ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Martinson Coffee

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Martinson Coffee
signed and dated 'Andy Warhol 1962' (lower turning edge); signed again and dated again 'Andy Warhol 1962' (on the reverse)
silkscreen ink and graphite on canvas
20 1/8 x 16 1/8 in. (51.1 x 41 cm.)
Executed in 1962
Todd Brassner, New York.
Irving Weissman, Munich.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1989.
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculptures, 1961-1963, vol. 1, New York, 2002, pp. 191 and 193, no. 213 (illustrated in color).
Phaidon Press Ltd., ed., Andy Warhol "Giant" Size, New York and London, 2006, p. 137 (illustrated in color).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

An early example of the artist’s signature silkscreen technique, Andy Warhol’s Martinson Coffee (1962) stands out from his plentiful paintings of Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s Soup cans as being one of only four fully realized depictions of its subject matter. Stacking fifteen tins of Martinson grounds (“regular or drip”) at nearly life-scale, the present work presents a supermarket shelf of sorts, featuring that other American staple, coffee.
Striking vermilion labels stand out against a pale canvas ground, overlaid with velvety black contours of the tins’ silhouette. Warhol used only two silkscreens—one for the red labels, and the other for the dark contours on top—and restrained the series to four fully executed examples, with two smaller versions depicting only the scarlet underlayer in duet. Elevated from an everyday beverage, Martinson cans bear a faux-royal insignia that simultaneously honors the company’s founder, Joe Martinson, and bestows upon the contents an overwrought social significance. In typical complex fashion, however, Warhol’s screening process begins to dissect his motif, running roughshod over his initial graphite grid and slipping out of serial alignment. By doing so, Warhol reminds that we are not, in fact, witnessing an overflowing rack of available products, but rather a two-dimensional representation of recognizable, if anachronistic, shapes and images. Each element floats above the one below, hovering in undefined, magical space, in what would be a striking feat for fifteen individual one-pound tins! Rather than defining its heft by physical measure, Martinson Coffee assumes its gravity in repetition—the canvas weighted down by the inescapable multiplication of morning brew. Tellingly, Warhol’s experiments in seriality reached an apex in the year of the present work, when he also created the monumental 100 Cans, 200 One Dollar Bills, and 210 Coca Cola Bottles.
Similarly laden with serial materials, Jasper Johns’s Painted Bronze (1960) captures the painter’s tools in the eponymous metal, rendering immoveable the three-dimensional trappings of the trade. A reaction to the lyrical abstraction of the preceding decades from artists like Pollock, de Kooning, and Kline, Johns’s frozen homage to his daily instruments counters the gestural freedom enabled by a loose brush. At the same time as he physically restricts artistic progress, Johns uplifts the humble act of painting by employing a storied material with respected connotations—equestrian statues, funereal monuments, and royal adornments have all, at one point or another, been forged in bronze. Warhol contains his "tool" too, not only within his penciled lines, but within separate tin cans. Insofar as coffee is a version of the artist’s fuel, so too is tin a bastardized metal when compared with pure bronze. Thus, in a classic Warholian turn, Johns’s grand statement receives the Factory treatment in both seriality and de-reification. Rendering such a turn ever more poignant is the fact that Johns’s brush handles poke up out of a coffee can—Savarin not Martinson—in a semantic nod to the good-natured clash between the old guard and the new. Perhaps in deference to Warhol’s genius, Johns reproduced the Savarin-as-brush-holder image in a series of monotypes over a decade later, underscoring the conceptual difference between a representation of a thing and the thing itself.
Warhol himself investigated such a dichotomy in three dimensions with the famed Brillo Box (Soap Pads) series of 1964, two years after the creation of the present work. Recasting the label of a popular product onto machine-made wooden boxes, Warhol confused the distinction between an actual carton of Brillo soap pads and his serially produced, visually similar art object. Severing the connection between the function of an object and its expected appearance, Warhol expanded on the questions his iconic series of Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) raised, and engaged with the decades-old Magritte-ism: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (The Treachery of Images, 1929). Is it possible to smoke a painting of a pipe-shaped form? Is it possible to fill a solid wooden cube with Brillo pads? Is it possible to open a silkscreened Martinson label and smell the virgin grounds? The answer to all of these, of course, is no, yet without these visual heuristics, we are in danger of collapsing into untenable territory. The point thus made, we now ask—why a pipe / a Brillo box / a Martinson label in particular? What can we take away from the representation at least, if we cannot indulge in its function?
Though Joe Martinson’s first coffee sales originated from behind a pushcart on the Lower East Side of New York City, the company quickly grew to supply up-scale hotels and restaurants thanks to its irresistible aroma and inventive blends. As legend has it, Martinson door-to-door deliveries grew in grandeur such that, by the 1930s, carriers were receiving their weekly orders from a Rolls Royce chauffeur, spawning the phrase “a cup of Joe.” Clever marketing proved essential in the competitive landscape, since the rival Savarin brand had secured a deal with the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and, apparently, a spot in Jasper Johns’s pantry. Martinson’s move into grocery stores necessitated a strategy that accounted for the broader audience, yielding a campaign that proclaimed, “Now everybody can afford the finest coffee ever poured” (Daily News, New York, 17 March 1960, p. 482). Tracing the Martinson trajectory from Manhattan commuters to luxurious guests to ‘50s housewives encapsulates Warhol’s own insight to pop culture in his time: “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too” (The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), Orlando, 1975, p. 100). Replace with Coke with ‘coffee’ and there you have it—Warhol implements the base household object both as a unifying device and as a spotlight on a general spirit of conformity, belying originality with the ceaseless reminder of a product in which most everyone partakes.
Importantly, Warhol does not stop at seriality; indeed, he prevents the gathered labels from morphing into one homogenous whole. In the aforementioned aberrances and screen slippages, Warhol imbues each instance of the image with its own unique characteristics. Art historian Robert Slifkin likens Warhol’s serial objects to “surrogate portraits,” suggesting that while there is sameness in difference, there can also be difference in sameness. As portrait subjects, then, each pictured element in the present lot encases a self—a whole identity bound up in a paper label emblazoned with somebody else’s name, struggling to break free. And as artist’s fuel, Warhol wields the Martinson label as an archaeologist might—to excavate from the supermarket shelf any pretense to sameness, for the purpose of celebrating those rare yet beautiful differences.

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