Warhol, wild backstories, and today’s art market

Andy Warhol once gave a silkscreen portrait of Marilyn Monroe to a skeptical friend. Keeping it safe in a closet, Warhol said, “One day it’s going to be worth a million dollars.” Perhaps he underestimated himself, considering the price recently reached for another of Warhol’s silkscreen prints of Marilyn . “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” is now the most expensive artwork of the 20th century, has reached $195 million at an auction in New York.

The backstory of “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” is as compelling as its price. In 1964, artist and provocateur Dorothy Podberg came to Warhol’s studio factory, pulled out a gun, and shot several portraits. Four years later, Warhol himself was shot and nearly killed in The Factory, which only adds to the mystery of the bullet wound photo.

The portrait deserves the clichéd “iconic,” but there’s a more obscure portrait that claims to be Warhol’s most interesting and authoritative work.I can offer “Che” for your consideration, it is Based on newspaper photos of Che Guevara’s body in 1967In most respects, this is a classic Warhol portrait, made using his instantly recognizable silkscreen method and exploring his usual themes of fame, death and mass production. What makes “car” so interesting? Warhol was unaware of the painting’s existence for some time after its creation.

Warhol liked to play with the idea of ​​originality and authorship. His image of Marilyn Monroe is based on a promotional photo taken by Eugene Kornman, converted into acetate and screen by technicians. Warhol’s assistant, Gerard Malanga, the screen is usually placed and Liquitex paint is applied. Some of Warhol’s works are even “signed” with his signed rubber stamp. In principle, the entire process, from photographs to signatures, could have taken place without Warhol touching the work. Obviously, this is part of Warhol’s point of view.

“Why don’t you ask my assistant Gerry Malanga some questions?” he would tease reporters in interviews. “He painted a lot of my pictures.”

A young man in love pushes this point of authorship to its logical conclusion. In the summer of 1967, Malanga left Warhol’s New York studio with a one-way ticket to Rome. (Alice Sherwood’s new book happily tells the story authenticity.) Malanga had a crush on an Italian muse, but if Malanga needed a ticket home, Warhol had offered to send the money. However, when Malanga asked for the promised funds, Warhol did not reply. Malanga then decided he might as well make a Warhol-style screenprint of the Che photo—one on a large canvas, and some smaller prints on paper.

Malanga writes again to Warhol Notice that unless he hears something else, he thinks Andy is fine with it. In a follow-up, he pointed out that Warhol would certainly not object to the pictures being sold under the name “Andy Warhol.” Warhol didn’t answer, and soon after Che’s portrait was displayed in a commercial gallery in Rome, doubts began to arise, and Malanga was threatened with long prison terms for forgery.

Malanga’s next communication was via telegram. He implored Warhol to intervene: “I will be in a municipal prison in Italy without bail. . . Please help me! Please help me!”

Finally, Warhol responded. “Che Guevaras is original,” he wrote. “However, Malanga is not authorized for sale, please contact me by letter to make adjustments, Andy Warhol.”

Alice Sherwood claimed it was “a momentous moment in the history of art and authenticity”. I agree. Malanga’s paintings are made in the same way as many of Warhol’s most famous works, and by the same person: Gerard Malanga. The circumstances in which they were produced indicated that they were not real Warhol paintings, but Warhol claimed they were—with a telegram, not only turning the fakes into the real thing, but taking ownership of them.

Is Sherwood describing an act of forgery here? Fake advertisment? Warhol brand stolen by Malanga? Warhol stole pictures of Malanga? Concept art at the highest level? I’ll leave that to the philosophers – as the cut canvases are later destroyed, the art market won’t be able to express an opinion.

From an economist’s point of view, it seems odd that Warhol’s work is so precious because he produced so much. But he seems to have foreseen an approach well suited to 21st-century products, such as cheap or free-to-copy digital goods: using ubiquitous replicas to build demand for premium versions.

Limited-edition running shoes, signed first edition Harry Potter, and of course the work of digital artist Beeple Every Day: The First 5000 Daysfree for anyone with an internet connection $69.3 million For an identical image, accompanied by a cryptographic token that declares uniqueness. Beeple, like Malanga, seems to have surpassed Warhol. But since Warhol himself once said that “good business is the best art,” he would certainly agree.

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