ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)


ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 1976' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
72 x 80 in. (182.9 x 203.2 cm.)
Painted in 1976.
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution Dia Center for the Arts
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Life, Death and Beauty, exh. cat., Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev Center, 2013, p. 199, no. 161 (illustrated).
N. Printz and S. King-Nero, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings 1976-1978, vol. 5A, New York, 2018, pp. 64 and 70, no. 3424 (illustrated).
Cologne, Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Andy Warhol, November-December 1977.
New York, Dia Art Foundation, Andy Warhol: Skulls 1976, 1987.
Houston, The Menil Collection, Six Artists: John Chamberlain, Willem de Kooning, Yves Klein, Brice Marden, Jean Tinguely, Andy Warhol, May-September 1992.
Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum, Opening Celebration, 1994.
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, Super Warhol, July-August 2003, p. 327, no. 143 (illustrated).
Dusseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast; Vaduz, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein; Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall and Musee d'art Contemporain de Lyon, Andy Warhol: The Late Work, February 2004-May 2005, p. 17 (illustrated).
New York, Dia Art Foundation, Dia's Andy, May 2005-April 2006.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Works of Andy Warhol, October-December 2006, p. 81 (illustrated).
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, Andy Warhol, August-October 2007.
San Antonio, McNay Art Museum, Andy Warhol: Fame and Misfortune, February-May 2012, p. 53 (illustrated).
Seoul, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Andy Warhol Live, June-September 2015.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, November 2018-January 2020, p. 320 (illustrated).
London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol, March-November 2020, p. 160 (illustrated).
Special notice
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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The unequivocal champion of Pop Art, Andy Warhol’s legacy is packed with striking paintings celebrating the celebrity and consumer excesses of the late twentieth century. However, between the Hollywood portraits and iconic soup cans lies a darker, personal side to his oeuvre that touches on mortality and the universality of our shared human experience. Skull is a pivotal example of Warhol’s ability to transcend the surface trappings of capitalist society and delve deeper into his own ideas about death. Curator Arthur K. Wheelock wrote: “Dutch still-life painters placed realistically rendered skulls, with jawbones and teeth missing, in the midst of luxurious displays of expensive silver and luscious fruit to warn viewers about the transience of the sensual world. Warhol, however, presents an even starker image of the inevitability and mystery of death … there is no sensual world to enjoy, only a skull, complete with jawbone, who laughingly confronts us.” (A. K. Wheelock Jr., quoted in, Andy Warhol: 365 Takes, New York, 2004, p. 312).

As an important example of the artist’s later work, Skull has been exhibited at a number of prestigious institutions including Tate Modern, London; the Menil Collection, Houston; and the Dia Art Foundation, New York, and deftly combines painterly application with a nimble overlay of the artist’s signature silkscreen. Following his near-death experience in 1968 when he was shot by Valerie Solanas, Warhol turned increasingly inward and works like Skull represent his struggle to rectify the glamor of his persona with the private questioning of his own mortality.

Rendered in stark swathes of color and overlaid with a black screen print, this monumental painting is a striking example of Warhol’s series of the same name. The titular object is highlighted in a powder blue that contrasts with the shocking butter yellow of its shadow. Playing with the color of light and dark areas within his compositions was key to the artist’s practice, and creating fields of pure color where one might expect deep shadow or bright reflection helps to flatten and transform the three-dimensional nature of the source object. Surrounding the blue and yellow center is a field of forest green that stretches up from the bottom of the canvas until it collides with an area of muted chartreuse. Warhol embraces some of his more painterly leanings in this composition, and the discernible, emotive brushwork serves as a counterpoint to the sharp outline of the screened image that makes up the main subject. Each work in the Skull series takes on the same image but is differentiated by Warhol’s painterly incursion. Of course, the juxtaposition of a human element within the screening process is not as flippant as Warhol would have one believe. Pairing the mutable brushstroke of the human artist with the apparently cold production of the silkscreen serves as a catalyst for probing the work’s humanity and Warhol’s own relationship to the subject of death.

The Skull series is a particularly poignant series in the overarching scheme of Warhol’s oeuvre. Although combining painting and silkscreens was nothing new in his process, the choice of subject and its relationship to the artist’s worldview cements works like the present example as some of the most personal and introspective of his prodigious output. According to Ronnie Cutrone, the artist’s assistant at the time, Warhol found the titular skull at a flea market in Paris and brought it back to the studio eager to include it in his practice. Because previous screenprints were based on enlargements of extant text and images culled from newspapers and magazines, the skull presented a conundrum as it needed to be translated from three dimensions into two.

Cutrone was tasked with photographing the object in various positions on a stark white backdrop built from paper and plywood. As the assistant took shot after shot, Warhol moved a light around the room, creating various shadows that served to enhance the drama of the scene. Once he settled on the most pleasing arrangement, the artist subjected the photograph to his screenprinting techniques and thus transformed it from a found object into a universal icon.

Warhol’s work in the late 1960s and 70s veered from his commodity culture and advertising beginnings as he increasingly contemplated humanist subjects and universals beyond the capitalist impulse. Death and its definition factors into his oeuvre as a driving force behind several of his series that catapulted him to international stardom and the 1970s were marked with a deepening preoccupation with the subject. In the book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, published the year preceding Skulls, the artist mused on death, noting: "I don't believe in it, because you're not around to know that it's happened. I can't say anything about it because I'm not prepared for it." (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), New York, 1975, p. 123). And yet, as much as he said he was not prepared for death, the subject took front and center in several series. Separated from his portraits and works based on pop culture, the so-called ‘Death and Disaster’ works serve as a grounding thread throughout his catalogue. Whether in the grotesque and grisly truths of the Car Crashes, Suicides, and Electric Chairs or the implied tragedy of the Marilyns and Jackies, Warhol found a way to question our collective notion of death and how it related to the ideas of celebrity and disaffection within the greater population. The Skulls come from this broader inquiry but are related less to societal tropes and more to the personal reflections of the memento mori iconography so beloved by European artists for centuries.

Even with its darker underpinnings, Skull is as much a universal touchstone as it is a personal treatise on mortality. Circling back to his earlier infatuation with cultural symbols, Warhol again creates an image that is recognizable and relatable to everyone just by virtue of its source material. Whether that symbol be a human skull or a bottle of Coca-Cola, the artist creates an equalizer between the various strata of people. Cutrone remarked, when Warhol was deciding what to do with his found skull, that using it would “be like doing the portrait of everybody in the world.” (R. Cutrone, in T. Fairbrother, Andy Warhol: The Late Work, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, 2004, p. 70). As a universal object, the skull presents a blank slate for the viewer to project their own ideas about death and life. This shared experience through images factors heavily into Warhol’s practice and his infatuation with American ideals. “What’s grand about this country,” Warhol said, “is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching the TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke” (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, p. 100-01). With Skull, the artist seems to double down on this statement, affirming that no matter who you are, how much money or fame you have, you can still drink a Coca-Cola and death is still inevitable.

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