Warhol’s $200 Million ‘Marilyn’ Could Test Health of Art Market

In 1985, dealer Tony Shafrazi designed a poster promote its exhibition of paintings produced jointly by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The image showed the two performers wearing boxing gloves as if preparing to practice.

Although playful, the poster alluded to the complicated relationship between Warhol and Basquiat; they were competitors as well as collaborators and close friends. Decades later, that rivalry continues to play out in the marketplace: In 2017, a Basquiat skull painting fetched $110.5 million at Sotheby’s, eclipsing the sale of a Warhol car crash painting for $105.4 million in 2013.

In market terms at least, the last round should go to Warhol. At a charity auction at Christie’s on Monday night, Warhol’s 1964 serigraph of Marilyn Monroe, “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” is estimated to fetch around $200 million, believed to be the highest price ever achieved for an American work of art at auction. . (It could also top the world auction record for a 20th-century work of art, the $179.4 million paid in 2015 for Pablo Picasso’s 1955 painting “The Women of Algiers (‘O’ Version)”.

Kicking off the spring auction season in New York, Christie’s Monday night event is widely seen as a bellwether for the next two weeks of sales, as well as a gauge of the broader health of an international market. of art that is still emerging from the shadow of the covid19 pandemic.

“There’s been a huge amount withheld for two years, and there’s a huge amount of pent-up demand from new clients,” said Philip Hoffman, the founder of The Fine Art Group, a New York-based consulting firm, adding that the upcoming auctions could fetch up to $2 billion. “Everyone was waiting for the right moment, and the right moment came.”

The Christie’s sale is likely to show whether top-quality trophies continue to fetch high prices, regardless of the instability in the world – be it war abroad, a pandemic or a terrorist attack.

Nevertheless, the pool of buyers who can afford to spend more than $100 million on a painting remains small. And with a glut of top-notch art for sale over the next two weeks, it’s still unclear if there’s a sufficient population of wealthy collectors out there who can absorb so much expensive material.

“These moments are rare and fewer and fewer,” said Alex Rotter, chairman of Christie’s 20th and 21st century art sales departments. For Rotter, the 40-inch-by-40-inch painting is “the essence of everything” Warhol. “It defines its position in art history and popular culture,” Rotter added.

The painting was part of the collection of Swiss dealers Thomas and Doris Ammann, and proceeds from Monday’s sale of 36 works will go to their foundation, which supports children’s programs. In an unusual arrangement, the buyer will have a say in choosing the charity to which 20% of the proceeds from “Marilyn” will be allocated, Christie’s announced on Sunday.

The Ammann siblings founded a Zurich gallery in 1977 specializing in impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary artists. After Thomas’ death in 1993, Doris continued to run the gallery. She died last year.

Christie’s auction is unusual in that none of Ammann’s works come with a guarantee – a minimum price at which a third party or the auction house has agreed to purchase the work. . The Ammann estate, according to Rotter, wanted to maximize the charity proceeds from the auction.

The vibrant painting of Marilyn, which Rotter called “the most important painting of the 20th century to be auctioned in a generation” was based on a promotional photo from the actress’ film “Niagara”, part of a series of portraits from Warhol’s “Shot Marilyn”. . In 1964, a woman entered Warhol’s Factory with a pistol and shot a stack of four Marilyn paintings. Christie’s web was not pierced by the bullet, Rotter said. There are five in all (one escaped the shooting). Other versions of this series of trophies belong to American collectors Steven A. Cohen, Kenneth Griffin and Peter Brant.

Striking for its bright blue eye shadow, yellow hair and red lips, the work had been exhibited at institutions such as the Guggenheim in New York, the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London.

“Warhol’s choice of the studio shot, the close framing of Marilyn’s face, and the color contrast all draw attention to Marilyn’s lips, which oscillate between a smile and an expression of clenched teeth,” Jessica said. Beck, art curator at Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. “It is this tension that gives this painting its magic.”

Christie’s took advantage of its Warhol prize with a theatrical presentation before the sale; at the auction house’s preview, a red carpet led to an illuminated sign, ‘Warhol’s Marilyn’, before visitors entered the darkened room which contained the only illuminated painting in a new large frame White.

As auction week unfolds, Christie’s will offer a 1909 bronze cast of Picasso on May 12, “Head of a woman (Fernande)“, recently alienated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to fund new acquisitions. It is estimated at $30 million.

The following week, on May 16, Sotheby’s will give away the rest of the Macklowe collection, the fruit of the bitter divorce between property developer Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda, whose first cache fetched $676.1 million in the fall. latest. On May 19, in its evening sale of contemporary art, the auction house will offer a 1969 Cy Twombly Blackboard and “Study of Red Pope 1962, 2nd Version 1971” by Francis Bacon, both estimated between $40 and $60 million.

It’s also unclear how the work of black artists — currently in high demand — will sell this season. At Sotheby’s, “Beauty Examined” by Kerry James Marshall is estimated between 8 and 12 million dollars; Emergent Algorithm by Julie Mehretu (Manara Circle, Palestine)» for 3 to 4 million dollars; and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s “11pm Sunday” for $1.2 million to $1.8 million.

At Christie’s, “In This Dark Channel (All You Could See Was What She Could Give You)” by Toyin Ojih Odutola is estimated at $400,000-600,000; Amoako Boafo’s “yellow dress” between $250,000 and $350,000; and “Intersection of Color: Experience” by Reggie Burrows Hodges, for $200,000 to $300,000.

The Warhol-Basquiat relationship is highlighted even as the Basquiat sisters present an immersive show of their brother’s work, which spotlights Warhol, and Ryan Murphy’s docuseries, ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries’, is broadcast on Netflix and detail the story of the artists with another.

The series tells how, after reading the New York Times review of Shafrazi’s show – “Warhol, TKO [technical knockout] in 16 rounds” – Basquiat went into a sort of depression, particularly stung by the suggestion that he had become “a mascot of the art world”.

May 18, a bright orange 1982 untitled Basquiat will come to auction at Phillips with an estimate of $70 million; the seller, Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, bought it just six years ago at Christie’s for $57.3 million. At least this year in terms of the market, Warhol’s title seems assured.

“I love that even in death they’re still in that boxing match with each other,” Beck of the Warhol Museum said. “They’re always competing in the marketplace and there’s always such a frenzy of attention to their work and their work remains so contemporary.”