O.J. Simpson (1977) by Andy Warhol is being offered for sale as part of the 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale at Phillips this month with an estimate of $300,000–$500,000. O.J. Simpson was one of 200 portraits Warhol made as part of his ‘Athletes Series,’ which included portraits of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Dorothy Hamill.
Commissioned by Warhol’s collector Richard Weisman, the portrait belonged to a series that depicted a growing class of athletes who were becoming more and more like the celebrities Warhol had always worshipped. At the time he made the portrait, Simpson was 30 years old and on the path to becoming one of the greatest running backs of all time. He played for the Buffalo Bills, but an injury in 1977, just a few weeks after his shoot with Warhol, cut his season short, and the next year he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. That same year he met Nicole Brown. They were married from 1985 to 1992; two years following their divorce, Brown was murdered.
Simpson was acquitted of the murders of Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman, but was later held liable for both deaths by a California civil court jury.
Made nearly two decades before Simpson went on trial for the murders, Warhol’s portrait has become a more fitting tribute to the artist’s obsession with spectacle.
The silkscreen print features Simpson looking head-on at the viewer, and an extra flourish in acrylic shows Simpson holding a football. Warhol and Simpson both signed the back of the piece. The day Simpson showed up for the shoot in a motel room in Buffalo, he came without his jersey or a ball, and Warhol had to scramble to find them. Warhol took more than 45 Polaroids of the young football star before the pair parted ways.
The portrait was exhibited along with others from the series in the exhibition “Athletes by Andy Warhol” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond in 1978. Later, the portrait found its way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. According to Bloomberg, a spokesperson claimed that the portrait was never put on view.