The bullet hole that turned Andy Warhol’s Monroe into a £150m masterpiece, writes TOM LEONARD
One day in 1964, a performance artist named Dorothy Podber walked into Andy Warhol’s New York studio and demonstrated why she deserved her reputation as a “wild child.”
Dressed in black motorcycle leathers and accompanied by her Great Dane, Carmen Miranda, Podber spotted a stack of four large, striking Marilyn Monroe artworks leaning against a wall and asked if she could photograph them.
Warhol, assuming she intended to photograph the footage, agreed.
Podber took off his gloves, took out a small pistol from his purse and aimed briefly at the artist before turning the pistol towards the serigraphs and opening fire, making a hole in Marilyn’s forehead, just between her eyes.
“She put her gun back, put on her gloves and left,” recalls a Warhol sidekick known professionally as Ultra Violet (Isabelle Dufresne) who was present that day.
‘This elegant event was considered an “artistic event”.’
Now, nearly 60 years later, the portraits known as “Shot Marilyns” can once again offer an explosive “happening” as one, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, goes under the hammer of Christie’s.
‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ is a 1964 Andy Warhol serigraph of Marilyn Monroe, to be auctioned in May
The auction house has announced that the 40-inch square screen-printed image of the actress, created by printing ink onto a screen over stencils, will have an estimate of $200 million ($151 million). pounds sterling) when it went on sale in New York in May.
If it achieves this price, it will be a record price for any 20th century work of art sold at auction.
The image is instantly recognizable – a pop art rendition of a still of Monroe from the 1953 film Niagara. Warhol made the artwork in five color variations.
The set in question renders the star in a striking bright blue eyeshadow, with acid yellow hair, red lips and hot pink skin against a bright blue-green background.
And far from ruining its value, this bullet hole – which has gone through all the serigraphs except one (which was not in the pile) and is still faintly visible, despite Warhol’s best efforts to cover it with light, style make-up paint – added several million to the price.
High-end auction houses are hyperbole, and Christie’s has described the Shot Sage Blue Marilyn as one of “the rarest and most transcendent images in existence”, on par with Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.
The auctioneers are also clearly confident it will smash Warhol’s current auction record of £65.5million set nine years ago for his Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) as well as the current auction record of a 20th century work of art, owned by Les Femmes d’Alger ‘Version O’, sold in 2015 for £102 million.
Andy Warhol stands in front of his double portrait of Hollywood film star Marilyn Monroe at the Tate Gallery
Surprisingly, even though Warhol was famous for mass-producing his art with commercial printing techniques, experts say Christie’s will have no trouble meeting or exceeding the estimate.
“The Shot Marilyns are the gold standard of Warhol’s work – the blue eyeshadow, the golden hair, the parted lips. They’re so iconic,” says Warhol scholar Professor Jean Wainwright.
“It’s a really special piece because it was damaged in a very Warholian incident.” Warhol – who was himself seriously shot and injured by radical feminist writer Valerie Solana just four years after Podber pierced his Marilyns – created around 8,000 paintings and sculptures between 1952 and his death in 1987.
He was obsessed with cultural icons and also painted Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and the Queen, although he was often heard to say that all of his subjects were the same in his eyes.
But buyers clearly disagree, as his Marilyns have always been his most expensive works – and although it has never been officially substantiated, hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin is said to have privately paid the tycoon’s estate from Conde Nast SI Newhouse publishing over £150m for the orange version of the ‘Shot Marilyn’ series in 2017.
And for these eye-popping prices, the art market not only has Dorothy Podber to thank, but also Warhol’s practice of producing his images in a production line so cynically detached from him that they were sometimes printed and even signed by his staff. .
The ‘Shot Marilyns’ therefore have a guaranteed authenticity rare in Warhol’s production. Just two years after her death, Shot Red Marilyn sold at Christie’s for a record £3 million.
American artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) photographed in 1981 seated in a red velvet armchair
Peter Brant, a businessman friend of Warhol, was just 20 when he snagged the blue version for under £4,000 in 1967.
If that sounds cheap, Brant, who still owns the artwork, pointed out that at the time, it was more than the cost of a luxury Cadillac car.
Obsessed as he was with fame and fame, Warhol found a natural subject in Monroe, although he did not begin painting her until after her suicide in 1962.
