Private Collection, Germany
Sale: Christie’s, New York, Contemporary Art, 3 May 1995, Lot 46
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Vienna, Galerie Würthle, Andy Warhol, 1993
Hamburg, Deichtorhallen Hamburg; and Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, Andy Warhol: Retrospektiv, 1993-94, p. 109, illustrated in colour
The end of the 1970s was a moment of reanalysis and redefinition for Andy Warhol. At the close of a decade marred by his close encounter with death (having been shot in his studio by feminist activist Valerie Solanis in 1968), Warhol embarked on a long period of reflection and withdrawal. Aside from the auspicious and challenging corpus of portraits depicting China’s communist leader Mao Zedong, the 1970s were principally devoted to portrait commissions. Left wanting the subversive wit and conceptual vigour that characterises his ground-breaking 1960s production, the arrival of the Reversals and Retrospectives heralded the reprise of Warhol’s critically acerbic genius. Though the re-iteration and repetition of iconic personalities and consumer products had long been the very cornerstone of Warhol’s practice, this new retroactive body of work kindled a climactic transfiguration of the artist’s formative concerns and mythology. As explicated by Roberto Marrone, “All the images Warhol used in the Retrospectives and Reversals ranked among his most memorable and commercial icons… These were the images that made him famous – the icons, symbols and brands through which he had made his own name and which had therefore to some extent become associated with his own life, history, career and myth. In repeating these same images in a new ‘reversed’ and negative form in 1979, Warhol now bestowed upon them a new and altogether darker and more sombre mood reflective of the respective distance in time between their original use and the later moment of their re-creation” (Roberto Marrone in: Exhibition Catalogue, Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Andy Warhol: Big Retrospective Painting, 2009, p. 32).
First painted by Warhol shortly after her premature death in 1962, Monroe became the ultimate memento mori through his endlessly repetitious silkscreens. She was the definitive icon through which the artist united the obsessions that drove his career: glamour, beauty and death. The vibrant colours in Nine Multicoloured Marilyns recall the shocking palette of Warhol’s earliest incarnations of the screen goddess in which the repeated newspaper register and deliberately lurid and conflicting hues overcome Monroe’s humanity. Rather than accentuating lip-hue and exaggerating hair colour, Monroe’s repeated likeness appears as a floodlit negative, as though viewed through a luminous schema of 'Ab-Ex’ painterly gestures – an ironic painterly appropriation first initiated with his Chairman Mao series. The highlighting of shadows and plunging of mid-tones into darkness imparts a ghostly dematerialisation of his subject; these shadowy faces appear reduced to their index, invoking a spectral imprint. Though maintaining recognition and legibility thanks to the iconicity of Monroe’s face, Warhol’s manipulations neutralise the power of the original image. The emphasis here is less on the celebrity of the sitter and more on that of the artist himself; less a depiction of the film star and more a reflection on Warhol’s own artistic past.
Narrating a moment of repose and personal reflection, Warhol stood at the end of a decade creatively dominated by his celebrity portrait practice: flamboyant images that came to encapsulate an era. Prophetically heralding the final decade of Warhol’s life, the late works possess a somewhat eerie undercurrent of grave finality whilst the psychological shadows of Solanis’ attempted assassination linger on via the distinct meditative quality that characterises these works. Where Warhol had looked to megawatt personalities such as Monroe and Jackie Kennedy for the tragic-heroism of their fame, the Reversals divulge a more personal and philosophical interrogation of the artist’s identity by proxy of the very tropes and Warholian slogans that propelled him to acclaim. In this sense Warhol’s strategy of quoting and critically interrogating his own now legendary oeuvre ran parallel to irreverent undermining of art historical sources and the division between ‘high’ and ‘low’ of the newly prevailing trends in contemporary art.
Taking his cue from the annals of art history in which artists have continually adapted, varied and transformed the work of their predecessors, the Reversals accompanied a greater artistic impetus to not only reanalyse his own pictorial inventions but also the practices of his artistic forebears. Though Warhol had first hinted at this trans-art historical dialogue in 1963 with the series of works after Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Mona Lisa, it was not until the late 1970s that he fully began to subjugate famous works of art as a defined engagement: paintings by Cranach, Munch, Ucello and de Chirico were channelled through his now mastered silkscreen technique. Flattened and accented with typically contrasting vivid hues, Warhol expropriates and levels the entire canon of art history to transform each artwork into a quintessentially Warholian icon. Standing at the very apex of Warhol’s project of appropriation, Nine Multicoloured Marilyns not only probes the prevalent dialogue of authorship and authenticity but also interrogates Warhol’s own artistic code with unparalleled visual impact.
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