Two decades after the artist’s death, the Andy Warhol brand is stronger than ever, as collectors continue to pay top prices for his work, curators study obscure aspects of his career, and consumers snap up products—from candy to condoms—plastered with his imagery.
When the Campbell Soup Company wanted to pay tribute to Andy Warhol—the Pop artist who single-handedly transformed the brand’s red and white label into a symbol of wealth and power—the company offered a series of limited-edition tomato soup cans with colored labels based on the artist’s silkscreen combinations: green and red, pink and orange, aqua and indigo, gold and yellow.
The line was unveiled in 2004 at the western Pennsylvania and Ohio stores of the Giant Eagle supermarket chain. Customers who bought the four-packs, priced at $2 a pack, were also entitled to purchase a limited-edition set of four Warhol Campbell’s soup can magnets and, by showing their Giant Eagle Advantage cards, could get a dollar discount off the admission fee to the Andy Warhol Museum in the artist’s native Pittsburgh.
Campbell’s director of brand communications, John Faulkner, told ARTnews that the company has, ever since, fielded calls from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Europe, from buyers who wanted to get their hands on the Warhol soup cans. However, under the terms of the agreement, the promotion was limited to the participating stores.
Then, in 2006 Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, the luxury department store, incorporated nearly identical limited-edition Warhol soup cans (the labels were printed on higher-quality paper) into the store’s holiday display, entitled “Happy Andy War-Holidays!”
Doonan told ARTnews that more than 30,000 of those cans were sold, priced at $12 each, or $48 for the four-pack. Demand for the cans actually “cannibalized” the store’s high-end gift business that year, Doonan says. “At the end of the day, all these high-flying people looked for a bargain. Andy would have loved that. Instead of the $1,200 objet d’art or $400 vase, they went for the Warhol cans because it felt cool.”
At around the same time as the Barneys promotion, the highest auction price ever paid for a Warhol Campbell’s soup can painting was realized at Christie’s New York, when a bidder paid $11.8 million for the 1962 Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot) in May 2006.
Did Barneys buyers know that the same cans had previously been offered at rural supermarkets for a fraction of the price? Would they have cared? How could two nearly identical items be in such demand at such wildly divergent prices? “People responded in both high and low culture,” says Michael Hermann, director of licensing at the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York.
“If you’re going to study Warhol, it is always about high and low,” says Tom Sokolowski, director of the Andy Warhol Museum. “He was a working-class kid during the Depression who lived in a very stratified city. He saw what the ‘haves’ had, and he wanted that so much—to be able to decide who was real and who was the poseur. He finally became the one who told the world how to become cool.”
More than two decades after Andy Warhol’s death in New York in 1987, at the age of 58, the demand for his images is stronger than ever. Prices for his paintings rank among the highest recorded for any genre.
Many experts point to Sotheby’s $17.3 million sale of Orange Marilyn (1964) in New York in 1998 as a milestone that vaulted the contemporary-art market to a new level and marked the start of a new era. In May 2007 a buyer paid $71.7 million at Christie’s for the 1963 painting Green Car Crash, more than quadrupling the previous record. Prices have remained strong despite the contraction of the art market.
Warhol’s works are especially popular with newly wealthy international collectors, particularly in Asia and Russia. Several months before the sale of Green Car Crash, the 1972 painting Mao sold at Christie’s New York for $17.4 million to the Hong Kong property developer Joseph Lau.
“The Mao was extremely important because it put Warhol in the same league as de Kooning and other Abstract Expressionists,” says Brett Gorvy, cohead of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s. “It had a major impact on the market for smaller items like individual Jackies, and his self-portraits.” Gorvy notes that interest from wealthy Asian buyers escalated at that point. “The whole market suddenly came alive. In 2007 everyone wanted a Warhol,” he says.
Alex Rotter, head of Sotheby’s contemporary-art department in New York, says that Warhol’s prolific output means that his market is also “the easiest to track, because you can compare apples with apples, you can compare a work to other works from the same period. There is agreement about what makes one work better than another. Warhol is probably the biggest market in contemporary art, dollar-wise and volume-wise.”
Warhol’s face and imagery have been plastered on thousands of products sold around the world, from candy to condoms. Michael Hermann heads a three-man team that handles all the product licensing, which has grown substantially from what Hermann describes as “passive in nature for the first ten years.” Among the licensed products past and present are candies, clothing, porcelain and glass, perfume, watches, rugs, and jewelry. Condom packages sold in Japan featuring Warhol’s distinctive camouflage print carry the message: “They’ll never see you coming.”
