Andy Warhol’s Dollar Sign from 1982, estimated at £400,000-600,000, is one of the highlights of Bonhams Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale in London on 1 July. The work is arguably the best of its kind ever to come to auction.
Unusually large for this series, and marked by its intensity and clarity of colour, this exceptional example is also fresh to the market. Composed of thick vivid paint forming five dollar signs against a jet black background, the painting embodies Warhol at his most animated.
Dollar Sign is a case of Warhol not just making money out of art, but making art out of money. In his book, Warhol, David Bourdon writes that the series can be seen as “insolent reminders that pictures by brand-name artists are metaphors for money”. That never bothered Warhol, who brazenly declared his interest in making money from his art with his Factory ‘production line’.
The artist wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: “I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.”
Warhol drew the Dollar Sign image by hand, and the work’s sketchy dashes of acrylic paint are reminiscent of the strokes of Warhol’s original pencil drawings. Although it was his skills as a draughtsman which allowed him to initially break in to the art world, he is better known for appropriating pop culture images from mass media, generating expensive glamour out of banality. Having tried and failed to find a dollar sign symbol which met his requirements, Warhol made his own. In his hands, the $ is an exuberant icon, his own trademark logo.
Warhol, born poor in Depression-era Pittsburgh, printed rows of bleak grey dollar bills early in his career. When he returned to the motif in the 1980s with the colourful dollar sign series, he was very rich indeed. He launched the prints at a star-studded opening at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York, noting in his diary, ‘All the heavyweights were there.’
Ralph Taylor, Bonhams Director of Contemporary Art, said: “This is a classic image from one of Warhol’s most important series, and the five distinct, brilliantly coloured signs overlaid on a jet-black background make it unique. It comes from a wonderful collection where it has rested privately for nearly 30 years, and we are honoured to offer arguably the greatest example of its kind ever to come to auction.”
Other highlights from the sale:
Three other Warhols, including Campbell’s Soup Box (1986), estimated at £30,000-50,000.
Anish Kapoor’s 2012 Untitled – a monumental magenta disc in stainless steel, estimated at £400,000-600,000.
Banksy’s Keep it Real (2002), estimated at £40,000-60,000, and Rat with Umbrella (2004), estimated at £30,000-50,000.
A work by Anselm Kiefer, subject of a solo show at the Royal Academy last year, estimated at £250,000-350,000.
“I ritratti degli anni 1980 sono come capsule del tempo per le generazioni future, una vasta popolazione di reperti umani proveniente dal nostro passato ormai remoto, pronta a risorgere sotto lo sguardo di una giovane mente”.
Robert Rosenblum, Andy Warhol Portraits (2007)
La serie di ritratti di Andy Warhol degli anni ’80 ha visto una radicale rivalutazione negli ultimi dieci anni. Sono ora riconosciuti tra le opere più interessanti e affermate dell’artista. L’asta Post-War & Contemporary Art del 12 febbraio 2015 di Bonhams a New Bond Street sarà caratterizzata da tre di questi ritratti, ognuno raffigurante un amico dell’artista: la “socialite” Marjorie Copley, il fotografo, Robert Mapplethorpe, e l’artista di fama mondiale , Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Warhol può essere citato come colui che ha portato a nuova vita la tradizione ritrattistica trascurata nel corso del decennio che lo ha inequivocabilmente caratterizzato, e i tre lotti che Bonhams offre, ciascuno eseguito con uno strumento diverso, sono i principali simboli del suo lavoro in un momento cruciale della sua carriera.
Con la serigrafia che ritrae Marjorie Copley (1980), stimata in £ 180,000-250,000, Warhol cattura una graziosa e delicata posa della donna, con uno sguardo quasi timido a preludere un sorriso leggero, impercettibile. Questo è Warhol nella sua versione più chic.
Al tempo in cui Marjorie posò per il ritratto, aveva poco interesse per la frenetica atmosfera bohemien dello studio di Warhol, The Factory. La calma e il distacco che mostra sono evidenti ma non fanno che accrescere il fascino di questa immagine. Forse era proprio questo il messaggio che Warhol voleva trasmettere.
