1928 Pittsburgh - 1987 New York
Andy Warhol is the first truly American artist of world fame and without a doubt one of the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century. He is one of the main proponents of Pop Art and, even after his death in 1987, still the superstar of the New York art scene.
In the fifties, Andy completes a storybook career: the son of Czech immigrants, born on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, graduates from high school, studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology with a major in "Pictorial Design". Following his exams, he moves to New York in 1949.
"Lucky for Warhol, the field of commercial graphics was dominated by such an avant-garde spirit that a talented young graphic artist was welcome, no matter how he presented his personality," reports Jesse Kornbluth, co-publisher of the magazine Vanity Fair.
"Andy's talent," explains Glamour editor Tina S. Fredericks, "was so obvious - I knew right away that I wanted him to work for us."
Warhol becomes a highly sought after commercial artist. He illustrates glossy magazines, designs advertisements and window displays and is so successful that he cannot keep up with the production. He employs assistants - common practice today, but, in the early fifties, this was akin to a revolution.
"The greatest breakthrough for Warhol came in 1955, when he was illustrating shoe advertisements on a regular basis which I. Miller put in the New York Times. Through this campaign, Warhol's style became the epitome of everything that was considered stylish and extravagant in advertising." (Kornbluth)
For the art world, the turning point comes in 1962. The exhibition of 32 small-format pictures of "Campbell's Soup Cans" in the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles makes him world famous overnight.
"The pictures were not hung in the usual way on nails or hooks, but rather spread out on narrow shelves across the walls of the small gallery, as though they were imitating shelves of the cans themselves." (M. Francis)
The technique of the photo-silkscreen makes it possible to illustrate not only banal consumer objects, but also politicians, actors and "celebrities". A single motif can be reproduced in various colour combinations, techniques and sizes. It all depends on the image of the person.
The large canvases depicting Elvis Presley are divided into diptychs and triptychs. In the Ferus Gallery, they are hung on a rail and sold according to size - the commercial touch was by all means intentional. Warhol's vision of a commercially successful artist begins to take form.
In 1963, he moves into a studio, the "Factory". His own trademark is the silver wig, which underscores his own image. He stresses again and again that he wanted to be a machine. He strives for depersonalisation.
Warhol's Factory becomes a magnet for artists, groupies and personalities per se. In this environment, Warhol shoots his first films and supports music groups, including the Velvet Underground. Warhol, who, on the surface, appears to be the centre of attention at parties and in society, is, more than anything else, a mirror of this. His works depict Liz Taylor, Lisa Minelli and Jackie Kennedy.
"He represents the American and the European simultaneously in a fusion, and he is very, very curious and receptive to everything that goes on every day. He has this unbelievable energy, and he goes out and records it all and does it all and actually becomes all of it himself. A man for everything. Films and books and poetry and pictures and photography. It's all here, it's all inside of him, and he pours it out and he gives everything, and that's why he's such a great artist," says his mother, who plays a central role in Andy's life.
The Art Market
In the seventies, "the rise of Andy Warhol out of the subculture and into the highest regions of the market" begins, writes Christian Herchenröder in the Handelsblatt.
In October 1973, an over 2 x 4 meter large (circa 6 1/2 x 13 feet) flower painting is sold for $ 135,000 at Sotheby's in New York. In Mai 1989, $ 1.54 million is paid for the same painting.
The three most expensive works by Warhol all come from the early sixties and depict the actress Marilyn Monroe, who Warhol used as a motif for numerous pictures following her death on August 5, 1962.
In November 1992, the over five meter (circa 16 1/2 feet) wide, over-painted silkscreen "Marilyn X 100" (1962) is sold for $ 3.74 million at Sotheby's in New York. Two years later, the circa 1 x 1 meter (circa 40 x 40 inches) canvas with the title "Shot Red Marilyn" from the collection of Max Palevsky (1964) is sold at Christie's for nearly the same amount, namely $ 3.63 million.
The highest price ever paid for a work by Warhol, however, was achieved by the "Orange Marilyn" (1964) from the collection of the German entrepreneur Karl Ströher, which was sold by Sotheby's in New York in May 1998 for a sensational $ 15.75 million.
Warhol himself, who always strove to be a business-artist, would have been very happy!
Selected Solo Exhibitions:
1989 Andy Warhol - Retrospective. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Catalogue.
1996 Andy Warhol - Sammlung José Mugrabi. Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen am Rhein. Catalogue.
2001 Andy Warhol - Retrospektive. Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.