"These frozen images are modern-day Madonnas. Andy was a strict Catholic. His Marilyn, Liz and Jackie become religious relics, and like Leonardo's La Gioconda. they are portraits of women radiating beauty. They are not photographs of public stars buticons of our time"
Glowing with a psychedelic intensity that recalls the heady days of disco, Andy Warhol's Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) marks the artist's celebrated return to one of his most enduring images. Marilyn Monroe was one of the first of the Hollywood icons that Warhol painted and immediately after her death in 1962, he immortalized the lustrous splendor of her face in Gold Marilyn Monroe (Museum of Modern Art, New York) marking the beginning of the Pop art revolution. In this vibrantly colored return, Warhol demonstrates that he retained both the aesthetic bravado and artistic innovation that made him one of the giants of twentieth century art.
The actress was the perfect subject for Warhol who regarded her as a kindred spirit; a fellow artist who was under-appreciated by her peers and whose creative talents were often misunderstood and rarely appreciated for their nuances. The general public was quick to gauge Monroe's physical attributes but few bothered to praise her talents as an actress and comedienne. Immediately after her tragic death on August 5th 1962 Warhol became so preoccupied by the idea of Marilyn as a pre-fabricated media product that he translated her familiar image into an image that would not only define his career, but also the actress's legacy too. Ever since 1962, when Warhol first captured the lustrous splendor of Monroe's face in Gold Marilyn Monroe, the artist had been captured by her beguiling beauty. He would return to her image a number of times throughout his career including his later Reversal series which he began in 1979. In Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series), the iconic features of the actress Marilyn Monroe are shown in negative, veiled by swirls of emerald green, hot pink and azure blue, a combination that electrifies the image as a whole. In this work, Warhol also began to address his own fame and the extent to which he had saturated contemporary culture by plundering his own visual lexicon, taking the icons which he had himself helped to create and reviving them. However, as was always the case in Warhol's work, there was a twist: in these new incarnations, the palettes of his originals were inverted, creating images that were largely dark yet were illuminated by flashes of lightning-like color. In this way, Warhol managed to subvert yet continue his own legacy, shifting himself into a new, post-modern realm.
Revisiting his subject almost fifteen years later, Warhol successfully captures Monroe's famous beauty, but this time in an altogether more striking way and one that is still-in a typical Warholian way-captures the zeitgeist of the age in which it was created. Rendering Marilyn as a reversal, Warhol acknowledges and confronts head-on any fears he may have had about being criticized of re-visiting an old subject. By using a 'backwards' image of Marilyn and rendering her in a vibrant new palette, Warhol produces a work that looks forward and speaks directly to a new generation of his peers, showing he is still the most adept chronicler of popular culture. The critic David Bourdon points out, "By ransacking his own past to produce the Reversals and Retrospectives, Warhol revealed himself to be one of the shrewdest of the new wave of post-modernists. While modernism had 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 towards all aesthetic camps and displayed an indifference to the traditional hierarchies of 'high' and 'low' art" (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 380).
Fusing both content and technique, Nine Multicolored Marilyns reveals the natural evolution of the thinking that lay behind Warhol's Pop. By questioning the nature of art and beauty from the beginning, Pop Art had often appeared extremely self-referential. On the one hand, the viewer can see something infinitely transparent and recognizable, in this case the image of a celebrity; on the other hand, the popular nature of the source image challenges notions of the purpose of art. Should 'Art' involve craftsmanship? Should it represent only 'worthy' themes? In these aspects, Warhol remained a constant enigma. His exceptional draughtsmanship, with which he had initially made his name, proved that he could paint if he wanted to, but instead he favored the mechanical silkscreen process, finding in it a method of artistic creation that he felt was more suited to the world of modernity and technology. Regarding subject matter, what was more beautiful than Marilyn? Why should a picture of her be any less artistic than Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine or a portrait of another powerful beauty, England's Queen Elizabeth I, whose beguiling splendor led to the downfall of some of Elizabethan England's most powerful men.
In Nine Multicolored Marilyns, Warhol returns to the publicity shot from the 1953 film Niagara; the same image that he used in his original ground-breaking series of paintings in 1962. In the present lot, he presents the image nine times in rapid multi-colored succession across the canvas, mimicking the flashes of light from the film projector as it projects Marilyn's image into a darkened movie theater. In doing so, he poignantly 'returns' Marilyn to silver screen and in the process celebrates the medium in which he had spent much of his life working.
Warhol's recycling of his most famous images reveals a sense of ironic detachment to his own work that, like Duchamp and his portable museum, refuses to accept the hierarchical status that history has given to his works, preferring to see them as valid only in the context of his own production. In his 'reversal' paintings Warhol was re-exploring the potential of his earlier works to become something new and different from the 'icons of Pop' that art history has turned them into. By silkscreening the negative image of the original photograph and illuminating its shadows, the resultant image seemingly presents the alter-egos of his celebrated icons. From his Mona Lisa to Mao or even his wallpaper cow, the most successful of Warhol's reversals is the image of Marilyn Monroe which in negative form becomes a truly haunting and nostalgic representation of this icon of the magical but shallow artifice of Hollywood.
By appropriating his own appropriation, Warhol demonstrates himself to be a tireless innovator, and this painting showed his continuing willingness to experiment. Indeed, the last decade of his life was considered by some to be some of the most innovative of his career. In addition to his Reversals, we see works that show the artist to have been brimming with pioneering ideas, both in terms of content and of technique. Warhol was extremely proactive in constantly developing his art, and iNine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) is clear evidence of his belief that, "They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself" (A. Warhol, quoted in K. Honnef, Andy Warhol 1928-1987 Commerce into Art, Cologne 2000, p. 90).