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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
78 x 49¼ in. (198 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 1978.
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Peder Bonnier, New York
Galierie Volker Diehl, Berlin
Private collection, Europe, acquired from the above, 1992
Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 23 June 2005, lot 12
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Shadow Paintings, November 1989, p. 21 (illustrated in color).
Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen, Bestände Onnasch, 1992, p. 75 (illustrated in color).
Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, on loan from August 1996-October 1999.
Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona and Porto, Museu de Arte Contemporänea de Serralves, The Onnasch Collection: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001-February 2002, p. 117 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Shadow, executed in 1978, is a moody and absorbing picture marking Warhol's foray into the world of abstraction. Shadow is filled with a strange and abstract interplay of darkness and light that allows Warhol to deftly balance his own sense of foreboding with his sense of humour. The darkness of the image is a telling hint of Warhol's increasing preoccupation with death and darkness, which would appear in more and more images of skulls and other memento mori motifs. Warhol had long claimed that death, as a theme, had lurked behind all his works, but now, even his self-portraits began to take on new, sinister aspects, hinting at a vulnerability that had formerly been glossed over. Darkness was creeping into much of Warhol's work and his own sense of mortality, rammed home a decade earlier when he had been shot by Valerie Solanis, was now increasingly flavouring his art, making it vaguely sinister, but wholly intriguing.

In Shadow, a battle between the elements, between the fundamental building blocks of life and of representation, appears to be taking place on the surface. Indeed, Shadow visually mimics the paintings of the Abstract Expressionist, Franz Kline. Warhol's play on the visual language of the Abstract Expressionists was deliberate. He intellectualy used a photographic source image to ape the painting of the great, manly heroes of Ab-Ex. During the same period that Shadow was created, Warhol would also create his Oxidation pictures, in which splashed urine on a copper-primed canvas would parody the famous Action Painter, Jackson Pollock. Even Warhol's Flowers are seen as an assault on the machismo and the aesthetic of the Action Painters - this was a long-running battle, Warhol continuing to mock the movement that had initially resisted the influence of Pop Art, but which by 1978 he had almost single-handedly supplanted.

As an intensely private man, despite his cult and celebrity status, Warhol could not relate to the constant autobiographical exhibitionism of the Abstract Expressionists. Even his own self-portraits insist on placing the barrier of representation between the artist and the viewer and his own personal preoccupations only vaguely and indirectly seeped into his art. He controlled, filtered and edited what was displayed in his pictures. In part, it was the relentless agony that lay behind the Abstract Expressionists' art, their need to vent their angst and turmoil, that Warhol mocked so concisely by conjuring up his own reincarnations of Kline and Pollock through the use of source photographs and scatology. By evoking the paintings of the Abstract Expressionists, Warhol was mercilessly and gleefully dragging their own artistic legacies through the Pop grinder. Warhol himself explained some of his aversion to their machismo and the irrelevance, to him, of their art:

'The world of Abstract Expressionism was very macho. The painters who used to hang around the Cedar bar on University Place were all hard-driving, two-fisted types who'd grab each other and say things like 'I'll knock your fucking teeth out' and 'I'll steal your girl'... The toughness was part of a tradition, it went with their agonized, anguished art. They were always exploding and having fist fights about their work and their love lives... The art world was different in those days. I tried to imagine myself in a bar striding over to, say, Roy Lichtenstein and asking him to 'step outside' because I'd heard he'd insulted my soup cans. I mean, how corny. I was glad those slug-it-out routines had been retired - they weren't my style, let alone my capability.' (Warhol, quoted in J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne 2000, p. 16).

Warhol's play with abstraction is humourous in part, but also conceals a more profound investigation into the nature of art and representation. Throughout his career, Warhol's art revelled in the ambiguity of images, in their inability to truly convey information. Their limitations are his strength. A world of implications and associations lurks behind the sheen images from popular culture, be it in pictures of stars like the dead Marilyn, or in duplicitous, paradise-promising adverts. Warhol was intrigued, in short, by the selective and edited packaging that is involved in the depiction of any image. However, the Shadows were one of the only series in which he truly created a picture of something that was not there. For a shadow is a trick of the light, the merest tangential implication of an object's presence. In Shadow, it is impossible to discern the object represented. Warhol is concealing more from the viewer than he is revealing, turning the idea of art on its head.

This is a doubly impressive feat considering the photographic source image. There is no physical entity shown, either in the photo or in the picture. Instead, we are left with the enigmatic trace image of an ethereal, ephemeral effect. Warhol's picture shows us the recorded image of an absence, of something out of shot.

But what? Two creation myths exist for the Shadow pictures. According to Ronnie Cutrone, cardboard maquettes were arranged under raking light and photographed, providing Warhol with essentially arbitrary, abstract and formal source images of deliberately constructed shadows, created under artificial conditions. In this light, Warhol's Shadow appears to be the product of a pseudo-scientific exploration of abstraction in art. There is a strange minimalism, or even nihilism, in the concept of these specially constructed shadows.

Another story reveals a somewhat different source for these images, more consistent with Warhol's own artistic preferences. This is hinted at in his diaries, where he makes several references to the 'Polaroids of all the 'landscapes' I photographed for the Shadow paintings - all the closeups of cocks and things' (6 November 1977, A. Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, P. Hackett, ed., New York, 1989, p. 86). Various members of Warhol's circle also claimed that this was the true origin of the source images for the Shadows. This links the picture to many of those in which Warhol deliberately skirted the fringes of legality and taste in his representations of subjects that remained taboo. Oblique references to the explicit world of sex recurred throughout his work, for instance in his 1963 film, Blow Job, which showed only the facial expressions of the beneficiary of the eponymous act, and in his ultraviolet images of pornography made in the 1960s for Playboy: 'If a cop came in, you could just flick out the lights or turn on the regular lights - how could you say that was pornography?' (Warhol quoted in C. Stuckey, 'Playboy's Warhols,' Playboy, January 1990, p. 107). Similarly, looking at the seeming abstraction of Shadow, how can we say, despite the possible implied presence of penises, that this is pornography? It would instead be a cheeky, elliptical image of the obscene.

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