On Monday, the New York auction house Christie’s sold one of the famous works from the series of serigraphs to an unknown buyer Shot Marilyn of the artist Andy Warhol to 195 million dollars (about 185 million euros). It is the highest price ever achieved by an American work of art at an auction, much higher than that of the work that held this record before: an untitled painting by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that represented a kind of skull, which was sold for $ 110 million in 2017. It is also a record for 20th-century works of art: before Monday the highest paid was, in 2015, Les Femmes d’Alger (version O) by Pablo Picasso, with 179.4 million dollars. The most expensive painting ever is the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, sold by Christie’s in 2017 for 450 million dollars.
The auction for Warhol’s work lasted less than four minutes and the buyer who won it wanted to remain anonymous. The painting belonged to the inheritance of two Swiss art dealers: the brothers Doris and Thomas Ammann. In 1977 the two had opened an art gallery in Zurich specializing in post-war and contemporary works: their brother had died in 1993 and last year their sister had also died. Together with Shot Marilyn by Warhol, another 35 works were auctioned on Monday, for a total of $ 318 million and two unsold. All proceeds will go to the Thomas and Doris Ammann foundation, which deals with children’s projects.
After the death of Marilyn Monroe, in 1962, Warhol dedicated many serigraphs to the portrait of the actress based on the film Niagarafrom 1953. The series Shot Marilyn it is probably his most famous work and consists of four canvases of about one meter by one meter with backgrounds of different colors that reflect the makeup of the eyes and mouth of the actress. The name, Shot Marilyn (“Marilyn firata”), is due to the fact that one day the artist Dorothy Podber fired a revolver at a pile of canvases she saw in Warhol’s studio. According to the reconstruction of the episode, between her and Warhol there was a misunderstanding due to the meaning of the English verb “shoot”, which means both “shoot” and “photograph”, so Podber thought he had been authorized to shoot to her works. The work that was sold by Christie’s is the one with the sage green background (the others have the red, orange and blue background) and even though it was part of the series it was not pierced by the bullet.
Christie’s auction season has just begun: as some commentators have pointed out, over the past two years the pandemic has led to the richest people spending less and now these accumulated riches are expected to be invested in art and collectibles even more than before. .
Alex Rotter, head of Christie’s twentieth and twenty-first century works, called Andy Warhol’s Marilyns “the absolute pinnacle of American pop and the promise of the American dream, which encompasses optimism, fragility, celebrity and iconography all in one.” He added that it is one of the greatest works of all time, on a par with the Venus by Botticelli, of the Monnalisa by Leonardo and Demoiselle d’Avignon by Picasso.
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