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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Frances R. Dittmer
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)


Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 81' and stamped with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamp and numbered 'A101.984' (on the overlap)
synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas
16 x 19 7/8 in. (40.6 x 50.5 cm.)
Painted in 1981.
Peder Bonnier, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Lot Essay

Warhol's Guns of 1981 captures the artist's deepest and darkest fears of mortality in sleek imagery of two overlaid revolvers. The artist positions the revolvers in an almost cinematic arrangement creating a sense of movement and mystery on the canvas. Both violent and seductive, one can imagine why Warhol was fascinated with this imagery - an extension of his obsession with death and disasters as well as the Hollywood projection of masculinity.

Warhol's preoccupation with mortality is omnipresent in his work, the earliest example being his 129 Die in Jet, created in 1961. His Death and Disaster paintings of the early 1960s depict an array of horrific events including car crashes, race riots, and nuclear explosions. For Warhol, death was everywhere, and as commonplace as the soup can. When not presented as obvious subject matter, its subtle connotations continued to permeate his paintings, in the face of Marilyn Monroe, whose celebrity was frozen in time by her own suicide, as well as in Jackie Kennedy's, whose glamorous image masks an American tragedy.

For this work, the ubiquitous handgun layered strikingly in red and black, recalls other Warhol works of male icons as well such as Double Elvis, 1963 and cCagney of 1962-1964 ". These Hollywood stills of Presley and Cagney present the male protagonist as a potent symbol of masculinity and the gun or rifle they are holding is not seen just an instrument but rather the extension of their power of potential threat and domination. In the present work, a sense of distance from Warhol is evident throughout them all, satisfying an aesthetic that capitalized on his ability to remain aloof. Through the recurrence of a single image and serially reproducing it, a practice the artist used to empty an image of its meaning, Warhol insisted that the viewer encounter the surface. However, the blood red revolver lying over a deadly black counterpart is a reminder of a fateful day in the life Warhol where the colors of life and death also converged; one where the artist, much like the theme of his creations, was on the brink of death.

Warhol's own brush with death came in 1968 with a snub-nosed .32. It was Valerie Solanas, an amateur actress and feminist writer of the SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, who nearly brought Warhol to his death. While creating Guns, Warhol also conceived Knives, both of which he intended to show with his Dollar Signs at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York in 1982. Coincidentally, this group of paintings symbolizes the same extremist views held by Warhol's would-be assassin. Her call to institute complete automation was also a concept heralded in Warhol's work: the silkscreen process for which he is most noted is synonymous with industrialization and mechanization. Warhol's pictures had a brief encounter with a bullet as well. In an event foreshadowing the Solanas debacle, a fellow artist, Dorothy Podber, shot four of Warhol's Marilyn pictures, albeit with his permission.

Guns symbolizes the artist's preoccupation with violence and death during a particularly tumultuous period of Warhol's life. The sheer force of the four overlaid pistols makes Guns part and parcel of Warhol's body of work depicting death-related instruments and disasters. The importance of weapons of violence, and guns in particular, within Warhol's larger oeuvre, is skillfully revealed in this clever, cinematic display of four overlaid guns.

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