R yan Murphy’s first TV show was the cult classic Popular, a teenage comedy-drama that aired for two seasons, but it was the genre-defying medical drama Nip/Tuck followed by the TV musical Glee that made him a household name. Since then, Murphy has helmed numerous TV shows and movies — such as American Horror Story; The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Eat, Pray, Love; Pose; and The Politician — that have rejuvenated television’s anthology format and championed inclusive storytelling. Now, the showrunner celebrated for his Baroque and distinctive style of filmmaking is on the eve of releasing The Andy Warhol Diaries, a docuseries about the famed artist, on Netflix on 9 March, 2022.
Contemporary Curated: Ryan Murphy on the Enduring Legacy of Warhol
Produced by Murphy and directed by Andrew Rossi, The Andy Warhol Diaries looks at Warhol through his personal journal, which he began dictating on 24 November, 1976 — then at the height of his fame — and completed on 17 February, 1987, five days before he died due to surgical complications at the age of 58. The Netflix series features interviews with insiders like Bob Colacello and Jerry Hall, and looks behind Warhol’s well-crafted public image to reveal the iconic artist’s private persona.
“The series really examines Warhol’s life as an artist in a new way, unveiling the man behind the work through a queer sensibility, and exploring the man as his own work of art,” Murphy told Sotheby’s. “I see a lot of myself in Andy Warhol, particularly in the idea of reinvention. In my career, I've gone through many different phases, which are very much influenced by the people I am surrounded by.”
This month, Murphy is also the guest curator of Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction. A passionate art collector, Murphy selected several standout artworks from the sale, including Warhol’s portrait of the Japanese composer, pianist, and singer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Murphy’s other picks include two works by the late Wayne Thiebaud (the first of the artist’s paintings to come to auction since he passed in December 2021), an outstanding Jean-Michel Basquiat, and works by Louise Bourgeois, Cecily Brown, John Baldessari, Alma Thomas, Stanley Whitney, Maureen Gallace, Alex Katz, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Each of these artists, Murphy said, shares a spirit with Warhol in some way.
Recently, Murphy sat down with Sotheby’s to share what he loves about these works and how they resonate with Warhol’s creative practice. For the full list of Ryan Murphy’s picks — as well as other works in the sale, including works by Melvin Edwards, Pat Steir, and Mary Lovelace O’Neal — check out Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated.
Ryan Murphy’s Picks
“I must admit that personally I was very late to the Wayne game. I remember when I first saw them, I thought they were so strange and adolescent. They looked very childlike to me. But as time has gone on, I’ve become more and more obsessed with them. Like Warhol, there’s a mass consumer culture appeal here. I love that Wayne profiles dead-pan luxury and desire and fantasy.”
“Wayne takes everyday things like foods and makes them into some surreal fantasy of the American dream. You can say that Warhol did the same thing with the soup cans. Something as ordinary as a bowl of cherries or a cantaloupe is fetishized here, and seen as a symbol of success.”
“This is a portrait of a very well-known Japanese musician and composer. He worked on many films by Pedro Almodóvar and Brian De Palma. Jerry Hall sat many, many times for Andy Warhol, and in the documentary she said, ‘You can always tell who Andy Warhol liked and who he didn’t like. If he made your lip line in the portraits very sloppy, he didn’t like you. But if he made it very precise around your lips, he thought you were a good person.’ I think he must have been very impressed with Mr. Sakamoto in 1984.”
“When Jean-Michel Basquiat started off he idolized Andy, and at that point Andy was trying to figure out, ‘Well, what kind of artist do I want to be now?’ When he met Jean-Michel, he very quickly realized, ‘Wow, this guy is a genius. I want to befriend him, but I also want to work with him.’ The thing that I find very painful about that friendship was that everything was going along swimmingly until they had a show. The New York Times wrote a very damning review of their collaboration where they basically implied that Jean-Michel was a pet project of Andy’s and nothing more. They were never close again after that. I always think about what could have been — not just for Jean-Michel, who was taken too soon, but also between them as friends.”
“Louise Bourgeois is a female artist who has really been recognized recently for the genius that she is. She was based in the New York scene, the same time period as Warhol, but she obviously outlived him. They shared an interest in printmaking and they also shared ideas of objects as gateways to memory. Bourgeois used a lot of bodily forms — the grotesque and abject. This work is very sexualized and powerful in a way that Andy Warhol particularly would admire.”
“John Baldessari hilariously said at the end of his life: ‘I haven’t thought of Andy Warhol in 40 years.’ I think even Andy would’ve laughed at that. John’s work is very Warholian in a way, like in his use of commercial imagery. There’s a great sense of humor. He was only three years younger than Warhol, but he was using, in some weird way, the language that Andy made.”
“What I love about Alma Thomas’s work is the idea that it’s never too late for you to be seen, to explore. There was a reinvention in her life. She did not begin painting seriously until the age of 70. This painting is particularly striking because of its use of ocean tones. It’s a very soothing work to me. It’s very comforting. One of the things she has in common with Warhol is the abstract news-event idea — in her case, the moon landing. ”
“I really love the subtle sexuality and hidden erotic elements that are buried within Cecily Brown’s paintings. There’s a naughtiness that you have to really search for — but you can find it if you’re looking. The reason I love this painting is that I’ve looked at it three or four times, and every time I look at it, I get up close to it, I see new things. I see new images.”
“Stanley Whitney’s artwork reminds me of jazz in some way. Like with Andy Warhol, you could say the paintings are repetitious, but they’re not to me. There’s always something new to discover. There’s always a new way of putting ideas and colors together. This is an untitled acrylic-on-canvas that was painted in 1987, the year of Warhol’s death, which is also very moving to me.”
“Maureen Gallace’s works evoke memories of postcards and days gone by. There’s a lot in common with some of the artists who I really love and have collected, including Fairfield Porter and Giorgio Morandi. Her work is very aspirational. She’s presenting these homes and these landscapes as a place to dream about. It’s very similar to some of Andy’s works. He was very obsessed with items of luxury and places of glamor — places he would want to live in and objects he would want to own. People you would want to be friends with.”
“Alex Katz has been in the world of painting now for 70 years, which is an incredibly long career, and his work was ignored by art world intelligentsias for decades. He’s famous for saying that Andy Warhol ripped him off with the use of commercial imagery and figures on monochromatic backgrounds — which could be true; Andy always borrowed from the best. And this is a perfect Alex Katz portrait.”