The other side of the pop art mastermind

01:14, May 29 2013
Andy Warhol
OBSESSION WITH PEOPLE: Andy Warhol's portrait of Prince, circa 1984.

Andy Warhol is not only one of the world's best known artists, but one of the few who was famous and fetched high prices while alive.

Since his death in 1987, he has become pervasive, with many exhibitions, books and more, and his works are far more valuable.

In 2008, his 1963 screen-print painting, Eight Elvises, sold for a record breaking US$100 million (NZ$123m).

Andy Warhol
POP ART: Warhol's rendering of the Queen.

But despite Warhol's popularity, most people have only a vague idea of the range of his work or the man himself, says Te Papa's contemporary art curator, Sarah Farrar.

"Warhol's such a popular icon, but we have quite a one-dimensional idea of him. Everybody thinks they know Warhol."

Farrar hopes that Te Papa's new exhibition Warhol: Immortal, opening this weekend, will change people's views.


"The exhibition will not have what most people recognise as Warhol's pop-art period that first brought him world attention.

"The exhibition doesn't include Campbell soup cans or Brillo boxes," she says.

The decision was deliberate. Instead Farrar decided that the more than 100 works, including film and video, would focus on Warhol's obsession with people throughout his career, as well as his many self-portraits.

From vintage family photographs, to Polaroids and his film "screen tests", it gives a broader view of the artist, with works from as early as the 1940s and his student days.

"There are so many different Warhol shows that you could do.

"What I've loved about working on this show is finding out about his early drawings. In the 1950s, for example, he did a show called Drawings for a Boy Book, which are these wonderful, kind of homoerotic drawings.

"That's one aspect of his work this show starts to look at."

Farrar sourced most of the works from the Andy Warhol Museum in the artist's home town of Pittsburgh. A few are from elsewhere, including a self-portrait - "an incredible work", says Farrar - from the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

Many of the works have rarely been shown in Australasia before and Warhol: Immortal is one of the largest Warhol shows in New Zealand since The Warhol Look retrospective at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1999.

That exhibition was a disappointment for the gallery, because it attracted fewer than half the expected 50,000 visitors.

Warhol's transformation from art iconoclast to art icon continues unabated.

Even the Queen last year bought a series of four screen prints Warhol had done of her.

However, Farrar is aware that for all Warhol's popularity, he isn't universally loved and continues to polarise people.

"A lot of people will come to this show either loving Warhol or hating him.

"I would really like them to come with an open mind and see for themselves.

"They'll probably leave the show loving or hating him, but I'm not sure they'll feel the same way they did as when they walked in."


Owning an Andy Warhol is a good investment. In 2007 actor Hugh Grant sold his Warhol portrait of Liz Taylor for US$21 million (NZ$26m). Six years earlier he had bought it for US$3.6 million.

The biggest Warhol sale to date was in 2008 - Eight Elvises, from 1963. The silk screen painting sold for US$100m in a private sale to an anonymous buyer. The seller, art collector Annibale Berlingieri, had owned it for more than 40 years. At the time it was the 10th highest sale for a work of art. But you can still buy Warhols for less than nine figures and sometimes even for four.

Next month auction house Christie's will auction some Warhol art and memorabilia, including works related to the artist's haunt, New York nightclub Studio 54.

Here are a few examples of what could go under the hammer. Who knows what they will be worth in six years?

Piss Painting - urine on gesso on canvas: Estimated value US$40,000-$50,000.

Warhol-designed Studio 54 complimentary drink invitation: US$50,000-$70,000

Two Polaroid shots of Bianca Jagger: US$10,000-$15,000.

Two Polaroid shots of Deborah Harry: US$18,000-$25,000

A line drawing of two angels on paper done in 1954: US$5000-$6000

Mind Energy - screenprint on T-shirt: US$12,000-$18,000


Warhol: Immortal, Te Papa, Wellington, June 1 - August 25

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