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Donor Fills MOCA Wish List With a Prized Work by Warhol

TIMES ART WRITER

Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art has acquired its first work by AndyWarhol, thanks to an anonymous donor. “Telephone,” a 1961 oil painting based on a 1928 advertisement, was purchased from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc. in New York.

The museum declined to reveal the price of the 54 x 69 3/4-inch painting by the late Pop artist whose work has brought as much as $4 million at auction. MOCA also did not disclose the name of the donor who provided funds to buy the painting. But MOCA Director Richard Koshalek was eager to talk about the museum’s good fortune in landing a prime example of Warhol’s highly prized early period.

“It’s a remarkable addition to our collection,” Koshalek said. Warhol was an extremely prolific artist, but seminal examples from his most inventive days are difficult to find, he noted. “You can still see the artist’s hand,” Koshalek said, pointing out painterly areas in Warhol’s depiction of an ordinary object. The painting marks a moment when Abstract Expressionism’s concern with the act of painting merged with Pop art’s bold images of popular culture, he said.

The painting also exemplifies Warhol’s use of old advertisements as source material. His “Telephone” is a brash enlargement of an image in a 1928 ad for Bell Telephone Co. In the ad, the telephone is superimposed over an aerial view of a toy-like village, diagonally bisected by a train track. Warhol extracted the telephone, blew it up and placed it on a stark white background next to a black vertical stripe. He duplicated shading on the phone’s shaft and base but changed it--or perhaps borrowed from another ad--for the mouth and ear pieces.

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“ ‘Telephone’ is not only an important work from the early ‘60s, it fills a critical gap in our collection,” Koshalek said. The Panza collection of 80 Abstract Expressionist and Pop art pieces, acquired by the museum in 1984, provided a remarkable core collection for the fledgling museum, but it lacked examples of work by two crucial artists--Warhol and Jasper Johns, he said.

The Johns gap was filled last year, in an impressive way, with the late Marcia Weisman’s gift of Jasper Johns’ “Map,” a 1962 painting depicting a United States map with the states’ names in stenciled letters. Now the Warhol gap has been filled--at least partially--by an anonymous donor.

Along with “Telephone,” the museum acquired an accompanying sketch, “Old Fashioned Telephone.” The 18 x 24-inch graphite drawing on paper is a study for the painting.

Both the drawing and the painting came from the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which has a $30-million endowment and a vast collection of the artist’s work. Sales from the estate are rare, foundation director Archibald Gillies said, because the organization is under no financial pressure and it is more concerned with cataloguing, curating and conserving Warhol’s art.

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“We don’t seek sales, but when museums, universities or dealers representing major collectors approach the foundation with specific needs we want to be responsive. It’s a question of seriousness and intelligence, not money,” Gillies said. “The director and curator of MOCA came to us very seriously and intelligently. They knew exactly what they wanted and we were happy to respond.”

“Telephone” is no stranger to the museum. It hung on MOCA’s walls earlier this year in “High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture,” an exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The painting is on view in “Highlights of the Permanent Collection 1940-1975" and it will be included in MOCA’s exhibition “Hand-Painted Pop,” scheduled to open on Nov. 22, 1992.


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