Icon of the last century, Mona Lisa of the twentieth century, a summary of the American dream. Shot Sage Blue Marilyn di Andy Warhol it’s more than just “acrylic and screen printing inks on linen”. It is a universally recognized image, imprinted in the collective consciousness and now it is the most expensive work ever auctioned, among those created in the twentieth century.
Sold for $195 million
On May 9, the magnetic portrait of the American diva, created by the pop art poet in 1964, was awarded to: $195 million in auction dedicated to the collection of Thomas and Doris Amman† A historic charm for an iconic piece. Alex Rotter, president of Christie’s 20th and 21st century art department, had presented it as “The most important 20th century painting to come up for auction in a generation”. Emphasizes how the painting «transcends the genre of portraiture and replaces the art and culture of the twentieth century. Besides Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselle d’Avignon, it is one of the greatest paintings of all time ».
The paintings “climbed” by Marilyn
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is therefore the most expensive work of the twentieth century that has been auctioned. Second overall, dominated by Leonardo’s unrivaled Salvator Mundi worth 450 million. Marilyn surpassed Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (version O) to 179.4 million, the two milky reclining nudes by Modigliani Nu couché (170.4 million) and Nu couché (sur lecôté gauche) (157.2 million) and Three Studies of Lucian Freud (158.2 million) by Francis Bacon. Of course, Warhol’s own auction record was also undermined: Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) from 1963, sold at Sotheby’s New York for $105 million in 2013.
The buyer is the gallery owner Larry Gagosian
Based on the promotional image of the actress in the film Niagara, the work embodies a layered symbolism that departs from the status of Marilyn’s icon and achieves the broken promises of the American dream. It was 1962 when Warhol began his series of portraits dedicated to Monroe. There are four similar to Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. All squares – 1 meter by 1 meter – but each with a different color. The record-breaking version was painted in 1964 and has had exhibitions at the Guggenheim in New York, the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London. The mega gallery owner Larry Gagosian bought it, present in the room with the special palette dedicated to Marilyn† It is said to resell it to a wealthy American client of his because of the symbolic power of the statue in question. Even if the paths of the market are unpredictable.
For the record, in 1962 there were smaller versions (50×40 cm) that the artist presented to the famous gallery owner Leo Castelli. Though intrigued by the offerings, Castelli chose not to exhibit them because Warhol’s work was too similar to another artist in his gallery: Roy Lichtenstein. With great disappointment the King of Pop che wanted to work with Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella, all followed by Castelli – chose to exhibit the works at New York’s Stable Gallery. Each canvas costs $250. They all went on sale. At his second exhibition in the Stalgalerie, in which he presented the Brillo Boxes for the first time, Leo Castelli retraced his steps and started his collaboration with the artist. The image of Marilyn went viral. An unprecedented pop phenomenon. In 1967, a set of prints featuring the diva went on sale for $500. Now those who find it are lucky, if they find it, for a few million euros. The symbolic charge that the icon has achieved is unimportant.
The group of five Marylins
As for the group of five Marilyns that Shot Sage Blue Marilyn comes from, their story is very curious. In 1964, performance artist Dorothy Podber entered the Warhol Factory. She saw four of the five portraits hanging on the walls and was fascinated by them. He then asked Warhol if he could take them back (shoot, in English). He agreed. She took a pistol from her bag and fired a shot (always firing) between the eyes of the portrayed Marilyns. An artistic act, according to him, started with the word play† The only absent, and thus saved, was Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. While restoring it wasn’t easy for Warhol, renaming it was child’s play. They just became the Shot Marilyns. And their market value was a ride from then on.
In 1967, Peter Brant bought Blue Shot Marilyn for $5,000. In 1989, Los Angeles collector and computer mogul Max Palevsky bought Shot Red Marilyn at auction for $4 million. To be fair, five years later he sold it on and lost us for 3.6 million. In return Orange Marilyn went to 17 million in 1998 owned by SI Newhouse, of the CondéNast Empire. Even in that case, it was Larry Gagosian who made the offer in the room. In 2007, Turquoise Marilyn was sold for $80 million. Then in 2018, in a private sale, Orange Marilyn was bought by American entrepreneur Kenneth Griffin for between 200 and 250 million. It is likely that Christie’s relied on this sale for the estimate. Our Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was eventually bought by New York collector Leon Kraushar. Later it passed to the contemporary art dealer Fred Mueller, who bought it in the early 1970s, and again at SI Newhouse. Thomas Ammann – whose Foundation auctioned the work on May 9 – eventually bought the portrait in the early 1980s. Whatever the intentions of the new owner, he certainly has a piece of history on his hands.