Interest in Warhol continues to grow with ever younger and broader audiences. “Andy would love this” is a refrain commonly heard when people talk about society’s obsession with celebrities or its fixation on catastrophe, which Warhol explored in his “Death and Disaster” series. Months after Michael Jackson’s death in June, a 1984 Warhol portrait of the star sold at auction for over $1 million. The buyer had acquired it a few months earlier for just under $300,000.
In dozens of museum and gallery shows around the world every year, curators and experts are finding new Warhol-related subjects to mine, exploring all the media Warhol worked in and even his bohemian lifestyle. Earlier this year, at La Maison Rouge in Paris, author Judith Benhamou-Huet curated an exhibition, “Warhol TV,” with material ranging from a mid-’60s imitation soap opera (to which the artist added real advertisements) to a reality-style show that documented life at the Factory, the New York studio where Warhol churned out his art and held court over an assorted group of assistants, fans, celebrities, and hangers-on.
The Andy Warhol Museum’s recent show, “Warhol Live,” examined the artist’s work through the lens of music and the performing arts. It featured paintings, including portraits of Mick Jagger and Deborah Harry, as well as films, videos, album covers, and ephemera from Warhol’s personal archives.
Warhol’s films—he produced more than 650 in a five-year period beginning in 1963—have also received serious scholarly and curatorial attention. In 2007 they were the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.
“For so many reasons, film was the perfect medium for Warhol,” says David Schwartz, chief curator of the museum. It was “a medium where he could express his fascination with time, celebrity, death, sexuality, and much more, including the complicated relationship between the viewer and the viewed,” Schwartz says. “Warhol often claimed to be a passive observer, but he was, like a great film director, always in control.”
In September the Milwaukee Art Museum opened “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,” described as the first United States exhibition to explore the artist’s late work. “Do we really need another Warhol show?” curator Joseph Ketner II, now a professor of contemporary art at Boston’s Emerson College, says he was asked while organizing the show. “Yes,” he answers emphatically, noting the hand paintings to which the artist returned and his collaborations with other artists, like Jean-Michel Basquiat. “What makes this a special period in Warhol’s career is that he seems to have assembled all the various strategies for making art. You see the different aspects of his work coming together.”
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, created after the artist’s death, plays an active role in managing and promoting the Warhol brand, and it is also a generous donor to the arts. It has loaned more than 11,000 works to more than 221 exhibitions since its incorporation, in 1987.
Joel Wachs, a former Los Angeles city councilman and one-time mayoral candidate, has served as president since 2001. He oversees a team of 25 full-time and four part-time employees (including art handlers and curators, editorial staff and researchers for the catalogues raisonnés, and licensing, program, and general support staff).
Hermann estimates that licensed products run into the thousands. He doesn’t have an exact number because some products are offered only for a limited time. Licensing fees totaled $2.5 million this fiscal year, compared with slightly over $400,000 in 1997.
Wachs says that products for which licenses are requested must “enhance Warhol’s legacy.” Asked which proposals have been rejected, he says, “We don’t do cigarettes—that’s a no-no.” But would Andy have objected to cigarettes? In 1966 he took out a classified ad in the Village Voice that read, “I’ll endorse with my name any of the following: clothing, AC-DC, cigarettes, small tapes, sound equipment, ROCK N’ ROLL RECORDS, anything, film, and film equipment, Food, Helium, Whips, MONEY!! love and kisses ANDY WARHOL, EL 5-9941.” It was an eerily prescient offer considering how many products now bear his name.
Clothing is by far the top seller, says Hermann. Warhol’s signature flower print graces a line of swimwear, caftans, cover-ups, and bags from Diane von Furstenberg, the celebrity designer who partied with Warhol and was painted by him. Products for the von Furstenberg line, which is privately held and does not reveal sales figures, range from $120 for a printed towel to $485 for a chiffon caftan.
Warhol’s considerable influence on fashion and music was already evident during his lifetime. In a 1986 interview with Deborah Harry, the singer tells Warhol that her showy outfit—a pink, yellow, and orange dress, leggings, and boots, all designed by Stephen Sprouse—is based on one of his camouflage paintings. Warhol responds, “Oh… it’s beautiful… it’s great.” After Harry asks him to sign the outfit, Warhol crouches down with a pen to autograph her legging, commenting, “Oh, I’m nervous. I never had a famous leg.”
In late 2007 the Vermont-based Burton company unveiled a 2008 line of snowboards, boots, bindings, outerwear, and travel bags featuring Warhol’s prints. Prices ranged from $70 for a shirt to $550 for a board. (The 2008 line is no longer available on the market, but eBay and other online retailers still offer the merchandise.) For the 2010 season, Burton featured a high-end snowboard called “Vapor” that features images from a Warhol collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat and is priced at $1,195.
