both the passing of time and deliberate re-appropriation, Warhol allowed the work to comment on the greater implications of celebrity.

    Since the present lot was created in 1981, the painting is more a self-reflection on Warhol’s own life in the spotlight. In the form and colour alone, traces of darker implications reveal themselves. As with other series Warhol produced in the early 1980s, particularly his Guns and Knives paintings, they were partly autobiographical; the artist was still continuing to deal with his own scrape with death in 1968 at the hand of radical feminist (and occasional Factory worker) Valerie Solanas, further solidifying his conflicting relationship to celebrity. In this way, Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) becomes a type of humanistic memento mori.

    The silkscreen process, by its inherent nature, perfectly suits this endeavour. Its simultaneous quality of precision and imprecision, in the unavoidable, subtle variations of ink saturation and positioning, reflect this constant motion and succession. This notion of the unpredictable lends the prints a poignantly fatalistic edge, subjecting them to providence and uncertain outcome. The silkscreens, both in their replicated status and in their multiplicity, are repetitions, yet each remains completely unique in the final result. The duplication technique reflects progression rather than regression: developing originals rather than directly reproducing them. Warhol explained this nuanced process: ‘I think, at the time, I started repeating the same image because I liked the way the repetition changed the same image. Also, I felt at the time, as I do now, that people can look at and absorb more than one image at a time’ (A. Warhol, 1971, from an interview with Gerard Malanga, ed. K. Goldsmith, I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, New York, 2004, p. 193). Although the image has been mechanically transferred to canvas, partially removing hints of the artist’s touch, it is rich with remnants of living memory.

    Yet, in its re-visitation, the painting juxtaposes this integrity with the tragedy that followed. ‘The object of veneration here is not a Blessed Virgin but a slightly lewd seductress, the image of whose face is still suffused with erotic magic. This sensuous radiance transforms the unhappy Marilyn of real life—the victim of abuse, failed marriages, affairs, and finally suicide. In Warhol’s paintings of her, the very human Marilyn becomes a symbolic image of the need for love and to be loved’ (K. McShine, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, New York, 1989, pp. 17-18). The piece is at once nostalgic and forward-looking: magical in temperament but still reflecting the shallow artificiality of Hollywood. The result epitomises Warhol’s legacy; he created a new interpretation of an established myth while questioning the reality beneath the artifice.

  • 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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Four Marilyns (Reversal Series)

synthetic polymer, silkscreen ink on linen
91.4 x 71.1 cm (36 x 28 in.)
Stamped with the artist's signature 'Andy Warhol' on the reverse. Stamped by the Estate of Andy Warhol and numbered 'A107.089' on the overlap. Annotated ‘I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1984 © Frederick Hughes’ on the overlap.

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm