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  • Provenance

    Galería Fernando Vijande, Madrid
    Private Collection, Europe
    Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 7 November 2011, lot 19
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Andy Warhol, 27 August - 27 October 1992
    Kunst Haus Wien; Orlando Museum of Art; Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art, Andy Warhol, 1928 - 1987, 23 February 1993 - 13 March 1994
    Athens, National Gallery; Thessaloniki, National Gallery, Andy Warhol, 14 June - 27 September 1993
    Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Andy Warhol 1928 - 1987, 8 October - 20 November 1994
    Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Andy Warhol Retrospektive, 25 May - 1 October 1995
    Milan, Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta, Andy Warhol, 22 October 1995 - 11 February 1996
    Ludwigshafen, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Andy Warhol, 15 September 1996 - 12 January 1997
    Helsinki Kunsthalle, Andy Warhol, 23 August - 16 November 1997
    Warsaw, The National Museum; Krakow, The National Museum, Andy Warhol, 6 March - 12 July 1998
    Rio de Janeiro, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Warhol, 12 October - 12 December 1999
    Kochi, The Museum of Art; Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art; Osaka, Daimaru Museum Umeda; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art; Sakura, Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art; Nagoya City Art Museum; Niigata City Art Museum, Andy Warhol, 6 February 2000 - 12 February 2001
    Grimaldi Forum Monaco, SuperWarhol, 16 July - 31 August 2003, pl. 207, p. 435 (illustrated)
    London, Yvon Lambert, The Temptation to Exist: Douglas Gordon, On Kawara, Terence Koh, Andy Warhol, 22 November - 20 December 2008

  • Literature

    Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, fig. 5, p. 27 (illustrated)
    Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2006, p. 155 (illustrated)
    Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,, Milwaukee Art Museum; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Brooklyn Museum; Baltimore Museum of Art, 2009, fig. 17, p. 27 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Monumental in scale and pulsating in repeated bands of red and black, Knives, a dramatic and poignant composition by Andy Warhol, the master of American Pop Art, presents the viewer with an eminently recognizable symbol: the commonplace kitchen knife. Astutely identifying the more sinister themes in the American consciousness, for Warhol the kitchen knife came to symbolise the underbelly of popular culture. Serving as a memento mori, in the present work, through stark and shocking imagery, Warhol highlights the disparity between symbolic connotations and artistic aesthetics. By using the silkscreen as a means to mechanically repeat the lurid image of the knife across the broad swathe of canvas, Warhol not only delves into the domain of mortality but also seamlessly intensifies the painting’s menacing undertone into a compelling aesthetic experience.

    Following the attempt on his life by the feminist writer Valarie Solanas in 1968, Warhol became concerned with the depiction of violence, confronting the morbidity of everyday life. First exhibited publicly in 1982 Warhol’s show at Castelli- Goodman-Solomon Gallery in New York, Knives created an unsettling and profound contrast between the extravagant venue and the morbid and cynical subject matter of the sombre works being exhibited. Shocking viewers through graphic and bold images invoking violence, Warhol presented three prominent symbols in the exhibited works – knives, guns and dollar signs. With this unholy trinity of images taken from an unremarkable, everyday object, Warhol produced a brutal and unsettling portrayal of American consumerist culture.

    Warhol, who for decades had attempted to replicate the blunt and bloody truths of America’s society, was riveted with the terrors of American crime. Fascinated with the notion of celebrity, the artist is famed for his depictions of glamorous icons of Pop Culture; in Knives and other works concerned with death and disaster the artist unveils how his preoccupation with contemporary culture had a darker side. Having described 129 Die, his 1962 work depicting a plane crash, as the start of his death themed works, Warhol also considered his depictions of Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor as intrinsically tied to the theme of death through their respective severe illness, relation to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and attempted suicide. The long, burgeoning but also unseen struggle of the civil rights movement for instance is encapsulated in Warhol’s silkscreen of the race riots in 1963, capturing something of the ingrained violence of the time. In the image, savagery is startlingly invoked as police dogs aggressively jump and hound fleeing men. Just like Knives, this unsettling silkscreen reveals the power of a photographic image and how the same image can be employed, as in advertising, to manipulate but also disturb an audience. Yet the orderly rows of carefully composed blades in Knives reveal an innate and disturbing vacancy; focusing primarily upon the instrument rather than the act of violence, Warhol universalises moments of inhumanity, focusing on the terrible capability of harmful materials.

    Silkscreening his Knives in bold tones of fiery red, commanding a sinister respect, the normal, utilitarian function of these eight inch kitchen knives suddenly becomes ambiguous, even malevolent. Akin to prints of photographic evidence or the remnants of a criminal investigation, the knives are arranged in careful, clinical clusters, the metallic surfaces of the blades become larger as each progressive knife is placed one on top of the other. Contrasted against a cavernous black background, the graphic red knives evoke an ominous palette of foreboding. In comparison to his choice of colour in his retrospective series, in which Warhol had tried to avoid using the vibrant and garish Pop colours in favour of more muted tones, in Knives, Warhol employs a particularly saturated, blood-red hue. Invoking a dark, forbidding warning suggestive of bloodshed, the stark crimson blades startle the viewer with Warhol’s characteristically bold motifs. The theme of the knife functions in much the same way as Warhol’s portrait of the electric chair, it simultaneously frightens, warns and impacts the viewer. Commenting on the ubiquity of death in mass media, Warhol’s depictions of seemingly violent subjects remark on the ease with which distressing imagery is distributed. Dissecting the proliferation of violent imagery, the artist questions the impact of shock, having asserted that ‘when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect’ (Andy Warhol, quoted in Gene Swenson, ‘What Is Pop Art? Answers from 8 Painters, Part I,’ ARTnews, New York, 1963).

    Whilst experimenting with the photography of rare knives and daggers in the 1970s, Warhol asked his assistant to source more ordinary utensils from a restaurant supply shop in New York; he returned with a selection of ‘Galaxy 8-inch Slicer’s’. Captivating the artist as ‘the common object, considered by most of us as nothing special’ (Robert Rosenblum and Vincent Freeman, Andy Warhol: Knives Paintings, Cologne, 1998, p. 21), these knives went on to form the foundation for the present work. Reproducing and enlarging the images of the knives, Warhol altered them by layering both the positive and the negative outlines. Like ghostly apparitions, the knives appear to be suspended mid-air: ‘Kitchen knives never looked more interesting and beautiful’ (Robert Rosenblum and Vincent Freeman, Andy Warhol: Knives Paintings, Cologne, 1998, p. 21).

    With his oeuvre a type of anthology of the American way of life and death, from fascination with idolism, to car crashes and the electric chair itself, Warhol’s creative output presents a change in culture. This change, the permeation of our society by celebrity, is captured and glamourized by Warhol throughout his prolific career. Here, in a similar vein, the artist has appropriated a household object and placed it into his iconic strata. It was not until the early 1980s that the artist came to single out these violent instruments with the kind of isolated scrutiny with which he had earlier transformed supermarket products such as soup cans into emblems of American culture. The Guns and Knives works from 1981 - 1982 mark the artist’s dominant return to full-time painting in his studio and assert his increasing concern with the immediacy of death and violence. Imbuing a seemingly ordinary image with malice, Warhol encapsulates the creeping loss of individuality amidst the proliferation of popular culture reminding us 'that his work is firmly rooted in the facets of American life and death’ (Robert Rosenblum and Vincent Freeman, Andy Warhol: Knives Paintings, Cologne, 1998, p. 15).

  • 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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signed and dated 'Andy Warhol '82' on the overlap
silkscreen ink and synthetic polymer on canvas
180 x 132.1 cm (70 7/8 x 52 in.)
Executed in 1982.

£2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for £2,649,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017