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    Sale 2167

    Post War and Contemporary Evening Sale

    13 May 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 42

    Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

    Self-Portrait

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
    Self-Portrait
    stamped with signature 'Andy Warhol' and numbered 'P040.050' (on the overlap and the stretcher)
    synthetic polymer, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
    22 x 22 in. (55.9 x 55.9 cm.)
    Painted in 1986.


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    Glaring gauntly from the penumbrous background of the picture surface, Andy Warhol holds the viewer's gaze in Self-Portrait, painted in 1986. The bright color with which his own features have been captured creates a flame-like contrast with the surrounding canvas, and the sense of fiery emanation is accentuated by the jets of pale hair that leap from his head. At the same time, this rich burst of color lends a disco-like quality as does the crazy peroxide wig, with the heaped hair recalling photographs of Warhol's protegé Jean-Michel Basquiat. The so-called "Fright Wig" self-portraits that Warhol created in 1986 are often considered his most successful. It has been said that Warhol was his own favorite subject; certainly, throughout his career, he chronicled and charted his own appearance in a range of self-portraits, culminating in these. His fame was so extensive now, his features so instantly recognizable in their own right, that he had easily attained the status within the Pop firmament that merited his own inclusion in his pictures. He was a significant part of modern culture, and it was only fitting that, in 1986, an entire exhibition consisting only of works from this series was held in London by Anthony d'Offay.

    These pictures captured a sense of Warhol's fame, but also a sense of his frailty. The stark chiaroscuro recalls the photographs of Weegee, with those shocked and arrested faces captured in a fleeting moment. This is an impression that, in Self-Portrait, belies the intense preparation that went into creating the source image, from purchasing the wig to taking and selecting a photographic template for the silkscreen. Warhol's gaunt appearance, heightened by the contrast between light and dark, adds a strange, searing anxiety to Self-Portrait. This picture appears to be a self-examination as well as a self-presentation. Warhol is looking into the mirror and confronting what he sees there.

    Because of this, some people read the fright-wig pictures as a form of memento mori, with the artist facing his fears of his own mortality, deliberately exploiting the contrast between light and dark to present his head in such a way that it recalls the skulls that featured in so many Old Master pictures, introducing the subject of death. This reading has gained weight by the fact that Warhol himself died from complications following a routine gallstone operation the following year. For Warhol, though, these pictures appear to have contained his fear of death but also, crucially, proof of life (and, naturally, fame): he himself said, "I paint pictures of myself to remind myself that I'm still around" (A. Warhol, quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, London, 1989, p. 480).

    Provenance

    The Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
    Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
    The Greenberg Gallery, Saint Louis
    Thomas Babeor, La Jolla
    Jason McCoy Inc., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1995


    Literature

    Art+Auction, February 1990, p. 70 (illustrated in color).


    Exhibited

    London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, 1964-1986, September-October 1989.
    New York, Max Protech Gallery, 20 Years 1969-1989, December 1989-January 1990.
    New York, Jason McCoy Inc., Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, January-March 1990, no. 16 (illustrated in color).