Warhol’s America at the Whitney

By Sarah Balcombe

“Everybody has their own America, and then they have the pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see…And you live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one.” — Andy Warhol, America, 1985

mustard race riot

Flowers, soup cans and Brillo boxes are most commonly associated with Warhol and it is these ironic silkscreens, paintings and sculptures for which he is best known. Yet it is Warhol’s narrative of modern culture which is truly engaging and paradoxical. A product of the establishment and anti-establishment, Warhol strove to portray celebrity icons, and also those less celebrated.

With his effectual re-posting of Charles Moore’s photograph of Birmingham Alabama’s riots in Mustard Race Riot, 1963 above, his Ladies and Gentlemen series, 1975, below,


featuring trans-rights activists and his Jean-Michel Basquiat collaborations, see Paramount, 1984-5, below, Warhol acknowledged the less acknowledged, and fringe communities whilst continuing a preoccupation with capitalism and Hollywood.



Although Warhol continued to use repetition as an aesthetic device and a commentary on monetary value, he introduced a further element of abstraction, as shown in his Sixty-Three White Mona Lisa’s, 1979, above, a sophisticated adaption of his earlier Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963, below, utilizing pattern and paint to obscure content.


In Camouflage Last Supper 1986, below, 


Warhol similarly obscures another Leonardo da Vinci iconic painting, with the stronger fatigue pattern almost completely overwhelming the content. This obscurification can be seen as a more poignant expression of loss during the height of the AIDS crisis and shows a continuation of his fascination  with pattern, abstraction and material as demonstrated in his experimental Shadow (Diamond Dust) and Oxidation Paintings in the late 1970s. 


Shadow (Diamond Dust), 1979-9, above.

Oxidation Painting, 1978, Gold, metallic, pigment and urine on linen, below.


Visit Andy Warhol- From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney, before its closing on Sunday, to see another side of the artist. His work is so compelling and progressive that it bizarrely renders subsequent works by artists such as YBA’s Damien Hirst obsolete. The post-Warhol detached series of dots, butterflies, formaldehyde sharks and diamond encrusted skulls of the 1990s are a poor substitute to Warhol’s profound, yet obscured, expression of self, both in society and out of it.


Value in art or salesmanship?

By Sarah Balcombe

Never before has the art world succeeded in igniting the imagination of so many in such a short time.  In Star Wars terms Christie’s has entered another galaxy,  gone where no auction house, living or dead has ever gone before and it has certainly pushed the art world into a new frontier. Records have been shattered, reputations have been made, and dismayed, and the art world will never be the same again.


In case you haven’t heard, Christie’s Rockefeller Center has cause for celebration. Triggering cover stories such as “Dough Vinci!” (NY Post)  their sale of this reputed 500 year old artwork, entitled Salvator Mundi (below) achieved a staggering $450.3 Million (including fees).


Its sale surpassed the highest price paid for an artwork by over $150m, smashing the  $300m reportedly achieved in 2015 by the private sale of Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange” (below).


Whether the restored Salvator  Mundi, will trigger prices of other old masters remains to be seen. It has certainly commanded a list of firsts. It has achieved the highest price ever of any artwork, surpassing any previous record by 150% and earning Christie’s allegedly $50million, according to their 12.5% recently revised fee structure (Artnet).

It is also the first time Christie’s has enlisted an outside agency to advertise their work, reportedly the first time that a $100m bid had been secured  by an unidentified third party, prior to auction and the first time Christie’s have used  an exclusive “specially- designated paddle” . The newly devised red paddles used to make bids was also a clever marketing tool, standing out amongst the furore of raised mobile phones, all clamouring to capture the escalating illuminated price figure at the auction house.

Whether the secret buyer should be applauded or berated, he/she has the  somewhat dubious accolade of having bought the most expensive painting ever. Nevertheless it is Christie’s who must be considered the Old Master of this stroke. Meticulously marketed, with a campaign “unprecedented in the art world” and boasting a celebratory audience at the auction itself, Christie’s investment paid off. According to Todd Levin, a New York art advisor, “There was a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoisseurship and reality”.

London’s Evening Standard states that there is speculation that the recently opened new Louvre in Abu Dhabi could well be the purchaser. There would be a certain easy symmetry to this equation if that turns out to be the case. The new Louvre is already excited about its current star attraction, Da Vinci’s lesser known, La Belle Ferronnière,


on loan from its counterpart in Paris. The director of the museum, Manuel Rabaté has openly stated that his mission is to open a dialogue between the East and the West. This could be significantly addressed by such an acquistion.

Regardless of who the new owner is, speculation is rife as to the real value of the painting, with its quality and authenticity still in question. Critics claim that a contemporary sale was used by Christie’s as a device to circumvent the scrutiny of old masters experts. Charles Hope, a professor emeritus at the Warburg Institute at the University of London states “Even making allowances for its extremely poor state of preservation, it is a curiously unimpressive composition and it is hard to believe that Leonardo himself was responsible for anything so dull”.

Jacques Franck, a Leonardo expert claims  “The composition doesn’t come from Leonardo. He preferred twisted movement. It’s a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it’s very damaged. It’s been called the male Mona Lisa, but it doesn’t look like it at all. “(NYTimes)

On Tuesday gallerist Richard Feigen stated “There’s so little of Leonardo there. From a commercial standpoint, I don’t think it has any value. I wouldn’t buy it at any price,” adding when pressed: “Well, $10 I could do.”

Whether this was a serious gaffe, reminiscent of the BBC weatherman Michael Fish, in October 1987,  denying the possibility of a hurricane, hours before it caused death and devastation across England and France, or whether Feigen will ultimately prove to be correct, remains to be seen. What is probable however, is that as Fish’s gaffe remains prevalent in the UK’s consciousness, 30 year later, so too will this sale, albeit on a more global scale, regardless of its authenticity.