The character of Superman was created by the writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1933, and sold to Detective Comics, Inc. in 1938 when it first appeared in print as a daily newspaper comic strip, which ran through May 1966. With the success of his adventures broadcast to the American public across radio serials, television programs, films, newspaper strips, and video games, Superman became the forefather of the superhero genre, helping to establish its primacy within the American comic-book culture. The hero’s pervasive magnetism has been inveterate: in February 1940, The Adventures of Superman premiered as a radio series; from 1941-43, a cycle of seventeen animated Superman cartoons were produced for theatrical release; Kirk Alyn became the first actor to portray the hero onscreen when the movie serial Superman premiered in 1948; in 1951 came the television series Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves; Superman returned to theaters in 1978 in the much celebrated Superman starring Christopher Reeve, which generated three sequels; most recently, in 2013, the film Man of Steel premiered. Throughout the nearly 80 years in which he has graced our newspapers, comic books, television and film screens, Superman’s appearance has remained constant, thereby imbuing his distinctive identity with potent brand recognition: in addition to his ubiquitous blue costume and red cape, the resounding power of the stylized red-and-yellow S shield on his chest has assumed a symbolic gravitas, becoming a fully integrated part of our collective social consciousness as an inspiring icon of the triumph of good over evil. Consequently, and of particular relevance to Warhol’s sensibilities, Superman was commercial gold, becoming so rapidly popular that by 1942, only four years after his first news strip was published, sales of the character’s three comic titles stood at a combined total of over $1.5 million.
Depicted in the full dynamism of his famed power of super-human flight, Warhol’s Superman propels across the canvas, his spectral outline at once doubling his graphic impact and enforcing his surging momentum. Here Warhol returns to the deeply affecting image doubling that he first explored in his Elvis paintings of the early 1960s, calling upon the mechanistic faculties of reproduction and duplication to confer upon his figures an elevated visual profundity. In total parity with the gun-wielding costumed Elvis, Superman here occupies a role entirely apart from his comic book narrative: he becomes one of Warhol’s stars, fully subsumed within the compendium of celebrity portraiture for which the artist is so revered. As Metcalf has written, "What is the difference between Marilyn Monroe, a Campbell's Soup Can, Uncle Sam, Golda Meir, O. J. Simpson, and Mickey Mouse? Nothing, say the portraits of Andy Warhol. They are all icons of America's modern mythology of celebrity. Icons that sell...To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, mythology is the organization of metaphorical figures that connote a state of mind, that transcend their specific place or time... To paraphrase Andy Warhol's portraits, the mythology of America is celebrity, the gods and demigods are those who can sell through their mass-produced images, and the course of action we, as a culture, are called to is to consume. These portraits record an American culture transformed from hero- to celebrity-worship and the role of cultural icon as celebrity, a commodity, and a piece of commercial art that sells. Through these portraits, Warhol both documented and encouraged the collapse of separation between individual, logo and myth. The celebrity is no longer an individual, but a brand name, a logo.'' (Ibid., p. 6)
Warhol's interest in cartoon and comic characters is manifest from the very incipit of his career. In an early rendering of Superman from 1960, Warhol used an appropriated comic strip as the source for his painting in the manner of a Duchampian readymade. The present Superman is the mature incarnation of a cartoon image's power as developed by Warhol. Unlike the artist’s earlier version, which shares a marked affinity with the comic-strip inspired 1960s paintings of his contemporary Roy Lichtenstein, this Superman composition is cropped so that Superman’s full form occupies the entire height of the canvas and the possibility of narrative, previously evoked through the addition of text, is banished in favor of a singular focus on the central image. Thus, Warhol's Superman is viewed as an icon, ripe for contemplation, channeling a cultural fetish of celebrity, as in Warhol's portraits of Marilyn and Liz. Like these stars of the silver screen, Superman is part of America's entertainment legacy; his identity was born of and will forever be associated with the precipitous rise and all-encompassing influence of pop culture in the Twentieth Century.
As Carter Ratcliff has pointed out, Warhol does not reference the historic myths that preoccupy other artists of the Twentieth Century. Instead, "Warhol's Myths reside in the funny papers, in movies and ads. And in the mirror. Warhol nurtures the nonlife, the un-death of glamour." (Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, p. 101) Superman is continually fresh, unblemished by age, and un-burdened by the baggage of Western history. Thus, Superman stands symbolically with Warhol's film beauties, Coca-Cola bottles, and dollar bills. Each of these commodities has been experienced and enjoyed by millions of individuals. As images and ideas, their consumption is pervasive in American culture, which fascinated Warhol: "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see a Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. ...All the Cokes are the same." (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Andy Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, p. 458) Yet this prosaic litany of consumer, commodity, and commercialism was recognized by Warhol as a deeper indicator within our culture of a mythic quality we bestow on our celebrities. Warhol's Myths series recognizes the manufactured quality of public images and serves to "remind us that anyone (living or not, human or mouse) can be a cultural icon that sells, a celebrity. When celebrity is seen through its ability to sell, then being packaged to sell makes one a celebrity." (Metcalf, Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol had a profound understanding of this principle, evinced by the cultivation of his own celebrity image as the iconoclastic artist who claimed no deep meaning for his art. Superman is archetypal of the Myths series and, indeed, the whole of Warhol’s conceptual project as an incisive comment on the nature of a society where myths spring from popular culture and heroes are fictional, intertwined with celebrity and commercialization.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale