Blake Gopnik’s muddled post on the failure at auction of Andy Warhol’s Liz from 1964 is worth noting for two very different reasons.
The first is to simply ask why the work was ever offered at auction. We know from additional reporting done by Artnet that the consignor was the Warhol Foundation which retrieved the work from Warhol’s bodyguard. (The bodyguard seems to have prevailed legally but the foundation was the consignor.)
As you can see from the image, this Warhol work is not going to be a crowd pleaser with its difficult registration, a fact Gopnik seems to have understood:
The painting is almost a hybrid between a celebrity film-still and one of Warhol’s Death and Disaster images – just the kind of art-historical complexity that collectors don’t want to deal with.
In an up market, with Warhol firing on all cylinders, it might have made a decent price.
In today’s current Warhol market, with few works offered, it was left to dangle. The lot was even abandoned by the usual supporters of the Warhol market. Whether that act was aimed at provoking the foundation to accept an even more distressed price or a more ominous sign that the Warhol market is now naked, we cannot know.
The second reason to make note of Gopnik’s post is this incoherence of his reasoning. Gopnik objects to the treatment of art as an asset. It’s a perfectly reasonable stance. Many others make a far better case than he does.
But if you don’t believe a work of art’s merit is measured by the price paid for it—and even if you’re involved in the art market, you probably ought to hold that point of view—you really shouldn’t write an argument that is entirely dependent upon prices to show merit.
To wit, Gopnik is miffed that a Warhol (he’s writing a biography) has traded for a lower price than a Basquiat. Gopnik deems Basquiat a lesser artist. Therefore, Gopnik is put out by the price disparity:
The above Warhol painting of Liz Taylor, estimated at “only” $10 million to $15 million, failed entirely to sell or even to attract any bids. […] Other Liz paintings have fetched far more. According to the artnet Price Database, Liz #3, against a pea green background sold for $31.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2014; Silver Liz (diptych) sold for $28 million at Christie’s in 2015; and Liz No. 5 (Early Colored Liz), on a blue background, sold for $27 million at Phillips in 2011.) In that same Christie’s sale on Tuesday, a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat set a record at $57.3 million.
The Warhol That Failed to Sell (artnet News)