Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Multicolored Retrospective Painting (Reversal Series)

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Multicolored Retrospective Painting (Reversal Series)
signed, titled and dated 'Andy Warhol 79 multicolored retrospective reversal series' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen inks on canvas
50½ x 64 1/8 in. (128.2 x 162.8 cm.)
Painted in 1979.
Galerie Bischofberger, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Hamburg, Diechtorhallen, Andy Warhol-Retrospektiv, July-September 1993, p. 99 (illustrated in color).
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Andy Warhol-Retrospektiv, November 1993-February 1994, p. 99 (illustrated in color).
Seoul, Ho-Am Museum, Andy Warhol: Pop's Superstar, August-September 1994, p. 67 (illustrated in color).
Kunstmuseum Luzern, Andy Warhol Paintings 1962-1986, July-September 1995, p. 143, no. 367 (illustrated in color).
Basel, Galerie Basel, Surrealismus im 20. Jahrhundert, October 1995-February 1996, p. 84, no. 99 (illustrated in color).
Sale room notice
This painting has been requested for inclusion in the forthcoming exhibition Pop Life: Art in a Material World, organized by the National Gallery of Canada in June-September 2010.

Lot Essay

'They always say that time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself' (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York, 1975, p.111).

In Multicolored Retrospective Painting negative and color-reversed images of some of Warhol's most famous works vie with one another in a Rauschenberg-like layering of silkscreen form to create a powerful and strangely ghost-like compilation of Warholian icons. Intended as a kind of self-reflective look at his own career, this painting is one of a series known as Reversal and Retrospective works that Warhol made at the end of the 1970s in which he re-appropriated his own already appropriated imagery, combining and transforming it into an extraordinary re-examination and reinvention of his own creative path and its legacy. These important paintings, which effectively mark the beginning of a more analytical and introspective phase that distinguishes Warhol's late work were the product of a period when Warhol had begun to review not just his own artistic journey, but also, as in his autobiography Popism for example, the end of the whole 1960s era and the apparent demise of the modernist tradition.

Warhol's borrowing from his own catalogue of imagery and re-using it as the source-material of his new paintings essentially reinvigorated the power of his old motifs by giving them a new context and mood in another time and space. This remarkable reinvention of his own iconography - yet another example of Warhol's endless ability to repeat things in ever new and surprising ways - established him at the time as one of the shrewdest of a new upcoming generation of artists now known as postmodernists because of their conscious disregard towards the supposed continuous and progressive tradition of modernist art. Part pastiche of his earlier work and part reinvention, Warhol's repeated repetition and re-appropriation of his own imagery and history in his Reversal and Retrospective paintings is now recognized as a symbol of the then current postmodernist aesthetic that deliberately set out to criticize and annul the firmly established canons of traditional art history and its hierarchical divisions between so-called "high" and "low" art.

In addition, the deliberately disordered arrangement of many of the Retrospectives, as in Multicolored Retrospective Painting or his later Shoe paintings for example, where Warhol presented each motif in an apparently random and non-hierarchical fashion, is also reflective of this distinctly anti-linear and post-modernist attitude. Indeed, it is interesting to note in this respect that in Multicolored Retrospective Painting Warhol has adopted just the same kind of apparently randomly ordered imagery that he had originally rejected the first version of his 1963 silkscreen painting of multiple Mona Lisas. In the early '60s Warhol had rejected this more haphazard and seemingly randomized approach to his image-making, because he felt the technique looked too much like Rauschenberg's and preferred, amidst a climate dominated by the aesthetics of order and functionality underpinning Pop art and Minimalism, the strictly linear organization that defined his Thirty are Better than One. Here, in Multicolored Retrospective Painting, as in many of the other Retrospective paintings, Warhol has articulated the aesthetics of a new post-modern era. Now adopting this seemingly random all-over method of presentation, with its connotations of simultaneity, image-overload and multiple possibility, Warhol asserts such "random ordering" as a way of interconnecting different images into the single "retrospective" theme while at the same time pointing to their own inherent artifice and interchangeability.

Warhol's reversal technique - one that had the effect of translating many of these images into strangely sinister or ghostly echoes of his '60s icons - also, in this respect, helped to cast a kind of collective shadow or veil over these celebrated images uniting them as images from his past and at the same time, establishing a more somber and reflective sense of distance from the originals. In this way, as well as pointing to Warhol's uncanny ability to endlessly repeat himself in ever new ways, the Retrospectives and Reversals are works that, like his Skulls or Shadows from the same period for example appear to speak of the artist's deep sense of the passing of time and even his own encroaching mortality. 'I to do the same thing over and over again' he once said, 'Every time I go out and someone is being elected President or Mayor or something, they stick their images all over the walls and I always think it's my work. It's a way of expressing oneself! All my images are the same...but very different at the same time...They change with the light of colors, with the times and moods...Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?'(A. Warhol, quoted in "Industrial Metaphysics: Interview with Achille Bonito Oliva" in Andy Warhol (After de Chirico) exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, London, 1998, p. 9).

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