Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’, at $195 million, shatters the auction record for an American artist

The first lot, a work by American conceptual artist Mike Bidlo, “Not Picasso (Bather with Beachball)”, estimated between $60,000 and $80,000, went for $1.3 million including fees.

Collector Peter Brant, seated in the third row, bought the third lot, “Fourteen Stations, No. XI” by Francesco Clemente, for $1.9 million, on an estimate of $80,000-120,000. Then dealer Larry Gagosian bought Cy Twombly’s blue, green, and purple painting on a wood panel for about $17 million, above the high estimate of $15 million.

By comparison, Marilyn’s serigraph – which Rotter recently called “the most important 20th-century painting to come to auction in a generation” – felt like something of an anticlimax. Yes, it set a record, but pre-auction speculation pushed the chart up to $400 million. Instead, the auctioneer appeared to twist the bids, with the painting ultimately going to Gagosian; it was not known in whose name he was bidding.

“Expectations were very, very, very high,” said artistic advisor Abigail Asher. “It was an incredibly healthy price, but at the same time I think the buyer struck 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’ film ‘Niagara’, part of a series of ‘Shot Marilyn’ portraits. In 1964, a woman entered Warhol’s Factory with a pistol and shot a stack of four Marilyn paintings. (The canvas auctioned at Christie’s was not pierced by the bullet.)

The Ammann siblings purchased the work from media mogul SI Newhouse Jr., in 1998; that year, Newhouse bought Warhol’s “Orange Marilyn” (1964) at Sotheby’s for $17.3 million. After Newhouse’s death in 2017, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin bought the work privately for around $200 million.

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