Andy Warhol’s 1964 painting sells for $195 million, breaking auction record

A painting by Andy Warhol sold for a final price of $195 million last week, breaking the auction record for an American artist and for any 20th-century work of art. During a charity sale at Christie’s in New York, four bidders argued Blow Sage Blue Marilyn (1964). After less than four minutes of bidding, the painting was sold to art dealer and gallery owner Larry Gagosian. It is not known whether he purchased the painting for himself or on behalf of a client. According to ForbesGagosian’s ultra-wealthy clientele includes “mega billionaire collectors such as David Geffen, Leon Black, Steve Cohen and Leonard Lauder”.

The previous auction record for an American artist was only set five years ago. In 2017, a skull painting by Warhol’s friend and collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million at auction at Sotheby’s. The price of Blow Sage Blue Marilyn was almost double the previous auction’s high price for a work by Warhol. Double disaster (1963), one of his car crash paintings, sold for $105.4 million in 2013.

In reality, Blow Sage Blue Marilyn became one of the most expensive works of art ever sold at auction. Its price exceeded that of Pablo Picasso The Women of Algiers (“Version O”), which Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani of Qatar bought for $179 million in 2015.

Andy Warhol, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964, silkscreen and acrylic on linen, 40 x 40′. Photo – Christe’s Images, Ltd.

This series of rising prices and broken auction records reminds us that the world of fine art, which is part of the cultural heritage of humanity, is dominated by a tiny and extraordinarily wealthy elite. For this stratum, works of art are not aesthetic objects but investments and pledges of prestige.

The Warhol sale took place at the start of a spring auction season that was again held in person. The ongoing pandemic is irrelevant. Participants focus on the potential profit to be made. “There’s been an awful lot of holdbacks for two years, and there’s a huge pent-up demand from new clients,” said artistic adviser Philip Hoffman. New York Times. “Everyone was waiting for the right moment, and the right moment came.”

The way auctioneers, gallery owners and collectors talk about the work is revealing. “We have sold the most expensive painting of the 20th century,” said Alex Rotter of Christie’s. Time. “It’s a great achievement.” We imagine him licking his lips.

“The top of the market is still strong and there’s a lot of demand for quality,” said art dealer Bill Acquavella. Time. “Look at what real estate is selling for. There are other assets that bring prizes you’ve never seen before [emphasis added].”

“In the great market of trophy art, the $200 million figure is very much in line with prices that have been in the private dealer market for several years [emphasis added]”said art expert David Shapiro ART news.

In fact, some had speculated that Blow Sage Blue Marilyn would fetch up to $400 million and were disappointed with its final price. “It was an incredibly healthy price, but at the same time, I think the buyer made a deal,” said art consultant Abigail Asher. Time.

In Death of the Artist: How Creators Struggle to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech (2020), author William Deresiewicz noted that a 2009 study “found a direct correlation between the rise in [art] prices and the growing concentration of wealth, in line with the behavior of the markets for other luxury products such as high-end real estate. “A one percentage point increase in the share of total income earned by the top 0.1%,” the researchers found, “triggers an increase in art prices of about 14%.” The new money is hedge fund money, oligarch money, Asian billionaire money. More than half of the global art market, by aggregate value, consists of sales of $1 million or more. Collecting art at this level is the business of “very high net worth individuals”, people with liquid assets of $30 million or more, although an insider told me the bar is more like 250 millions of dollars.

That the largest sum ever paid for a 20th century work of art was spent on a trivial and empty work is not without significance or coincidence. Blow Sage Blue Marilyn is a 40 inch by 40 inch screen printed painting of iconic actress Marilyn Monroe. The well-known image is based on a promotional photo from the film niagara (1953), in which Monroe starred opposite Joseph Cotten. The work is one of five “Marilyn” paintings that Warhol executed in 1964, nearly two years after Monroe herself died by probable suicide. It is likely that Warhol chose his subject not only for its glamour, but also for the scandal surrounding his death.

The title of the painting reflects what happened to the work after Warhol completed it. In 1964, a woman named Dorothy Podber walked into Warhol’s studio (which he dubbed the factory) and pulled out a stack of Marilyn’s paintings. Sources differ on whether Warhol invited her to do so, and whether he believed Podber intended to “take” photographs of the paintings. This legend reflects the anarchy that reigned at the Factory, as well as Warhol’s own penchant for sensation.

Andy Warhol’s Four-Stroke Marilyns (1964)

The technique of serigraphy, which Warhol borrows from commercial art, erases all traces of the artist’s hand on the painting. Nor does the book convey a critical or in-depth analysis of its subject. In his most important work, Warhol borrows from advertising and tabloid celebrity journalism, conveying reality as it immediately appears in these degraded realms. With this passivity, Warhol implicitly denies any significant role for the artist.

As we argued in 2019, Warhol “didn’t encourage us to grow or build a better world. It is the art of the voyeur or, at worst, of the self-promoter. He reinforced and actively participated in the cult of fame. By uncritically introducing the banality of popular culture into the world of fine art, he renounced all that is most vital and nourishing in art, for the artist as well as for his public: the reinterpretation imagination of reality.

This element apparently attracts art collectors with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend. In the 1980s, Gagosian began to amass the enormous wealth with which he purchased Blow Sage Blue Marilyn by reselling works by well-established and highly regarded modern artists. Like the stock traders who rose to economic dominance during the same period, Gagosian appropriated the profits without creating anything of value.

It’s no wonder that Gagosian (or any other wealthy client he has acted on behalf of) would “invest” in a famous “top-notch” artist like Warhol. The artist’s reputation is international and largely undisputed. For the social stratum that Gagosian represents, the name of Warhol has a meaning like that of Cartier or Hermès.

The orgy of wealth in the art market must encourage demoralization and cynicism among artists, on the one hand, and intense indignation, on the other. The way forward in art can only pass through direct opposition to the concentration of fabulous wealth which leads to the cultural impoverishment of society.

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