ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)

Flowers

Details
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Flowers
acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen
81 3⁄4 x 81 1⁄2 in. (207.6 x 207 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Provenance
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Kimiko & John Powers, Houston
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 9 November 1983, lot 56
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
R. Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 309, no. 576.
R. Crone, Das bildnerische Werk Andy Warhols, Berlin, 1976, p. 391, no. 928.
"Special Andy Warhol," Artstudio, 1988, p. 77 (illustrated).
A. Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p. 538.
K. Honnef, Andy Warhol, Cologne, 1989, p. 42 (illustrated).
"Andy Warhol Special Issue," Beaux Arts, 1990, p. 50 (illustrated)
M. Stotz, "Andy Warhol als Maler und Zeichner," Artinside, 2010, p. 20 (installation view illustrated).
G. Frei and N. Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, vol. 2A, New York, 2002, pp. 299 and 301, no. 1326 (illustrated and installation view illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Andy Warhol. Flower Paintings, November-December 1964.
Ridgefield, Larry Aldrich Museum, Selections from the John G. Powers Collection, September-December 1966, no. 80 (illustrated).
Pasadena Art Museum, Painting in New York: 1944 to 1969, November 1969-January 1970, pp. 54 and 71, no. 50 (illustrated).
Pasadena Art Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; London, Tate Gallery and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Andy Warhol, May 1970-July 1971, p. 12, no. 47 (Eindhoven); no. 96 (Paris); p. 94, no. 67 (London).
Corpus Christi, Art Museum of South Texas, Johns, Stella, Warhol. Works in Series, October-November 1972, p. 35 (illustrated).
Kunsthalle Basel, Von Twombly bis Clemente. Ausgewählte Werke einer Privatsammlung, July-September 1985, no. 11 (illustrated).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Andy Warhol. Series and Singles, September-December 2000, p. 121, no. 59 (illustrated).
Kunstmuseum Basel, Andy Warhol. The Early Sixties Paintings and Drawings 1961-1964, September 2010-January 2011, p. 201, no. 53 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Specialist

Lot Essay

With its dazzling arrangement of four white blooms rendered on a spectacular 82 by 82 inch scale, Andy Warhol’s Flowers is a rare and majestic painting from one of the twentieth century’s most iconic bodies of work. Representing the largest square format within Warhol’s original 1964 series, it is one of just nine hand-embellished Flowers of this scale and crop recorded in the artist’s catalogue raisonné—two reside in the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, with a further example held in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D. C. The work was one of three of this size selected for Warhol’s historic show at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964: a landmark, sell-out exhibition that would go on to become synonymous with the heyday of American Pop Art. Here, in bold, luminous tones, was an image that spoke to the beauty and tragedy of modern life: a thrilling encounter between humankind and nature, riddled with tantalizing Warholian enigma. The present work is the only example of its scale to feature four white flowers, gleaming brightly like beacons against their deep green roots. Other smaller works with this color scheme are held in collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Menil Collection, Houston.

The Flowers exhibition—Warhol’s debut with Leo Castelli—shook the art world. The artist and dealer had cemented a partnership in the summer of 1964: Castelli’s gallery was at the time the epicenter of the New York art world, and Warhol—fresh from his celebrated Death and Disaster series—had by this stage taken his place firmly at the forefront of Pop. The exhibition, which took place several months later in November, was an instant critical and commercial triumph. As the dealer Ivan Karp recalled, “they were totally successful and we sold them all! … That’s one of those immortal images. You know? He just found it. Right? It was a grand success” (I. Karp, interviewed in P. Smith, Andy Warhol’s Art and Films, 1986, p. 358). Within the gallery, Castelli chose to emphasize the serial nature of the Flowers by creating grid-like installations of different size groups, drawing attention to the subtle variations within each set of images. The present work and its two companions were installed in a row, in between a set of four 48 by 48 inch Flowers and a vast single wall of 24 by 24 inch canvases.

It was reportedly Henry Geldzahler, the young Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, who gave Warhol the idea for the Flowers. Car crashes, electric chairs, race riots and other scenes of catastrophe had populated the artist’s most recent body of work, each a blank-faced commentary on the dark underbelly of contemporary American life. Geldzahler proposed a change: “I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Andy, maybe it’s enough death now.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, how about this?’ I opened a magazine to four flowers” (H. Geldzahler, quoted in unpublished interview with J. Stein, 1973, Geldzahler Papers, Beinecke Library). The publication was the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography; the image was a color photograph of hibiscus flowers, taken by the magazine’s editor Patricia Caulfield, which formed part of a two-page spread about a new Kodak color processor designed for amateurs. One side featured four repetitions of the photograph in a block, each slightly different in tonal variation: as Michael Lobel writes, it was a spectacle already “ripe for Warholian plucking” (M. Lobel, “In Transition: Warhol’s Flowers,” in Andy Warhol Flowers, exh. cat., Eykyn Maclean, New York, 2012, n.p.)

