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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Flowers

Details
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Flowers
signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 64' (on the overlap)
silkscreen ink on linen
5 x 5in. (12.7 x 12.7cm.)
Executed in 1965
Provenance
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Holly Solomon Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 6 May 1992, lot 304.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
G. Frei & N. Printz (eds.), The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 2B, New York 2004, pp. 155 and 440, no. 1775 (illustrated in colour, p. 140).
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

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Alessandro Diotallevi
Alessandro Diotallevi

Lot Essay

‘I’ll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know
I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you’re home’
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, ‘I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR’, 1967

‘With Flowers, Andy was just trying a different subject matter. In a funny way, he was kind of repeating the history of art. It was like, now we’re doing my Flower period! Like Monet’s Water Lilies, Van Gogh’s Flowers, the genre’
GERARD MALANGA

‘What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol's art – the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer's gaze’
JOHN COPLANS

‘They are so goddamn beautiful. And so simple. And their glamour was so intense ...That’s why we reach for the word “genius.” Genius is what goes, “That’s not a problem.” He sees clearly. He just does it'
PETER SCHJELDAHL


Executed in 1965, Andy Warhol’s Flowers stems from the series of 5-inch square canvases that the artist created in the wake of his legendary sell-out exhibition of flower paintings at Leo Castelli’s New York gallery the previous year. Standing as the culmination of Warhol’s painterly development during the 1960s, the Flowers mark a pivotal moment within the artist’s early oeuvre. Having established himself as a leading figure within the Pop Art movement, Warhol began to look outside the pantheon of brand names and celebrities that had previously dominated his output, taking as his subject an unknown and seemingly innocuous image culled from a magazine. The Flower paintings are among the most visually abstract and conceptually subversive works of his early oeuvre. Serially-manufactured visions of nature, their deliberately flattened petals and vivid cosmetic colouring undermine the romanticism and pantheist sense of wonder usually associated with the art-historical genre of flower painting. Echoing his portraits of Marilyn, Liz and other mass-produced beauties, these brightly-coloured, vacant forms stand among the artist’s most iconic motifs. ‘They are so goddamn beautiful. And so simple. And their glamour was so intense’, writes Peter Schjeldahl. ‘...That’s why we reach for the word “genius.” Genius is what goes, “That’s not a problem.” He sees clearly. He just does it’ (P. Schjeldahl, quoted in T. Sherman and D. Dalton, POP: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, pp. 236-237).

Warhol’s Flowers derived from a colour photograph of hibiscus blossoms that appeared in a two-page spread in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography. The curator Henry Geldzahler reportedly drew the artist’s attention to the image – initially, he claims, as an alternative to his increasingly dark subject matter. As he recalls, ‘I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death. I said, “Andy, maybe it’s enough death now” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, how about this?” I opened a magazine to four flowers’ (H. Geldzahler, quoted in unpublished interview with J. Stein, 1973, Geldzahler Papers, Beinecke Library). The photograph, taken by the magazine’s editor Patricia Caulfield, had been used to illustrate an article on a Kodak colour processor designed for amateurs. As Michael Lobel argues, ‘The magazine layout already suggests the blossoms were ripe for Warholian plucking, as one side of the foldout featured four variants of the image, the slight colour differences between them reminiscent of the repetition he had embraced in his Pop practice’ (M. Lobel, ‘In Transition: Warhol’s Flowers’, in Andy Warhol Flowers, exh. cat., Eykyn Maclean, New York, 2012, n.p.). Warhol was quick to identity the macabre overtones latent within this seemingly harmless spread. Its cheerful reproduction of petals and grass harboured a disturbing assumption: that nature, in the age of technology, was simply another commodity available for appropriation by the snap-happy consumer. Far from counteracting Warhol’s dark side, the photograph gave rise to one of the artist’s most piercing critiques of contemporary image production.

Contrary to Geldzahler’s memory, the magazine spread actually featured seven flowers, which Warhol subjected to an extensive process of manipulation in order to produce the trademark configuration of four. As well as cropping the image, Warhol deliberately shifted the placement of one of the flowers in order to fit within the boundaries of the square canvas, as well as altering the interiors of the flowers by transferring their internal silhouettes. According to Tony Scherman and David Dalton, he asked his assistant Billy Linich ‘to run the photo repeatedly through the Factory’s new photostat machine – “a dozen times, at least,” said Billy, to flatten out the blossoms, removing their definition, the shadow that lent the photo its illusion of three-dimensionality’ (T. Sherman and D. Dalton, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York 2009, p. 247). For Warhol, who had grown up under the glare of Abstract Expressionism, the deliberately flat banality of these works presented an alternative to the movement’s insistence on the transcendental nature of painting. His compression of form and colour in the Flowers anticipates much of his later oeuvre, in particular the Shadow and Camouflage works of the late 1970s and 1980s. At the same time, however – as in the present work – the trace of the artist’s hand is still visible in the frayed edges and chromatic bleeding of the individual petals. In this, Warhol consciously undermines his own aesthetic agenda, allowing glimpses of chance and human error to infiltrate the gaps of his production process.

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