He started with a series of small images of Marilyn in different color palettes, which he dubbed “flavors” such as “mint” and “lemon”. The ‘Shot Marilyns’ had to be much bigger.
Warhol was reportedly horrified by Dorothy Podber’s gunshot, told his underlings she was “too scary” and demanded they never let her in again.
If he had known what she would do for their worth, he might have been more grateful, given her healthy respect for money.
He once said that “being good at business is the most fascinating kind of art”.
However, he came to resent having had to share the Shot Marilyns fame with Podber, who was even more of an exhibitionist than he was.
Born in Bronx, New York, after surviving her mother’s attempt to abort her by throwing herself down the subway stairs, Podber had been a troublemaker since her school days, when she organized walkouts crowds of students.
A self-proclaimed witch, she was once imprisoned for running an illegal abortion business out of her apartment, before – with the emergence of a vanguard scene in the late 1950s – she realized she could keep wreaking havoc, but now call it art.
She’s staged existential “events” with fellow performance artist Ray Johnson, like inviting herself into people’s homes and then re-enacting the shower scene from Hitchcock’s horror film Psycho.
Another prank involved showing potential tenants around a supposedly empty apartment in Manhattan and then busting out closets to them.
She had three husbands and many lovers, including a banker who she would only have sex with while lying on the banknote-strewn floor of her safe.
However, she often lacked funds and resorted to such unorthodox methods to bring them together as running a cleaning service for doctors’ offices, which was mainly a way to steal the keys to their doctors’ offices, which she would then sell. the contents. .
‘I’ve been bad all my life. Playing dirty tricks on people is my specialty,” she said shortly before her death at the age of 75 in 2008.
Certainly, the art world will follow with keen interest what happens to Shot Sage Blue Marilyn.
After all, Warhol’s art is auctioned so regularly – on average around 200 works a year – that it is considered a proxy for the entire art market. But not all pieces sold are so special.
As the sums that change hands get more and more mind-boggling, usually making the very wealthy even wealthier, the sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn at least offers some consolation, as it won’t line another’s pockets. billionaire.
The painting belongs to a foundation created by Zurich art dealer Doris Ammann and her brother Thomas, a dealer who helped catalog Warhol’s work after his death.
Both are now deceased and all proceeds from the sale are donated to international health and education programs for children.
As for where the work will hang, who knows where it might end up – but perhaps the bank vault where Dorothy Podber liked to spend her evenings would be the safest place.
Why, for once, it’s really worth the crazy price
By Richard Polsky for the Daily Mail
When a painting sells for a colossal sum, it is difficult to separate the headlines from its value as a work of art.
Granted, £151m – the sum Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is set to fetch – is mouth-watering, but a surprising number of people can afford it.
Are they just buying into the hype and marketing, though? In this case, no. It really is a big painting.
All Shot Marilyns are beautiful but Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is the most beautiful of them all. Although fairly modest in size, it has “wall power” – it radiates energy and draws you in like a magnet.
Part of this power lies in the colors used by Warhol. His genius for juxtaposing vivid colors is what makes the painting so striking.
With Roy Lichtenstein, he founded the Pop-Art movement, which used bright colors rather than realistic ones; hence Marilyn’s candy pink skin.
There is also emotion. Blue can be considered sad or wonderful – like a summer sky. Marilyn’s death in 1962, at the age of 36, was a tragedy but here he dwells on the marvellous.
Her yellow hair looks almost caked on, and the blue eyeshadow, red lips, and that pink skin give the painting an artificial quality, perhaps reflecting that Marilyn embodied the illusion of the movies.
Hollywood had taken young brunette Norma Jeane Mortenson and turned her into Marilyn Monroe, an exaggerated, artificial version of herself with platinum hair.
The painting emphasizes both its beauty and artifice. It is therefore powerful in itself and emblematic because of the mystique of Marilyn.
Warhol’s process was also unique. He printed the image on a silk screen, before pressing the paint onto stencils through the silk and onto the paint.
All great art persuades you to see the world differently, and this work does just that.
Shot Marilyns have stood the test of time. Whoever buys this one will get a piece of history and timeless beauty.
Like Marilyn, she has become an icon in her own right.