Christie's, New York, 28 April 1998, Lot 584
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
- Bob Colacello (Bob Colacello, ‘When Andy Met Liz’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Warhol Liz, 2011, p. 9)
Shortly after Marilyn Monroe’s shocking death in 1962, Andy Warhol purchased a publicity still of the actress from the 1953 film, Niagara. The artist cropped the image before converting the otherwise unmediated photograph into a silkscreen. Over the following four months, Warhol created more than twenty silkscreened canvases incorporating the found image; a period of fervent activity that transformed a formerly banal stock photograph into one of the most recognisable and enduring motifs of twentieth-century art.
Five years later, together with the art dealer David Whitney under the name Factory Additions, Warhol began publishing editioned prints of his most important subjects, including Marilyn, Campbell’s Soup and Flowers. The artist's impetus here extended beyond the commercial—as Donna de Salvo explains, the concept of printing carried with it other ramifications: “Printing, or being ‘in print,’ represented a change in condition, a shift from a private, or inner world, to one that was external and public. It suggested desirability, that something was wanted by more than one person” (Donna de Salvo, ‘God is in the Details: The Prints of Andy Warhol’, in: Freyda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1967, New York 2003, p. 19).
Published in 1967, Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) was the first of the Factory Additions projects, and it has since remained among the most celebrated of all of Warhol’s graphic productions. Exploiting the repetitive yet malleable capacities of screenprinting, the portfolio comprises ten prints realised in various colour combinations, from strikingly muted blacks, silvers and greys, to brilliant—at times lurid—pinks, greens and yellows. While throughout the portfolio the composition of the image differs only in its registration, the divergent hues give some sheets the appearance of glittering icons and others the sombre weight of vanitas pictures.
These contrasts in palette are bold and ostentatious. Conversely, the effects of registration are not so immediately evident. Only upon comparing the images more carefully one notices that the subject’s features are at times coherent and properly aligned; while in other instances they are fragmented and askew. Such discrepancies draw attention to the constructed nature of Monroe’s image, and to the fact that, through only slight alterations or apparent missteps, it can be quickly dismantled.
Warhol thus reveals his “capacity for discovering difference within the same”, a trait de Salvo describes as being “the hallmark of [his] work” (Ibid., p. 22). From here stems much of the subtle and perhaps surprising power of these prints, which appear at once to be celebratory and dark; digestible and impenetrable; vapid yet fraught. This effect can only be properly appreciated when the images are considered in the serial format that Warhol intended. Nevertheless, following their publication, Marilyn sets were frequently broken up. As a result, complete and uniformly numbered examples, such as the present work, are becoming increasingly scarce.
Of course, the deceivingly complex nature of these images also comes largely from the conflicting connotations surrounding their subject. In the aftermath of her untimely demise, Marilyn Monroe –the adored and seemingly blessed Hollywood star and sex symbol – became immediately and lastingly associated with loneliness and tragedy. It is therefore unsurprising that Warhol first selected Monroe to be his subject in 1962, because, as Irving Blum explains, Warhol’s “sensitivity to exactly the right amount of charged imagery was singular” (Irving Blum, ‘A Portrait is Seldom Truthful’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, C&M Arts, Women of Warhol: Marilyn, Liz & Jackie, 2000, n.p.).
In this instance Warhol’s masterful manipulation of his charged subject matter has given Monroe’s image an exceptionally wide and seemingly timeless appeal. In fact, despite her (already unprecedented) iconic stature, established long before the artist acquired the Niagara publicity still, it can now be difficult to extract one’s perception of Monroe, the woman and actress, from Warhol’s portrayal of Monroe. Or, as Isabella Geist puts it: “The irony of Andy Warhol's ‘Marilyn’ is that it is an icon of an icon created by an icon” (Isabella Geist, ‘Warhol’s “Marilyn”’, in: Forbes Magazine, 24 April, 2002, online).
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