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Andy Warhol online auction is prime turf for celebrity-gawking

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Andy Warhol famously said that in the future, everyone would have 15 minutes of fame.

But that didn't stop him from focusing his camera lenses and other image-making implements on folks whose ride on the wagon of celebrity figured to last somewhat longer.

If you want to have some fun celebrity-watching through Warhol’s eyes from now through Tuesday at 7 a.m., you might want to hang out for a while at the website of Christie's auction house, where the first in a series of all-Warhol online auctions is in progress.

It's actually the second sale in a multi-year effort in which the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has enlisted Christie's to liquidate thousands of the artist's works. The foundation, headed by former Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, aims to boost its endowment for grants to nonprofit visual arts organizations by more than $100 million.

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The first sale, a traditional live auction in November at Christie's in New York, took in more than $17 million.

The top sellers then were a screenprint collage of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that fetched $626,500, more than doubling the pre-show estimate, and silkscreens of an endangered butterfly and bighorn sheep that fetched $1,258,500 and $842,500, respectively.

The Warhol Foundation stands to reap about $1.4 million to $2 million from the current online auction if all 125 lots sell within Christie's estimates. It includes many pieces estimated to bring $5,000 or less, the most humble being two cute black-and-white prints of cats, with an opening bid of $500.

The five highest-priced pieces have starting bids of $40,000 and are estimated to fetch up to $70,000. As of Thursday evening, only one of them had gotten any action: Five bidders had jacked up the price to $48,000 for a mid-1980s black-and-white silkscreen-on-canvas advertising image of work boots.

Warhol's trademark Campbell’s soup can images are available: A life-size tin replica of a can of chicken with rice soup had received no bids (at $40,000), but there was lively action, with a high bid of $11,000, for a white T-shirt emblazoned with a can of tomato soup. Emblazoned, that is, with a picture of the can, not the soup. If you're in the market for actual spillage, there's a piece of paper that Warhol stained with Coca-Cola, for which someone had bid $5,500.

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In the celebrity derby, Warhol himself was doing just fine. A T-shirt bearing his visage had commanded a high bid of $26,000, already topping the estimated ceiling of $20,000. A 1986 self-portrait photograph of the artist wearing shades had commanded a $22,000 bid, and a Polaroid he took of himself painting a large surface red had been bid up to $11,000.

A purple-faced screenprint on wallpaper of Mao Tse-tung, one of Warhol's particular icons, stood at $12,000, already topping the estimated high of $7,000.

And Marilyn Monroe was showing once more that she's a celebrity among celebrities -- even when represented by her lips alone. The auction includes a 1964 lithograph on two sheets of paper showing five sets of her lips, entitled "I Love Your Kiss Forever Forever." The high bid as of Thursday evening was $26,000, more than quintupling the $5,000 pre-show top estimate.

The action was so far nonexistent for a black-and-white photograph of a cigar-toting Arnold Schwarzenegger posing with Warhol. There also were no bids, after 2 1/2 days, for John Denver, photographed somewhat eerily, in retrospect, beside the cockpit of an airplane. Someone had bid $1,500 for an extremely unflattering 1986 Warhol backstage photo of Bob Dylan.

Hockey fans may want to tip their sticks to Christie's for allotting lot No. 99 to a Polaroid montage of Wayne Gretzky in his Edmonton Oilers days (Gretzky's jersey number was 99).

And those two cute prints of kittens? They were punching way above their weight, having tripled and quadrupled the pre-sale estimated high of $800.

ALSO:

Critic's Notebook: Andy Warhol -- the ghost in MOCA

Andy Warhol Foundation taps Christie's in big Warhol art sell-off

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