A Warhol painting could fetch $200 million. What’s so special about it?

Next week, an Andy Warhol screenprint of Marilyn Monroe could become the most expensive of 20andcentury works of art for sale at auction. Projecting a sale price of $200 million, auction house Christie’s compared Warhol’s 1964 “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” calling it “one of the greatest paintings of all time”.

Art critic Blake Gopnik told Marketplace’s David Brancaccio that the portrait is important, but for a different reason.

“Warhol had already made his Marilyns two years earlier – so I don’t think you could call it innovative in the normal sense at least,” Gopnik said. “But it’s very important because by virtue of being a retread, it was an appropriation in the first place. And that’s what really makes Warhol important, this notion of appropriation.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

David Brancacio: I see the auction house calls this an innovative portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Nope?

Blake Gopnik: Well, I suppose you could call it that, except for the fact that Warhol had already made his Marilyns two years earlier, so I don’t think you could call it innovative in the normal sense, at least. He called these paintings, where he made retreads of his first truly innovative images, he called them “dead paintings”. So I think that’s actually a really great and important picture, and maybe worth the $200 million that Christie’s thinks it might get – but I don’t think that painting is important to any reasons Christie’s says. They pulled out all the clichés: that it’s an “untouchable image that transcends time and space.” This is exactly the kind of clichés that Warhol hated. He would have been appalled – not by the $200 million figure, but by all the shots that were taken out for this dead paint, this retread. But it’s very important because by virtue of being a retread, it was an appropriation in the first place. And that’s what really makes Warhol so important, this notion of appropriation.

Brancacio: That’s why image matters. But retreading is in all the art, you pointed it out. It’s basically everywhere.

Gopnik: Yeah, I’m claiming – which I guess is a little radical – that appropriation is actually at the heart of the whole western notion of fine art. That it starts around 1500, when a lot of people said, “You know those religious images, those wonderful altarpieces that are meant to please God? What if we took them out of the religious context and looked at them just because we were interested in them, we wanted to talk about them, we couldn’t understand them? That’s what it’s about. So it starts at the very beginning of the modern Western tradition as being a question of appropriation. And that’s what Warhol clings to and somehow transforms the core of his entire practice as an artist. And that’s what makes him more than his subject, more than all the pop art clichés. What really matters is his deep belief in ownership, his deep belief in retreading.

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