Il ritratto del celebre fotografo americano, Robert Mapplethorpe (divenuto famoso nel 1973 per la prima mostra personale, “Polaroids”, presso la Light Gallery di New York), del 1983, è una serigrafia unica ed è stimata in £ 50000-70000. Mapplethorpe ha condiviso un profondo interesse con Warhol nella ritrattistica, anche se il suo lavoro era incentrato sull’estetica del corpo, piuttosto che sulle celebrità ed il glamour di New York catturati da Warhol. La loro fu una vera e propria amicizia con la conseguente serie di opere reciproche. Nel 1983, Mapplethorpe fece quattro ritratti di Warhol – uno dei quali è al Tate Modern – e Warhol una collezione di serigrafie del fotografo, di cui quella in asta è una.
La Polaroid dell’artista americano, Jean-Michel Basquiat, “il James Dean dell’arte moderna” eseguito da Warhol nel 1982, è stimato £ 12,000-18,000. Warhol è stato un mentore ed un mecenate per Basquiat a partire dal 1980 fino alla morte del ragazzo per overdose di eroina nel 1987. Dopo aver conosciuto il giovane writer e pittore statunitense (uno dei più importanti esponenti del graffitismo americano, il primo a portare questa arte dalle strade alle gallerie d’arte), Warhol ha stabilito una collaborazione rappresentata da una serie di dipinti tra il 1983 e il 1985 su suggerimento del mercante d’arte svizzero Bruno Bischofberger, portando alla notorietà il talento del giovane ma sfortunato artista americano.
Three portraits from the artist’s most celebrated 1980s series across three distinct media: acrylic on canvas, silkscreen and Polaroid.
“Intimate depictions of friends offering a glimpse into the frenzied excitement of the 1980s New York art scene ‘The portraits of the 1980s as “time capsules” for future generations, a vast population of human relics from our buried past, ready to be resurrected by fresh eyes and minds”. Robert Rosenblum, Andy Warhol Portraits (2007)
Andy Warhol’s series of portraits from the 1980s have enjoyed a radical reappraisal during the last decade. They are now recognised as some of the artist’s most compelling and accomplished works. The Post-War & Contemporary Art auction on 12 February 2015 at Bonhams New Bond Street will feature three of these portraits, each depicting a friend of the artist: the socialite, Marjorie Copley, the photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the world-renowned artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Portraits of important figures in fashionable circles have been a cornerstone of artistic production for centuries, from Titian’s depictions of the rich and powerful to John Singer Sargent’s paintings of society beauties. Warhol can be credited with reviving the neglected tradition of portraiture during the 1980s – a decade which he made his own – and the three lots on offer at Bonhams, each executed in a different medium, are prime examples of his portrait work at a pivotal moment of his career.
The Portrait of Marjorie Copley (1980), estimated at £180,000-250,000, is a remarkably elegant acrylic and silkscreen ink portrait. In a departure from the bold images in brazen Pop Art colours which dominated his work during this period, Warhol captures Copley in a graceful, delicate pose, her long hair running down her back, her mouth bearing the slight suggestion of a smile, and renders her in a subdued palette with just the occasional dash of vivid acrylic. This is Warhol at his most chic and stately.
Warhol knew Marjorie through the celebrated American artist, William Copley, to whom she was married at the time the work was painted, but Marjorie had little interest in the frenzied, bohemian scene of Warhol’s studio, The Factory. Her calmness and detachment is evident in the portrait, which rejects the bright chaos of other portraits; only her piercing blue eyes and cherry-red lips are accentuated, and the lines of her body and face are gentle. It is, says Martina Batovic, Specialist in the Contemporary Department at Bonhams, ‘a simple yet exquisite portrait’.
Warhol’s portrait of the American photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, from 1983, is a unique screenprint on lenox museum board, and is estimated at £50,000-70,000. Mapplethorpe shared Warhol’s deep interest in portraiture, although his work focussed on the aesthetics of the anatomised body, rather than the celebrities and glamour of 1980s New York captured by Warhol. A genuine friendship and intimacy developed between the two artists, resulting in a series of reciprocal works on art. In 1983, Mapplethorpe made four portraits of Warhol – one of which hangs in the Tate Modern – and Warhol created a collection of silkscreens of the photographer, of which the present work is one. As such, it is part of the narrative which brought together two pioneers of American art.
The Polaroid print of the American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, which was made by Warhol in 1982, is estimated at £12,000-18,000. Warhol was a mentor for Basquiat during the 1980s until his death in 1987, having met the young painter at a New York restaurant in 1980, and the pair worked on a series of collaborative paintings between 1983 and 1985 at the suggestion of the Swiss art dealer, Bruno Bischofberger. The photograph shows a fresh-faced Basquiat, his hair in trademark bunches, staring confrontationally into the camera.