ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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The Collection of Jerry Moss
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Four Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series)

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Four Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series)
stamped twice with the artist's signature 'Andy Warhol' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1979-1986.
Waddington Galleries, Ltd., London
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 1990, lot 344
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner
London, Waddington Galleries, Andy Warhol: Reversal Series, September 1987, pp. 28-29, no. 13 (illustrated on p. 29 and the front cover).

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

Andy Warhol’s storied career hinged upon his unique ability to idolize the everyday and turn images into icons. Nowhere is this more true than in his works revolving around Marilyn Monroe. Four Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) is a testament to the artist’s inspired refashioning of both the actress’s career and his own in a symbiotic dance within the limelight. By exploring the cult of celebrity through this work and those like it, he emphasized the duality of fame. The public image and the private lives of anyone within the spotlight become difficult to define as tragedy and ubiquity intermingle. Choosing to feature a dead actress in his work only further muddied this distinction as the artist questioned the nature of mortality. “Death can really make you look like a star,” he famously stated (A. Warhol, quoted in Andy Warhol. A Factory, exh. cat., Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, 2000, unpaged). Teasing out the subtleties of stardom, Warhol questioned the very basis of modern society, a debate that stills very much plays out today.

Set within a large square canvas, Warhol repeats a negative black-and-white image of Monroe in a two-by-two grid formation. The four close crops of the actress’s face are pulled from the same source image he first used in his iconic painting Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962, Museum of Modern Art, New York), but are now infused with an ominous darkness. The black silkscreen has been applied over a swooping, dynamic canvas, and the areas of painted green, blue, red, and light purple swirl at the edges and peak through the negative spaces. This combination of painterly surface and crisp imagery exists throughout the artist’s oeuvre and serves as an important source of visual tension. Asked about his use of painting within the realm of his screenprints, Warhol offered up an offhand comment in his typically disingenuous manner. "I sort of half paint them just to give it a style. It's more fun—and it's faster to do." (A. Warhol, quoted in D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1995, p. 330). The brushy abstraction is at odds with the photographic reproduction, creating a dialogue between the two styles that immediately entrances the viewer. Repetition had long been one of Warhol’s defining processes as he mimicked the consumerist modes of production and ushered in American Pop. Realizing that multiple versions of the same source image had more visual power than a singular picture, he often presented works in grids or series to emphasize the nature of commercialization.
From 1979 until 1986, Warhol began looking back on his career and taking stock of his life, an action capitulated by his near-death experience a decade earlier when he was shot by Valerie Solanas in 1968, and the suggestion of his dealer Bruno Bischofberger. In this reflective mood, he began to appropriate his own imagery and rework them in a Post-Modernist mode. “Ransacking his own past to produce the Reversal and Retrospectives, Warhol revealed himself to be one of the shrewdest of the new wave of post-modernists. While modernism has been an ideal that survived throughout most of the 1960s, continuing its self-conscious search for new forms of expression, post-modernism, which gained currency in the ‘pluralist’ 1970s, reflected an ironic attitude toward all aesthetic camps and displayed an indifference to traditional hierarchies of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art” (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 379). By using his own visual archive, he was able to question the nature of time and how the span of years between the first Marilyn and the present example affected our overall reading of the subject. Reiterating his most famous works in new ways, Warhol essentially revitalized his own practice while creating a conversation about the life cycle of imagery in our capitalist world.

Perhaps no celebrity subject is more recognizable in Warhol’s iconography than Marilyn Monroe. The blonde bombshell occupies a rarified space within his oeuvre that stands firmly within the glamour of Hollywood that the artist adored and the darker side of his career. The Reversal series made this dichotomy more clear as the dark ink brings to mind photographic negatives and overwhelms the composition with a preponderance of black. Unlike his earlier representations of Monroe, the present example takes a more introspective turn that is in keeping with Warhol’s practice in his later years. “Warhol’s Reversals recapitulate his portraits of famous faces but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator was looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights” (Ibid., p. 378). Already heavily contrasted, Warhol’s image of the starlet’s bright face is a duotone study where the details get lost in the copying process. While essentially a result of silkscreening itself, the loss of these visual minutiae mirrors the way Monroe the person was lost under the guise of Hollywood fame.

Monroe was Warhol’s kindred spirit in many ways. She was a heady mixture of silver screen glamour and personal tragedy, similar to the artist’s own Pop stardom and his own internal dialogue on mortality. The actress had a hard childhood in the foster system until gaining recognition for her modeling and then as a film actor after signing with Twentieth Century Fox in 1946. The promotional imagery for her 1953 noir thriller Niagara was the image that struck Warhol most of all, and it would become his source material for some of his most lauded works. Moved by Monroe’s tragic death in 1962, he focused an entire series on her and immortalized the late star in a way far beyond anything in life. “[Warhol’s] Marilyn, Liz and Jackie become religious relics, and like Leonardo’s La Giocanda, they are portraits of women radiating beauty. They are not photographs of public stars, but icons of our time” (P. Brant, Women of Warhol, Marilyn, Liz and Jackie, exh. cat., C&M Arts, New York, 2000, p. 3). These women have become intertwined with Warhol himself by virtue of his ability to seize the immense power of commercial imagery and catapult their likenesses even more into the public sphere.

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