LONDON - October is always an exciting sale series – the art world decends on London for the Frieze fairs, with all the associated exhibitions, talks and opening parties. Our Contemporary Art auctions are, of course, one of the attractions and this season a major highlight in our Contemporary Art Day sale is Andy Warhol’s Guns.
For me, the Guns series is a powerful body of work, one that is connected to the subjects that made Warhol famous in the 1960s and his own near-death experience in 1968. Throughout that decade, Warhol produced a fascinating and revolutionary body of work, instantly recognisable and demonstrating his extraordinary eye for composition and colour combination that ensured his works became coveted by collectors, museums and celebrities alike.
Andy Warhol’s Guns. Estimate £400,000–600,000.
Within the multiple subjects Warhol selected to create his work, beside objects that embodied the new American way of life, mass consumption and reproduction there is another subject: death. Selecting famous figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy, Warhol alluded to this theme, revealing his own fascination with fame and notoriety too. At the same time, however, he worked on a much darker series of subjects including electric chairs, famous criminals (as in 13 Most Wanted Men) and a selection of images depicting macabre scenes from accidents that he found in newspapers.
By the end of the 1960s, Warhol was himself a celebrity, working at the Factory, hanging out with the likes of Mick and Bianca Jagger and attending the same events as his superstar subjects. He had started to produce and direct films, and many of the people he cast were young, budding artists he had come to know. One of these people was Valerie Solanas, a feminist writer who had asked Warhol to produce her play Up Your Ass. In 1967, and as compensation for not having produced such play, Solanas appeared in Warhol’s film I, A Man, a semi-erotic feature where Hollywood actor Tom Baker met six different women in the course of a day in New York. A year later, convinced that he had conspired to steal her writing, Solanas appeared at the Factory armed with two guns and repeatedly shot Warhol. He underwent complicated surgery and was bed-ridden for months. In his diaries, which start a decade after the shooting, Warhol refers to Solanas several times, revealing his fear of meeting her again.
Warhol also records that he started working on this series in the summer of 1981, and Guns can be seen as a cathartic act. Executed over a decade after the traumatic incident that almost cost him his life Warhol finally tackled the subject of guns. In this example, he masterfully screened different images of the two gun models Solanas used against him to create a fan-like composition. The work is full of movement and energy, in Warhol’s powerful and straightforward style.
Marina Ruiz Colomer is a specialist in the Contemporary Art department, Sotheby’s London.
Contemporary Art Day
London, 17 October