Warhol Lot 172
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
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Property from an Important West Coast Collection
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Two Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series)

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Two Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series)
inscribed and signed by Frederick Hughes 'I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1986 © Frederic Hughes' (on the overlap); stamped with the artist's signature 'Andy Warhol' (on the overlap)
synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
18 1/8 x 28 in. (46 x 71.1 cm.)
Painted in 1979-1986.
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
Private collection
Anon. sale; New York, Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, 11 November 2002, lot 31
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Hamburg, Deichtorhallen and Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Andy Warhol: Retrospektiv, July 1993-February 1994, p. 105 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

The vibrant, fluorescent, electric colors (pinks, reds, magentas, greens) crackle across the surface of this double portrait of screen goddess Marilyn Monroe. Her famous visage became one of Warhol’s favorite subjects—an enthralling combination of glamour, beauty and mortality which became one of the artist’s first ‘icons.’ “[Warhol’s] Marilyn, Liz and Jackie,” writes collector Peter Brant, “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). Here in Double Marilyn Reversal the tonalities making up the contours of her face are inverted, light to dark, showing the immortal star in ghostly form, her face pale against a background of gathering darkness, her features oddly familiar yet at the same time materializing as the strange sort of doppelganger that the viewer instantly recognizes as appearing only in a photographic negative. This is unmistakably a Warhol, but a startlingly different Warhol from the portrait works he created two decades earlier at the outset of his career.

Warhol’s decision to present a double repetition of the starlet’s face (The original photograph that Warhol used to create the work is a publicity photo from the 1953 film Niagara) evokes a stream of repeating images such as would fill a motion picture film reel, one identical image unspooling after the next mirror image copy, one image endlessly following another. Or, perhaps it suggests a sequence of flash images one might witness at a Hollywood premiere, flashes that alternately illuminate and obscure the actresses’ face. The work is a double image not just because there are two Marilyn’s within the boundaries of the canvas, but also because the vision is a reappropriated image of an earlier set of Andy Warhol Marilyn portraits that the artist chose to use as the basis for revisiting and re-exploring his previous work.

In Double Marilyn Reversal the predominate color is a pitch black. The inky, depthless darkness threatens to engulf everything. But the face is instantly recognizable, both as star image and unique, incomparable, signature Warhol creation. To those familiar with Warhol’s 1960s Marilyn Monroe silkscreen portrait works, Double Marilyn Reversal will seem both utterly familiar and at the same time strikingly different. The work is part of a significant late career series that Warhol produced between 1979 and 1986, called the Reversal Series. "Warhol's Reversals recapitulate his portraits of famous faces...but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator were looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward in electric hues. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights." (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 378).

The paintings in the series are referred to as Reversals because of the artist's strategy of tonally reversing his earlier silk-screen paintings, with the result that he created negative images of his own signature themes and subjects. For this reason, the Reversal images have a fascinating resonance, merging old and new. Within the stream of art history, the work points backward, toward Marcel Duchamp and his strategy of appropriating already existing, readymade objects, redefining them as art works. Here, for Warhol, however, the readymades were his own previous paintings. But the work also points forward, toward a younger generation of image appropriation artists who were influenced by Warhol. The Reversal Series gave Warhol the opportunity (through excavating his own trove of images) to consider his fame and the exceptional influence he had had on popular culture. It also allowed him to raise intriguing questions about authenticity in art, as well as issues of authorship and even to examine the methods of his own art practice.

Through the Reversal Series, Warhol gave himself the opportunity to look back, both at Marilyn (a personality he was both fascinated by and at the same time identified with) and at the path his own career had taken. “By ransacking his own past to produce the reversals…Warhol revealed himself to be one of the shrewdest of the new-wave of post-modernists.” (D. Bourdon, Ibid., p. 380). By reusing (reappropriating) an image that was already an appropriation, already one step removed from the original studio still, Warhol made the astonishing, but absolutely true, statement that his image had eclipsed in fame Marilyn herself. With this series, Warhol’s work took a step closer to the Conceptual art practices that had been developing contemporaneously with his own practice through the 1960s and into the 1970s.

In a postmodern turn, Warhol’s work in this series became powerfully self-referential as he set to work mining the gold of his extraordinarily well-known body of images. Reusing his images was an opportunity for Warhol to adopt an ironic distance from his own body of work, to refuse to allow the work to be appropriated in turn by critics and art historians, but instead to insist that the work be meaningful only within the context of his own efforts. “He constructed the décor of himself and, to renew its appearance, he only needed to cast a mirror-image of it” (G. Celant, Super Warhol, New York, 2003, p. 10). The series also allowed Warhol to keep moving forward, to continue renewing and refreshing his art practice, bringing it forward into a new context and a new era. Through pastiche, reappropriation and through reinvention the work brought him in sync with a younger postmodern generation of artists with an equally healthy disregard for art historical traditions and the canon, helping to break down stale divisions between what was considered high and low art.

Beyond the meanings Double Marilyn Reversal has for critics and art historians, there is the image itself: stylish, captivating, glamorous, tragic, endlessly intriguing. A late career work that reaffirms the artist’s place at the forefront of contemporary art. It is mystique, fame and glamor distilled, electric with color, gleaming silver, and darkness.

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