Warhol, indeed, was quick to adapt the image. While Geldzahler remembered a photograph of four flowers, the original image in fact featured seven blooms—a testament, perhaps, to the enduring power of Warhol’s iconic crop. As well as eliminating the three flowers from the left-hand side of the image, the artist shifted the placement of the outermost yellow flower to fit within the boundaries of a square canvas. “I like painting on a square because you don't have to decide whether it should be longer-longer or shorter-shorter or longer-shorter,” he explained: “it’s just a square” (A. Warhol, quoted in D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 191). The entire image was then rotated 180 degrees to the right, and the centers of the flowers were switched around. According to Tony Scherman and David Dalton, 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).

Warhol would go on to reproduce the image in multiple sizes and color schemes. The 82-inch Flowers, created in August and September 1964, represent the second size category that the artist produced, following on from the original group of 48-inch canvases. According to Georg Frei, they were created using two 40 by 80 inch screens, giving rise to a single transverse seam visible in each painting (G. Frei and N. Printz (eds.), The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné. Vol. 2A: Paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, London, 2004, p. 295). Warhol delighted in the tension between the hand and machine, relishing the friction between the reproductive nature of silkscreen and the minute slippages in tone, texture and saturation that resulted as part of the painterly process. As well as the nine hand-embellished examples, Warhol produced a further two 82-inch canvases some months later, using spray paint over a primed black and white ground that dispensed with the tinted green of the grass. Only one further example from 1965 exists on this scale, featuring an unusual, tighter crop that zooms in upon two of the four flowers.

Ostensibly—as per Geldzahler’s remonstration—the cheerful, bright allure of the Flowers marked a departure from Warhol’s previous output, where the tragic gazes of Marilyn, Jackie, Liz and Elvis had sat alongside images that highlighted the perils of a consumerist, image-obsessed society. At the same time, however, the beauty and glamour of the Flowers was underscored by a similar sense of dark trepidation. If floral subjects had long symbolized life’s transience—from the Dutch Golden Age to Van Gogh and beyond—the hibiscus blooms in Modern Photography seemed laden with foreboding. Flattened and compressed by the camera lens, these flowers were merely another subject for the consumer to devour: the wonders of nature were here subservient to the wonders of technology. Warhol’s ruthless manipulation and repetition of the photograph served to enhance this point, transforming an image of nature’s miraculous chaos into a serial icon. The mechanics of contemporary image production, these works seemed to say, had the power to turn anything and everything into a consumable, bite-sized entity. Only the spectral trace of the artist’s hand, evident to the keenest observers, betrayed the unique creative thrill that lay at their core.

In the present work, this tension is magnified to epic proportions. Like an overexposed photograph, or a celebrity caught in a spotlight, the white blooms gleam from their verdant nest, each an open eye onto the world. The Flowers became some of Warhol’s most abstract works, their stark, simplified geometries stripping away all feeling of three-dimensional reality, and creating a scintillating interplay of color and form that would later find renewed expression in his Shadow and Camouflage works of the late 1970s and 1980s. Though Abstract Expressionism was still a palpable force in New York, Warhol—who had grown up under its shadow—offered a bold riposte to its transcendental claims, shoe-horning the ebullience of nature into an image that was almost Minimalist in its sequential clarity. At the same time, however, the Flowers seemed to inhabit a world of visceral joy, anticipating the gutsy spirit of the “flower power” movement, and—like Liz, Marilyn and Warhol’s other leading ladies—radiating an enigmatic star quality. “[The Flowers] are so goddamn beautiful,” wrote the critic Peter Schjeldahl. “And so simple. And their glamour was so intense … That’s why we reach for the word ‘genius’” (P. Schjeldahl, quoted in T. Sherman and D. Dalton, ibid., pp. 236-237).

The Flowers were some of the last paintings that Warhol produced during the 1960s. In their poker-faced depths, he seamlessly combined the themes that had propelled him onto the world’s stage during this formative decade: life and death, beauty and commerce, authenticity and reproduction. Their innocent bravado was held in perfect counterpoint with their macabre overtones—as Warhol’s assistant Ronnie Cutrone would assert, “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). The ability to evoke magic and menace simultaneously, while resolutely cleaving to neither, had simmered in Warhol’s art since his very first Coca Cola bottles. Now, like the flowers themselves, it exploded into full bloom. “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). In the present work’s radiant, engulfing glow, the dual force of this power is keenly felt.

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