Hermann says that the foundation rigorously guards against unauthorized use of copyrights and trademarks. Although legal actions have been periodically initiated against offenders over the last two decades, he says that during the ten years he has worked in the licensing department no dispute has ever gone to court.
Hermann concedes that the foundation was initially less than eager to license a perfume. “We weren’t convinced that the idea made sense,” he says. However, that attitude changed a few years ago when the foundation joined forces with the high-end New York fragrance company Bond No. 9, which has developed and branded scents that connect Warhol to specific locales in New York. Following Silver Factory, Lexington Avenue, and Union Square, the company’s fourth Warhol-themed fragrance, Success Is a Job in New York, priced at $220 for 100 milliliters and featuring the artist’s distinctive neon dollar signs on the bottle, was released last month.
The Warhol foundation’s outreach also includes a grant-making program that provides funding for museum exhibitions, artist residencies, and arts writing, and also aims to help provide affordable health care and insurance for artists. One of the foundation’s most high-profile entities is Creative Capital, an independent nonprofit housed in the foundation’s downtown office, which makes grants directly to individual artists on a project basis. At the beginning of this year, it announced grants totaling $2.5 million for 41 projects, including innovative literary ventures, emerging arts, and performing arts.
This year to date, the foundation’s general grants have gone to institutions all over the country. In New York, $80,000 went to the CUE Art Foundation and $100,000 (spread over two years) to the Drawing Center. In Los Angeles, $100,000 went to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Latin American Light & Space” show and $75,000 to the Hammer Museum for a Rachel Whiteread show. The Oklahoma-based contemporary-arts center, Living Arts of Tulsa, received $100,000 (spread over three years) in program support.
The foundation also supplies between 20 percent and 25 percent of the Andy Warhol Museum’s annual budget. It originally gave the museum 3,000 works, then worth $61 million, when the initiative, in collaboration with New York’s Dia Center for the Arts and the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, was announced in 1989. The gift consisted of more than 800 paintings, as well as 1,000 drawings, sculptures, prints, films, and video and audio tapes.
In 2007 the foundation gave the museum a six-year, $654,000 grant to help sort through 610 Warhol time capsules—boxes the artist had packed, sealed, and stored as a kind of diary. Warhol threw in everything, from letters, invitations, photos, paperweights, and books to random items like a wineglass from the Carlyle hotel, cash, and even food. Each box holds from 400 to 1,200 items. Archivists have also come across grocery receipts for Campbell’s soup, which Warhol once said he ate every day for 20 years.
The foundation board, which counts among its members artists Cindy Sherman, Shirin Neshat, and John Waters, voted to increase this year’s grants budget to just under $12 million, from $11.65 million. Further, the foundation donated $5.7 million worth of art this year to 180 college and university museums under the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, launched in 2007 as a way of donating carefully curated groups of the artist’s photos to institutions across the country. Many are already using the material to mount shows. These include the Ulrich Museum of Art, at Wichita State University in Kansas, which unveiled “Snap: Andy Warhol Photographs, 1970–1987,” in September.
The foundation has also spent millions, Wachs says, to research and produce a comprehensive multivolume catalogue raisonné of Warhol’s works in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, a project led by Warhol expert Neil Printz. Two volumes devoted to paintings, prints, and sculpture have been completed; the third, documenting works from 1970 to 1974, is due out from Phaidon Press next spring. At this point, Wachs says, there are no plans for a catalogue raisonné of Warhol’s photographs, although the authentication board does consider them.
“The authentication board limits the number of works reviewed to approximately 100 works per session,” says Claudia Defendi, coauthor of the catalogue raisonné and assistant secretary to the board. There are three sessions a year, and “more when circumstances warrant it.” The number of works the board has denied since 1995 amounts to approximately 15 percent, Defendi says.
If Warhol meant what he said when he advised people not to worry about what others wrote about them, but to “just measure it in inches,” he would undoubtedly be happy with the incredible and ever-growing attention paid to his life and work. “Publicity is like eating peanuts,” he once said. “Once you start you can’t stop.”
Warhol’s friend Jeremiah Newton summed up the Warhol phenomenon perfectly in a photodocumentary compiled by NYU students. Says Newton, “I don’t think he ever left. He’s still rattling around…. He never really died, you know?… Andy is everywhere. He’s in Europe. He’s in Asia. He’s quoted in papers every day. He has energy still. He’s just, you know, still alive.”
Eileen Kinsella is editor of the ARTnewsletter.