Warhol’s ‘Marilyn,’ at $195 Million, Shatters Auction Record for an American Artist
The first lot, a work by the American conceptual artist Mike Bidlo, “Not Picasso (Bather with Beachball),” estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, went for $1.3 million with fees.
The collector Peter Brant, seated in the third row, bought the third lot, Francesco Clemente’s “Fourteen Stations, No. XI,” for $1.9 million, over an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. Then the dealer Larry Gagosian purchased Cy Twombly’s blue, green and purple painting on a wooden panel for about $17 million, over the high estimate of $15 million.
By comparison, the Marilyn silk-screen — which Rotter recently called “the most significant 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation” — felt like something of an anticlimax. Yes, it set a record, but speculation in advance of the auction had the painting soaring to as much as $400 million. Instead, the auctioneer seemed to wring the bids, with the painting ultimately going to Gagosian; it was unclear on whose behalf he was bidding.
“Expectation was very, very, very high,” the art adviser Abigail Asher said. “It was an incredibly healthy price, but at the same time I believe the buyer got a deal. It’s one of the icons of 20th-century art.”
The Warhol painting, one of five in a series, is based on a promotional photo from the actress’s film “Niagara,” part of a series of “Shot Marilyn” portraits. In 1964, a woman walked into Warhol’s Factory studio with a pistol and shot at a stack of four Marilyn paintings. (The canvas up for auction at Christie’s was not pierced by the bullet.)
The Ammann siblings bought the work from the media mogul S.I. Newhouse Jr., in 1998; that year, Newhouse purchased Warhol’s “Orange Marilyn” (1964) at Sotheby’s for $17.3 million. After Newhouse’s death, in 2017, the billionaire hedge-fund manager Ken Griffin bought that work privately for about $200 million.