ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
4 More
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)


ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
signed 'Andy Warhol' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
24 x 24 in. (61 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
James M. Younger, Washington, D.C.
His sale; Christie's, New York, 4 May 1988, lot 219
Jane Holzer, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 2A, New York, 2004, pp. 328 and 338, no. 1404 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Andy Warhol’s ability to transform ubiquitous images into American icons is legendary. His investigation of consumer culture and advertisement practices launched the Pop art movement in the United States, and his work has become synonymous with the movement. Flowers is a pivotal example of his work with photographic sources filtered through the machinations of commercial imagery. By transforming a photograph of something in the real world to a symbol, he teased out the separation between everyday life and the constructed reality of capitalism in the late twentieth century. Speaking to his use of mechanical reproduction throughout his oeuvre, the artist once noted in his typical wry style, “I don’t want it to be essentially the same -- I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.” (A. Warhol, quoted in C. MacCabe, et al, eds., Who Is Andy Warhol?, The British Film Institute and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, p. 119). Famous for his biting quips and detached demeanor, Warhol was a master provocateur.

The series was first exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964 in an exhibition that took the New York art world by storm as it connected with a public ready for something less shocking than the electric chairs and car crashes of the previous years. Rendered in different sized formats, the twenty-four inch square canvases were hung in a grid which created an overwhelming visual sensation. The even glow of yellow petals in the current work pierces the deep green and black surroundings much as it would in nature. However, these flowers are not made to attract pollinators. Instead, they draw the viewer in by leveraging a seemingly straightforward, recognizable subject and the dynamic style for which Warhol became famous. The artist always offered off-the-cuff remarks about superficiality and its relationship to his work and himself, saying sardonically, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it” (A Warhol, quoted in G. Berg, “Andy: My True Story,” Los Angeles Free Press, March 17, 1967, p. 3). However, despite all of his outward displays and calculated cool, the true Warhol was much deeper, as a more intense study of Flowers will reveal. The artist’s long-time assistant Ronnie Cutrone noted, “we all knew the dark side of those Flowers” (R. Cutrone, quoted in J. O’ Connor and B. Liu, Unseen Warhol, New York, 1996, p. 61). Behind the cheery blooms was a darker layer that reflected upon the nature of life and death.

The source image for the entire series was a photograph pulled directly from the pages of Modern Photography. Editor Patricia Caulfield had used it as a demonstration image for a new process from Kodak, and printed the same image of hibiscus flowers several times in varying tones to show the differences in technique. Warhol seized upon it with his usually vigor and cropped the original from seven blooms to the now-iconic four. Reducing the work to a square format and then shifting the arrangement slightly to work better with his composition, he fussed with the elements until he was satisfied with the way each piece fit. Once the photograph was edited to his liking, Warhol asked his assistant Billy Linich “to run the photo repeatedly through the Factory’s new photostat machine—'a dozen times, at least,’ said Billy, to flatten out the blossoms, removing their definition, the shadow that lent the photo its illusion of three-dimensionality. ‘He didn’t want it to look like a photo at all. He just wanted the shape, the basic outline, of the flowers’” (T. Scherman and D. Dalton, Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, New York, 2009, p. 247). This process created a more contrasting image where details were lost to the mechanical process as each copy became less linked to Caulfield’s image and more of a simulacrum of the now long-wilted flowers.

There are two sides to every Warhol work, just as there were two facets within the artist himself. The public-facing Pop glitz exists simultaneously alongside a darker, more introspective mode that prods at issues of mortality and time’s inevitable march. Though the latter shows itself more directly in the Skulls and Death and Disasters series, and the former is more evident in the celebrity portraits and diamond dust pieces, works like Flowers are quintessential Warhol. They balance the mass appeal with a deeper personal message. “What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings,” wrote the critic John Coplans, “is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol’s art—the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer’s gaze” (J. Coplans, Andy Warhol, Pasadena, 1970, p. 52). Within the graphic confines of the Flowers, one finds a new respect for the forward rush of time as the world moves on with or without us.

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