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Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Knives
stamped twice with the Estate of Andy Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. stamps and numbered twice 'Andy Warhol VF PA95.052' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
90 x 70 in. (228.6 x 177.8 cm.)
Painted in 1981-1982.
Provenance
Estate of Andy Warhol, New York
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
Jablonka Galerie, Cologne
Private collection, New York
Robilant + Voena, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Cologne, Jablonka Galerie, Andy Warhol 'Knives,' March-April 1998, p. 30, no. 7 (illustrated).
New York, Sperone Westwater, Ideas For The Home: Warhol, Turcato, Halley, Fontana, Bogin, Lasker, September-October 1998.

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Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

Andy Warhol’s Knives is a haunting, yet riveting black and white acrylic and silkscreen painting that dynamically depicts three overlapping perpendicular kitchen knives. The commonplace knives are transformed into a glorified object that takes on a sinister and menacing character; a macabre feeling emphasized by the sharp contrast of black against white background. The black ink is applied to the canvas in silkscreened layers, creating complex gradients between the knives that generate a cinematic appearance, alluding to Warhol’s influence of film and printmaking. These monochromatic layers that shift from dark to light suggest a sense of movement, accentuating the theatrical violent and threatening aspect of the subject. Despite reproducing an appropriated image of a banal object, Warhol’s Knives constructs a narrative that triggers associations of knives as more than just a domestic utility object - it elevates their ascribed definition to an ambiguous and threatening characters.
Knives belong to Warhol’s 1980s ‘Guns and Knives’ series of positive and negative photographic images, in which the artist imposed phantom imagery to tangible objects. This silkscreen painting is representative of Warhol’s fascination with America’s glorification of the mundane, as well act as a reminder of the crime, murder and brutality of the American landscape in the 1980’s. The trinity of knives echoes the darkness of the American contemporary life at the time, carrying on Warhol’s celebrated Death and Disaster series of the early 1960s. The black and white color and compressed space around three floating sharp knives creates a threatening and wicked storyline that does not correspond to its usual domestic environment. The ghostly knives, isolated in the center of a rectangular condensed space, mimic the layout of an advertisement poster – either for a useful home item or sinister murder weapons.
Warhol’s iconic silkscreen technique mimics the mass production of newspapers, periodicals and television; a method that quickly ascended the artist to international fame as a major Pop artist in the 1960s. Interested in the wide dissemination of catastrophic information, Warhol’s oeuvre explores how the novel technology of mass media affects the public’s increased immunity to tragedy. Warhol echoes the mass reproduction of violent imagery in paper through silkscreened images, most notably though the Death and Disaster series. This silkscreen mechanical process of replicating existing images to achieve artworks, such as Knives, both mirrors the original image and imbues it with new meaning. Through this production process, Warhol accentuates how the intervention of media outlets create pictures of violence through a context that de-synthetizes the aggressiveness and brutality of it.
In the contemporary world, every event is filtered through an intermediary media source, transforming reality into a spectacle that loses contact with the real. "The Guns and Knives paintings from 1981-1982 are stark reminders of the violent society we lived in then and now” (V. Fremont, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, New York, 2006, p. 157). Warhol’s inked monochromatic knives act as a reminder of death, and imitate the symbol of the skull. Alluding to memento mori, the ominous trio suggests the threat of inflicted death rather than the futility of life. The work also symbolizes Warhol’s deep fear of death. In contrast with the work done in the Death and Disaster series, by 1982, Warhol had already suffered a near-death experience when he was shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas. Knives showcases Warhol’s fear and interaction with death, and is highly relevant in the artist’s career as it is also created five years before the artist’s death in 1987. "Some people, even intelligent people, say that violence can be beautiful. I can't understand that, because beautiful is some moments, and for me those moments are never violent" (A. Warhol, quoted in K. Honnef, Andy Warhol 1928-1987: Commerce into Art, Cologne, 2000, p. 58).
Turning banality into high art, Warhol builds a paradox that monumentalizes the ordinary while simultaneously acknowledges the way media de-sensitizes towering events. Knives showcases the anesthetizing power of the mechanical reproduction of images. In it, Warhol compellingly emphasizes the provocative and disturbing power of spectacle, as well as the how the reproduction of images invalidates the significance of reality. The leader of the Pop movement illustrates, though this silkscreen painting, how the constant repetition of imagery ultimately nullifies and downgrades the element of shock behind violence. "When you see a gruesome picture over and over again" he said, "it doesn't really have any effect" (A. Warhol, quoted in “Interview with Gene Swenson,” Art News, New York, November 1963).

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