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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
stamped by The Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., twice and numbered ‘PA72.011’ (on the overlap)
acrylic, silkscreen ink and diamond dust on canvas
14 1/8 x 18 1/8in. (35.8 x 45.9cm.)
Executed in 1979
Galerie Bruno Bischofsberger, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002.

Lot Essay

‘The artificial fascinates me, the bright and shiny.’ ANDY WARHOL

In Andy Warhol’s Gem of 1979, silkscreened diamond dust carves the ghostly form of a gemstone into a vague, shimmering mirage-like image of opulence and materialist luxury. Rooted in the seductive vulgarity of modern glamour, the gemstone became one of Warhol’s late, great icons, a successor to the long line of materialist icons that stretched from the early Soup Cans and Electric Chairs to the celebrity portraits and skulls of the 1970s. By screenprinting a series of gemstones in a variety of chromatic fades, Warhol demonstrated a deliberately ambiguous and ambivalent attitude towards superficially extravagant consumerism – one that is both glamorising and ironic. This ambiguity is generated by the semi-abstract, almost indistinguishable rendering of the gemstone, given its form by a faux-luxury coat of so-called ‘diamond dust’ – a material, actually powdered glass, that was introduced to Warhol by Rupert Smith in 1979 and which has here been swept spontaneously across a background of similar neutrality.

The deliberate vagueness and enigma of this work is a feature that Warhol was also developing at the time in his series of ‘Shadow’ paintings. These were works that similarly played with the dramatic contrasts between figuration and abstraction, light and shadow, and perceptibility and invisibility. Referred to by Warhol as ‘disco décor’, this epic series of 102 vertical paintings presents a heterogeneous take on a homogeneous shadow-image, with dramatic chromatic contrasts and variable diamond distributions. Commenting on this series, Gregory Volk noted that ‘these paintings accentuate their status as artifices, or painting devices, and dispense with Abstract Expressionism’s claims to originality and transcendent beauty. However, they still retain an aura of the sublime… something of awe-inspiring beauty…’ (G. Volk, ‘The Late, Great Andy Warhol’, Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, 2009, p. 81). A celestially compact abbreviation of this important series, Gem revels in Warhol’s psuedo-sardonic fascination with abstract pattern, whilst aesthetically navigating a continued and complex relationship with the transience of glitz and glamour. This diamond-dust gem also cleverly imitates a real gem by only becoming visible when seen from the right angle as the light falls upon it.

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