21 Days of Andy Warhol is Sotheby’s three-week celebration of the essential 20th century artist with one-a-day stories and videos about Warhol’s origins, influences, inspirations, all leading up to the sale of important Warhol pieces in our Contemporary Art Evening auction 13 November.


NEW YORK - In its day, Andy Warhol's revolutionary artwork helped unseat the paradigm that defined what art could and could not be. Likewise, the salient market for Warhol's art, especially at auction, has been crucial in upending the long-accepted primacy bestowed on pre-modern art. Today the work of a contemporary artist can hold as much significance for museums, collectors, and the art world at large as that of an Old Master painting. And Sotheby's has figured large in that remarkable sea change, conducting several landmark Warhol auctions over the past 30 years.

The first Warhol to break the million-dollar-threshold at auction was a 1962 oil on canvas depicting one of the artist's legendary subjects drawn from the realm of popular commodity culture. 210 Coca-Cola Bottles was featured in Sotheby's New York sale of contemporary art on Monday 2 May 1988. While estimated to fetch between $700,000 and $900,000, the massive painting (82.5 inches tall by 105 inches wide) ultimately sold for an impressive $1.4 million. It's worth noting that Sotheby's had presided over the very first $1 million auction sale of a contemporary artwork – a Mark Rothko painting included in a November 1983 sale – only five years prior to this important milestone in the market for Warhol.

Andy Warhol’s 210 Coca-Cola Bottles sold at Sotheby’s for $1.4 million in 1988.

As the title indicates, 210 Coca-Cola Bottles presents the viewer with more than 200 starkly reductive portraits of the ubiquitous glass vessel. With this work Warhol toys with the tension between uniqueness and uniformity by employing three different silkscreened images of the Coke bottle: a frontal view, a profile and a three-quarter profile.

In one of the artist's most trenchant and repeated statements, Warhol made clear what attracted him to this thoroughly American pop-culture touchstone: "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it and you know it."

210 Coca-Cola Bottles was a consignment of the famous Abrams Family Collection, amassed by publisher Harry N. Abrams and his wife, Nina. At the time of Harry's death, in 1979, the collection represented one of the most impressive private holdings of modern art in the world.

Tomorrow: Andy and the Warhol Estate Sale at Sotheby's