Andy Warhol's collection of cookie jars were among the most sought after objects from the artist's estate.
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 late April of 1988, Sotheby's New York headquarters on York Avenue was abuzz with activity. After months of diligent research and cataloguing, a team of staff members, drawn from 27 different curatorial departments, had completed the preparations for one of the most important and talked-about sales of the decade. A significant portion of property belonging to the estate of Andy Warhol, who had passed away the previous year, was poised for the auction block. The deluge of artwork, clothing, decor and other artifacts on offer had been parsed into no less than 10,000 lots. Even Warhol's 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was up for grabs.
The exhibition leading up to the spirited 10-day auction drew huge crowds, as fans of Warhol came from far and wide to marvel at the artist's rambling, eclectic collections of everything from his contemporaries' artwork to Art Deco jewellery to cookie jars. "If I remember correctly, I think because of the wide-ranging, insatiable way that Andy collected, the only department at Sotheby's – and we have a lot of specialist departments – that was not involved was Judaica," recalls Leslie Prouty, a senior vice president at Sotheby's who joined the Contemporary Art Department in 1982. The goal of the sale was to raise funds for the then-fledgling Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Sotheby's had estimated the proceeds would total $15 million or more. The sale would go on to generate $25 million.
"I think one of the reasons we were so well suited to do this particular auction is that we could exhibit the entire collection," Prouty says. "This harked back to the days when you would sell a whole house, you'd sell someone's whole collection, and it wouldn't be so subdivided by specialty."
Fred Hughes, the executor of Warhol's estate, chose a special border to run along the walls of Sotheby's galleries for the exhibition. Due to the sheer volume of material to prepare for display, "I just remember top executives working on getting the exhibition open," Prouty says. "We were all cleaning the glass on the cases, and everybody had to sign up for exhibition duty…you had to have a lot of people to man the exhibitions" – to answer collectors' questions and guide tours.
The East Side townhouse of the late Andy Warhol held millions' worth of art treasures which sold at Sotheby's in 1988. Photo by Misha Erwitt/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
One of Prouty's roles is cataloguing objects, and she was among the staffers in charge of visiting Warhol's home and inventorying the dizzying array of contents. She says, "The picking up of the property was a tale all unto itself." While the home's front rooms were neat and nattily decorated, the back rooms were stuffed.
It was an emotionally freighted task, to be sure, but one moment stands out in Prouty's memory as especially moving: "There were drawings in one of the bureaus in one of Andy's bedrooms," she says. "I just opened the bureau drawer, and there were envelopes. There was a mailing envelope, a manila envelope, that had his address and Cy Twombly's return address. It had been opened, so I took it out. It was a Twombly drawing addressed to Andy, and it was around the time that he had been shot and was recovering… It was a beautiful, beautiful Twombly drawing. So that was one [special] moment for me."
The sale of Warhol's collection of 175 ceramic cookie jars was arguably the auction's most memorable. Press accounts from the time noted that the sale of the kitschy jars – in the shape of dogs, pigs, houses, chefs' heads, to name a few – fetched nearly $250,000. Gedalio Grinberg, then the chairman of the board of the North American Watch Company in New York, proved to be the jars' most formidable bidder, winning 35 out of the 39 lots and contributing nearly $200,000 of the quarter million raised. One especially desirable grouping of pieces went for $23,100, breaking the record at the time for a lot of cookie jars sold at auction.
Tomorrow: Andy and 200 One Dollar Bills