Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ sells for $195 million

By Robin Pogrebin

New York Times

NEW YORK — Maybe the image isn’t racy, like that of Marilyn Monroe in her ruffled dress in ‘The Seven Year Itch,’ but Monday night it became the most expensive.

In less than four minutes of bidding, Andy Warhol’s 1964 serigraph of the actress’s face, “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”, sold for around $195 million to an unknown buyer at Christie’s, this making it the highest price obtained for an American work of art at auction. .

“We have sold the most expensive painting of the 20th century,” said Christie’s specialist Alex Rotter. “It’s a great achievement.”

The 40-inch square painting, a trophy given its vibrant colors and glamorous subject matter, eclipsed the previous high price of $110.5 million for a skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Sotheby’s in 2017 as well as Warhol’s auction for a car crash painting. sold for $105.4 million in 2013.

Monday’s sale kicked off a spring auction season in a city that only began to return to normal after two years of the coronavirus pandemic. Christie’s auction room at Rockefeller Center was filled with familiar faces of dealers and art advisers who clearly appreciated the opportunity to once again bid on top-notch artwork in person.

“There’s a lot of appetite, there’s a lot of money and there’s a lot of quality,” said Austrian gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac, who was present at the sale. “With all these things, it should work.”

Philip Hoffman, founder of the Fine Art Group, a New York consultancy, said the next two weeks of auctions could fetch up to $2 billion. “There’s been a huge amount of holdback for two years, and there’s a huge amount of pent-up demand from new customers,” he said. “Everyone was waiting for the right moment, and the right moment came.”

Christie’s auction was unusual in that none of the works came with a guarantee – a minimum price at which a third party or the auction house agreed to purchase the work. Indeed, the works were consigned by the estate of Swiss dealers (and siblings) Thomas and Doris Ammann, with all proceeds going to their foundation, which supports healthcare and education programs for children. The estate wanted to maximize the proceeds of charity.

Before the sale, Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti reveled in the lack of guarantees, given the risky quality of flying without a net. “Like the good old days,” he says. “A real sport”

The buyer of the “Marilyn” will have a say in choosing the charity to which 20% of the proceeds of this painting will be allocated. The purchase is not considered a charitable donation, so it does not come with a tax deduction,

In 1977, the Ammanns founded a gallery in Zurich specializing in Impressionist, modern, post-war and contemporary artists. After Thomas Ammann’s death in 1993, his sister continued to run the gallery. She died last year.

“The top of the market is still strong and there’s a lot of demand for quality,” said art dealer Bill Acquavella. “Look at what real estate is selling for. There are other assets that are bringing in prices you’ve never seen before.

The 36 works in the sale, which fetched a total of $318 million (two lots failed to sell), confirmed the truism that top-quality works command high prices, regardless of price. tumultuous state of the world – be it a foreign war, a pandemic or a terrorist attack.

The auction, in Christie’s newly designed saleroom with specialists positioned at the sides and journalists on stools at the back, was strong from the start. The energy crackled in the room as veteran auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen switched between bidders on the phone and in the seats. “I have 15 bidders for this one!” he said Ann Craven’s canvas of three birds, “I Wasn’t Sorry, 2003”, eventually sold for $680,400 off a high estimate of $40,000.

The first batch, a work by American conceptual artist Mike Bidlo, “Not Picasso (Bather with Beachball)”, estimated between $60,000 and $80,000, went for $1.3 million with fees.

Collector Peter Brant, seated in the third row, bought the third lot, “Fourteen Stations, No. XI” by Francesco Clemente, for $1.9 million, on an estimate of $80,000-120,000. Then dealer Larry Gagosian bought Cy Twombly’s blue, green, and purple painting on a wood panel for about $17 million, above the high estimate of $15 million.

By comparison, Marilyn’s serigraph – which Rotter recently called “the most important 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation” – felt like something of an anticlimax. Yes, it set a record, but pre-auction speculation pushed the chart up to $400 million. Instead, the auctioneer appeared to twist the bids, with the painting ultimately going to Gagosian; it was not known in whose name he was bidding.

“Expectations were very, very, very high,” said artistic advisor Abigail Asher. “It was an incredibly healthy price, but at the same time I think the buyer struck a deal. It’s one of the icons of 20th century art.

Some wondered if Monday’s lackluster stock market performance dampened the “Marilyn” bid. The Warhol painting, one of five in a series, is based on a promotional photo from the actress’ film ‘Niagara’, part of a series of ‘Shot Marilyn’ portraits. In 1964, a woman walked into Warhol’s Factory with a gun and shot a stack of four Marilyn paintings. (The canvas auctioned at Christie’s was not pierced by the bullet.)

The Ammanns purchased the work from media mogul SI Newhouse Jr. in 1998; that year, Newhouse bought Warhol’s “Orange Marilyn” (1964) at Sotheby’s for $17.3 million. After Newhouse’s death in 2017, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin bought the work privately for around $200 million.

The big question hanging over this auction season is whether – with a glut of prime art for sale and a limited pool of super-wealthy buyers – today’s market can absorb so much expensive material.

“Art market players expected the Warhol to give a further boost to the already strong contemporary art market,” said art market lawyer Thomas Danziger. “The big question is whether bidders will pull the trigger on more high-priced work this week and next.”

©2022 New York Times Co.

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