ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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Un Folle Amore: The Agrati Collection
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Self-Portrait

Details
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Self-Portrait
signed ‘Andy Warhol’ (on the reverse)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1978.
Provenance
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1980
Literature
Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1979 (illustrated on the cover of the deluxe edition).
Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Kunstverein Hamburg, 1987, p. 57 (illustrated).
D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 369, no. 293 (illustrated).
G. Celant, Madly in Love, The Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection, Milan, 2002, pp. 136-137 and 417, no. 503 (illustrated).
The Andy Warhol Show, exh. cat., Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, 2004, pp. 150-151, no. 63 (illustrated).
Andy Warhol: Life, Death, and Beauty, exh. cat., Baku, Heydar Aliyev Center, 2013, p. 148, no. 102 (illustrated).
N. Printz (ed.), The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1976-1978, New York 2018, vol. 5B, pp. 250 and 256, no. 4057 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Milwaukee Art Center; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Louisville, JB Speed Museum; New Orleans Museum of Art, Emergence & Progression, October 1979-September 1980, p. 13, 70 and 77 (illustrated).
Kassel, Documenta 7, June-October 1982, cat., vol. I, p. 66 (illustrated).
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, Super Warhol, July-August 2003, p. 531, no. 200 (illustrated).
Rome, Choistro del Bramante, Andy Warhol: Repent and Sin No More!, September 2006-January 2007, pp. 151 and 153, no. 89 (illustrated).

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

An artist whose obsession with fame and celebrity had reached its peak by the end of the 1970s, Andy Warhol was by the undisputed Pop master. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Liz Taylor, and Jackie Kennedy rank among the greatest icons of the twentieth century. Alongside these masterpieces, however, Warhol often turned the lens on himself, creating at least five major series of self-portraits over the course of his career. Painted in 1978, the present Self-Portrait is one of the most psychologically charged and formally complex of all the series. It is also extremely rare; one of only eight portraits in this format that Warhol produced in early 1978, and the only one remaining in private hands to feature a gold palette. This exceptional self-portrait, displaying three views of the artist superimposed one over another, has featured in numerous international exhibitions, and also graced the cover of the 1979 book, Andy Warhol: Portraits of the ‘70s. It demonstrates the artist’s ceaseless quest for innovation, and helped to kickstart a bold new era of experimentation and creativity that would propel him into the next decade.

Bathed in the glow of an almost incandescent light, Self-Portrait, made by silkscreening gold ink onto a jet black canvas, becomes a holy relic of sorts. Illustrating one of the most famous faces of modern art, it displays not one, but three separate views of the artist. The first is seen in profile along the right edge; the ghostly middle image is just visible showing Warhol’s nose and mouth turned slightly toward the viewer; finally, the artist’s full face is revealed. Each image seems to emerge from and look past the next, as if Warhol is turning his head slowly toward the viewer. It also demonstrates an artist turning inward, retreating from the fame and success of his Studio 54 days, but also looking bravely toward the future. As the artist once proclaimed, "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings… and there I am. There's nothing behind it" (A. Warhol, quoted in B. Buchloh, ed., Andy Warhol, Cambridge, 2001, p. 71).

According to the artist’s catalogue raisonné, the 1978 Self-Portraits are “the most formally diverse” of all the series, and produced from a group of Polaroid photographs that the artist had taken in late 1977 and early 1978. For the photo shoot, Warhol wore a dark overcoat over a white shirt with a dark tie. For the present Self-Portrait, Warhol selected three separate photographs that he then applied in three separate screens. Although they appear to have been shot sequentially, the Polaroids each came from different sittings, and then reassembled. The resulting self-portrait showcases Warhol’s creativity and inventiveness. There is a kind of syncopated rhythm that derives from placing the photographs side-by-side—a technique that echoes the “photo booth” self-portraits of 1963—whilst the palette and large scale anticipate the “fright wig” self-portraits of 1986. The late 19th Century motion studies by Eadweard Muybridge also come to mind, as do the experimental photographs of the Surrealist Man Ray, who Warhol had met in Paris in 1973.

For most of the 1970s, Warhol could be seen mixing with celebrities and royalty, jet-setting to Europe, partying at Studio 54 and luxuriating in the glow of success. All of that began to change, however, at the close of the decade. In early 1978, Warhol found himself on the cusp of his fiftieth birthday. Additionally, it had been nearly ten years since that fateful day on June 3rd, 1968, when he was shot by Valerie Solanas. This rather introspective mood might have also been related to his preparations for an upcoming European exhibit—a major retrospective slated for the Fall of 1978 at the Kunsthaus Zürich. The curators planned to include two of the 1978 Self-Portraits, which they installed on the first wall that greeted visitors to the show. Another major exhibit, scheduled for the Whitney Museum of American Art at the end of 1979, would showcase Warhol’s celebrity portraits of the 1970s. Therefore, as the 1970s began to close, it seems that Warhol began taking stock, and it is only natural that he would turn to his own self-image, as he had done several times before.

Despite the polished façade of his silkscreened celebrities and Pop Art icons, Warhol’s paintings always courted a deeper, more complex issue, which saw him wrestling his own identity and balancing the obsessions that were always on his mind. His fascination with death, his deeply rooted religiosity and his unceasing desire for fame and success are among the artist’s greatest leitmotifs. As the European curator Hendrik Folkers has written, in the 2018 Whitney retrospective catalogue, the self-portrait embodied so much of Warhol’s hopes, dreams, and obsessions. It “served as an interface between the reception of his art and the ways in which he staged his presence in the realms of art and media. … That flickering spark between the camera flash and his impenetrable gaze showcased his own desire to become a star, and reflected his profound understanding of how fame could be a medium in his practice” (H. Folkerts, “The Factory of Self,” in Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018, pp. 97-98).

Indeed, the 1978 Self-Portraits seem to correspond to a time of creativity that only seemed to build upon itself with each advancing body of work. Beginning with the Oxidation paintings in the summer 1977, Warhol would then create the next critically-acclaimed and commercially successful series, the Shadow paintings of 1978-79, the Self-Portraits of 1978, and then the Reversals and Retrospective series. The artist was on the cusp of the next great decade.

In the summer of 1977, Warhol flew to Paris to view the opening exhibition of his Hammer & Sickle paintings. While touring the art museums of Paris with Pontus Hulten, the director of the Centre Pompidou, Warhol’s creative spark was lit once again. This was the height of punk rock in Europe, and the city was flooded with young and vocal teenagers, creative in their attitude and dress. The art historian Joseph D. Ketner relates this summer in Paris to the flourishing of creativity that would propel Warhol into the next decade, and kickstart some of his greatest work since the ‘60s. “I had energy and wanted to rush home and paint and stop doing society portraits,” Warhol said, “just trying to do newer ideas” (A. Warhol, quoted in J. Ketner, II, “Warhol’s Last Decade: Reinventing Painting,”in Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, New York, 2009, p. 15).

“To consider Warhol from the perspective of the present moment is to hear an echo in reverse,” Hendrik Folkerts again reminds us. “Our current reality illuminates his practice as much as the other way around” (H. Folkerts, op. cit., p. 100). Indeed, Warhol was - and remains - “a rather terrifying oracle” who predicted so much about our present-day culture and its obsession with celebrity and self-image. The years keep passing, and Warhol remains endlessly relevant, even prescient, with his brilliant body of work.
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