The Warhol/Jackson connection goes beyond the portrait of Michael Jackson that an East Hampton, NY gallery offered for sale at the ArtHamptons fair recently and then withdrew only to announce that they are taking bids again and the auction will close on Aug. 18th according to the Associated Press.
Newsweek‘s Johnny Roberts interviews branding consultant Michael Stone who has worked with the Warhol Foundation for nearly a decade and offers his insights on the challenges facing handling the Michael Jackson estate and the celebrity’s posthumous career:
Whose lifestyle was more outlandish: Michael Jackson or Andy Warhol? For many of us it seems like a tossup. But Michael Stone believes Jackson has the edge—and Stone should know. For eight years, until recently, he served as a consultant to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, helping them commercialize the art icon’s legacy. […] One of the most influential artists of his times, Warhol, called the “Pope of Pop,” was “not the most conventional personality,” says Stone. Yet Stone was able to help the Warhol Foundation, which controls the copyright to all of the artist’s work, amass an endowment exceeding $240 million (proceeds go to supporting the arts) from licensing deals.
How did you get involved with the Warhol Foundation?
For many years, we represented Coca-Cola Co. And there came an opportunity to seek out rights to use the Andy Warhol artwork of the Coke can and bottle. In that instance, Coca-Cola owns the copyrights to the Coca-Cola trademark, and Andy Warhol owned the rights to the artwork itself. Neither side could exploit the artwork without the consent of the other. So we sought out the rights from the foundation, and that’s how we were introduced to the Andy Warhol Foundation. Subsequently, they hired us to develop licensing programs—the rights to use his work, signature and things like that.
Tell me about the strategy that you helped devise.
It basically was to leverage the archives and to develop products that would be targeted more at an upscale channel of distribution. So products you would find in department stores, for example, not mass merchants. And the concept was to focus on certain categories like products for the home, apparel, accessories, health and beauty products, accessories like watches and jewelry, things like that. And it’s basically a worldwide strategy—40 licensees in over 55 countries. One licensee could be making 10, 20, 30 different products. We, for example, recommended Robert Lee Morris as the jewelry licensee. There are many, many pieces of jewelry in the Andy Warhol Collection at Robert Lee Morris.
How does the Warhol experience relate to what we will see unfolding with Michael Jackson? What’s your sense of the scale of the commercialization in his case?
As a branding specialist, it’s the most fascinating thing to see unfold. The first thing that has to be determined is, who owns what? And who’s controlling what? Because right now you’ve got counterfeiters all over the place. Nobody can really stop it because nobody is in control of the rights right now. I don’t know if that will be easy to get through, or whether there will be a lot of fighting about it to determine who owns what rights. That was not an issue in Warhol’s case. That will be a major issue in the Michael Jackson case. […]
So give me some idea about the scope of possibilities for turning his legacy into income.
The spectrum begins at Elvis Presley on one end, where people are barely listening to his music anymore, and his legacy is basically the theme park, Graceland, in Memphis; a whole bunch of impersonators in clubs across America; and a slew of merchandise, from T shirts to belt buckles to baseball hats. On the other extreme, there’s another revolutionary musician, John Lennon, whose image and legacy has been protected by his estate, and who is known for his music and his ideals, with very little other commercialization being done against that image. So those are the two ends of the spectrum, and I’m beginning to get a feeling about where Michael Jackson is going to fall. Quite honestly, even though I’m a licensing guy, it’s a shame.
NY Gallery REsumes Sale fo Warhol’s Jackson (Associated Press)
Cashing In On Michael’s Legacy (Newsweek)