PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Private Collection, USA
Sotheby's, New York, 19 May 1999, Lot 286 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Akron, Akron Art Museum; and Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, POWER: Its Myths and Mores in American Art, 1961-1991, September 1991 - July 1992, p. 34, no. 1, illustrated in colour
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Andy Warhol, August - October 1992
Vienna, KunstHausWien; Orlando, Orlando Museum of Art; and Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, Andy Warhol: 1928-1987, February 1993 - March 1994, p. 90, no. 93, illustrated in colour
Athens, Galerie Nationale; and Thessaloniki, National Gallery, Andy Warhol, June - September 1993
Taipei, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Andy Warhol, October - November 1994
Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Andy Warhol, May - October 1995, p. 149, no. 125, illustrated in colour
Milan, Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta, Andy Warhol, October 1995 - February 1996, p. 190, no. 189, illustrated in colour
Ludwigshafen, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Andy Warhol, September 1996 - January 1997, p. 176, no. 154, illustrated in colour
Helsinki, Kunsthalle Helsinki, Andy Warhol, August - November 1997
After a close encounter with death in 1968, when feminist activist Valerie Solanis tried to assassinate Warhol in his studio, the artist retreated for more than a decade from critical artistic output and instead focussed on his portrait commissions. Left wanting the subversive wit and conceptual vigour that characterised his ground-breaking 1960s production, the arrival of the Reversals and Retrospectives heralded the reprise of Warhol’s critically acerbic genius. By deliberately blurring the lines between the idolisation of a persona, a media image, and the artist’s own work, Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) stands at the very apex of Warhol’s appropriative practice. Where in the coming years he would lift imagery directly from art historical masters as varied and eclectic as Leonardo da Vinci, Lucas Cranach, Paolo Ucello, Edvard Munch, and Giorgio de Chirico, in the present work he calls upon his own repertoire, moving away from a mere idolisation of a Hollywood star and towards a reflection upon his own artistic legacy. As reflected 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 somber mood reflective of the respective distance in time between their original use and the later moment of their re-creation” (Roberto Marrone cited in: Exh. Cat., Zurich, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Andy Warhol: Big Retrospective Painting, 2009, p. 32).
With Marilyn Monroe, Warhol chose the quintessential icon of American celebrity culture. The blonde superstar’s persona quickly became substituted in the public eye by a powerful brand whose glamorous appeal was only intensified by her premature death. Embodying a duality that paired an ideal of outward beauty with a self-destructive inner-life, Monroe became the definitive personification of stardom for Warhol in the early 1960s. The artist was singularly drawn to the image of Marilyn, as he was later to Elvis, Marlon, Liz, and Jackie, because he implicitly understood their symbolic power as personifications of ideal of beauty, glamour, and desirability, whilst also perceiving in their iconicity a reading of modern-day vanitas and ultimately death. Marilyn’s ascension to cult status following her tragic demise thus reverberated with Warhol’s own obsession with mortality. Soon after the first series of Marilyn portraits in 1962, the Pop artist would embark on his seminal Death and Disaster series depicting images of tragedy culled from the media and impassively repeated through the use of his trademark silkscreen. Both the Marilyn portraits and the depictions of lethal accidents delivered a type of psychological portrait of American popular culture; these works telescoped the country’s mass obsession with the lives of celebrities and its morbid fascination with violence and tragedy.
When Warhol returned to his favourite Marilyn motif in this later series in 1979, he intensified the portrait’s effect through its negative impression, thus achieving a powerful chiaroscuro effect that gradually neutralises the original image through the artist’s repeated image manipulations. By accentuating the paradigmatic shift between perceived media imagery and lethal reality, Warhol imbued the endlessly reproduced visage of Marilyn Monroe with a sombre aura that juxtaposes a glamorous media image with the death's dark reality. Similar to his diptych of Marilyn from 1962, in which Warhol contrasted the colourful image of the Hollywood star with her black-and-white negative image, 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.
While the dark hues dominating Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) invoke the troubling circumstances of Marilyn’s fated demise, they ultimately remove the work from its original subject and redirect the viewer to Warhol himself. The appropriation of his own material raises essential questions of authorship and authenticity; together these thematic strata deliver a work of phenomenal conceptual brilliance and historical import.
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