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Andy Warhol: Immortalising Marilyn

 

With an acting career spanning 16 years, before her death in 1962, Marilyn Monroe became an icon of American pop culture. Andy Warhol, who was fascinated by her fame, immortalised her with a series of silkscreens. Christie’s has announced that it will sell Warhol’s 1964 Shot Sage Blue Marilyn in May 2022. We explore the genesis of the pop art prince’s Marilyn series, and the iconic silkscreen which is estimated to fetch $200 million, making it the most expensive twentieth-century artwork ever to sell at auction.

From a young age Warhol is believed to have been enamoured by the glitz and glam of fame, fortune and Hollywood, a paradoxical world to his of a working class boy growing up in Pittsburgh. In the early 1960s, before focusing intensely on the iconography of Marilyn Monroe, he produced a series of portraits depicting dazzling VIPs such as Elvis Presley, Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor. Using photographic silkscreen printing meant he was able to reproduce publicity images that were already recognisable such as tabloid photographs. 

Warhol first portrayed the Marilyn in 1962 in his Gold Monroe, 1962 silkscreen painting. Her face sits in a high gloss sea of gold paint, based on a still taken from the 1953 film Niagara.

That same year, he produced Marilyn Diptych, 1962 a screen print in which he repeats Monroe’s face one hundred times. The rows of heads are thought reference the mass production of postage stamps, billboards or even film strips.

Warhol’s magnetism to Monroe’s image continued into 1967 when he created a portfolio of ten screen prints based on the same portrait. By repeating Marilyn’s faces as a visual motif much like his Campbell's Soup Cans, he played with the idea of creating an icon out of an icon.

With screen printing Warhol had the freedom to anatomise a single image, experimenting with various ways it could be manipulated and distorted. Each print within his Marilyn portfolio uses different colour ways making them unique from one another. All but one is vibrantly coloured.

Through the repetition of Monroe’s image Warhol plays on the themes of personas and how, in society, such personas can be mass consumed like products. By channelling mass production through his artistic practice, Warhol proclaimed that art was behaving ‘like a machine’. In his view, ‘everybody should be a machine’, because machines cannot discriminate and, so, if the population behaved more like machines, ‘everybody should like everybody.’  

Thought to have been commenting on ‘brand identity’, Warhol’s collection of Marilyn silkscreens disseminate a message of commodity and the distorted lines between celebrities and their true self. Deconstructing the image of Monroe may be interpreted as slowly revealing her pure identity, the person off-camera or away from the media’s spotlight.

In May 2022, Christie’s will lead its marquee New York sales week with an auction of an Andy Warhol’s 1964 Shot Sage Blue Marilyn silkscreen carrying an estimate in the region of $200 million. If the silkscreen sells for that amount, it will be the most expensive twentieth-century painting to ever sell at auction.

The Shot Marilyns got their name when performance artist and friend-of-a-friend Dorothy Podber visited Warhol at his New York studio, which he called the Factory. Noticing a stack of freshly-painted works, Podber asked Warhol if she could shoot them. Warhol, assuming that she was asking for permission to photograph them, said yes, before Podber drew out a revolver and shot a bullet through the foreheads of the Marilyns.

Explaining the significance of the sale, Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman for twentieth and twenty-first-century art said, ‘Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ is the absolute pinnacle of American Pop and the promise of the American dream, encapsulating optimism, fragility, celebrity and iconography all at once.’

Christie’s will be auctioning the work in a philanthropic sale to benefit the new Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation Zürich, which is dedicated to improving the lives of children the world over by establishing support systems centered on providing healthcare and educational programs.

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We’re honoured to produce a wide collection of Andy Warhol prints, produced in collaboration with our long-standing partner The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, including Warhol’s iconic Marilyns, his self-portraits, photography, illustrations, typography quotes, fashion, and more.

©/®/™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

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