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)

Hammer and Sickle

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Hammer and Sickle
signed 'Andy Warhol' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen
72 x 86 in. (182.9 x 218.4 cm.)
Painted in 1976.
John Reinhold, New York
Joshua Mack, New York
Anna and Josef Froehlich, Stuttgart, 1991
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 25 June 2009, lot 15
Private collection, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
N. Printz and S. King-Nero, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings 1976-1978, vol. 5A, New York, 2018, p. 109, no. 3520 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery; Kunsthalle Tübingen, Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie & Württembergischer Kunstverein; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen & Kunsthalle; Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, The Froehlich Foundation. German and American Art from Beuys and Warhol, May 1996-August 1997, p. 211, no. 298 (illustrated).
Liverpool, Tate Gallery, Contemporary German and American Art from the Froehlich Collection, June-August 1999.
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Antagonismes: Casos d'estudi, July-October 2001.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol, October-December 2006, p. 94 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Painted in 1976, Andy Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle is one of the artist’s most important creative statements of the 1970s. Mining popular culture, politics, and his uncanny ability to capture the social zeitgeist, the series built on his now iconic portraits of the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong that he had produced four years earlier. With a strong sense of irony, the present work depicts the two ubiquitous symbols of the Soviet Empire, a far cry from the society portraits of the rich and famous that had been one of his main concerns up to this point. How perverse and provocative Warhol must have felt dedicating a new series to the symbol of the Soviet Union and worldwide socialism, at the very height of the Cold War and communist paranoia.

Stylistically minimal, the most striking compositional aspect of Hammer and Sickle is the inversion of implements from their triumphal, raised positions on the Soviet Flag. In Hammer and Sickle they appear at rest, crossing at an arbitrary angle; the flat background field of color—a technique developed from his Skulls, painted the same year – emphasizes the object-like qualities of tangible hammer and sickle, as well as their unwieldy strangeness when related together in three dimensions. Much as the manipulated stacks of soup cans and bottles in his series of Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola paintings began to deconstruct and otherwise wear down the clear boundaries of a distinct commercial identity, to Warhol, the evacuated emblem of the hammer and sickle was an enticing sign that also benefited strangely from material manipulation.

These paintings were among the first of a radically new group of pictures in which the artist was deliberately beginning to explore the grand old themes and traditions of art history; in this case, the still life genre. While Warhol’s Skulls echo more straightforwardly the memento mori tradition of Old Master painting, it had been a recent visit to a politically divided Italy that gave rise to the Hammer and Sickles. There, amongst his memories of Renaissance architecture, Old Master paintings and classical Italianate landscapes, Warhol recalled repeatedly noticing the Communist symbol daubed and painted everywhere he went. The ubiquity of this icon prompted him, as it had done previously with his Marilyns and his Maos, to appropriate the symbol and reinvent it.'

The color palette of Hammer and Sickle remains true to the Communist cause. Swathes of dark hues and red delineate the shadows cast by the store-bought tools under bright studio lights. Implying substance but not substantial in their own right, these strong fields of color achieve a balance between the abstract and the representational that the shallow Soviet graphic reduces entirely. Like Chairman Mao’s omnipresent visage throughout the People’s Republic of China, the hammer and sickle had long since transmuted into pure sign, as much a powerful imprint of state oppression as a hastily appropriated mark of graffiti.

Warhol’s then-assistant Ronnie Cutrone described the inspiration for Hammer and Sickle while the artist was touring Italy. His portraits from the series Ladies and Gentlemen had recently debuted at the Palazzo dei Diamente in Ferrera, where they were acclaimed by the Italian radical left as an exposé of American capitalism’s inherent racism. Although Warhol’s imagery in this case had no particular social advocacy aim, he was charmed by the question of political affiliation consequently raised by the Italian press. In Italy as well as in Paris, an open tolerance for socialist ideas existed as it did nowhere in America, and by the mid-1970s the hammer and sickle had become a rather common feature of street graffiti in bohemian city districts.

After returning to New York, Warhol sent Cutrone to track down printed representations of the Soviet emblem, which were found in largest quantity buried in left-leaning bookshops, often under the surveillance of trench-coat-wearing U.S. Government operatives. Yet the limited stock of iconography Cutrone collected was, almost paradoxically, too flat for Warhol’s liking. So to flesh out the party symbolism, its referents – a hammer (of the industrial laborer) and sickle (of the peasant) – were acquired from a Canal Street hardware store and arranged into a ‘political still life’ against a white backdrop in The Factory. Cutrone recalled the incongruence of Warhol eating McDonald’s in the morning and painting Hammer and Sickle in the afternoon.

As the king of American Pop art, Warhol had inherited his Modernist forebears’ gross obsession with surface – but did not limit himself to the two-dimensional plane defined by the painting’s canvas. A prolific manufacturer of iconic images in his own right (with the muscle of mass-reproduction techniques), Warhol’s persistent practice took measure of the variegated exterior surface of the news media, consumer culture, American celebrity, and even the construction of his own self-image. In works as diverse in subject matter as his soup can paintings, Liz (1963) and Birmingham Race Riot (1964), Warhol unceasingly probed the superficial layers of readymade imagery – and in so doing, unravelled content through the condition of its less than pristine packaging. Yet in many respects Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle series subverts this working method, because of the ultra-abstraction and ideological other of its subject: Communism. The relatively late development of the work alludes to its function as an aerobic exercise of the hammer and sickle’s iconographic potency, because Warhol – despite sometimes reproducing political images – maintained strictly apolitical views.

The result was a series of pictures, made at the height of the Cold War, that managed to not only reduce one of the most fearful and imposing political images of this age into a simple still-life but also, to do so in such a way that it opened up a wealth of new painterly possibilities for the making of new visual stories from seemingly exhausted, overused, or all-too-familiar objects.

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