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Andy Warhol (1928-1986)
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About the item

Andy Warhol (1928-1986)\nLenin \nsigned and dated ‘Andy Warhol 86’ (on the overlap)\nacrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas\n72 x 48in. (183 x 122cm.)\nPainted in 1986
GB
GB
GB

notes

‘Every time I go out and someone has to be elected president or mayor or something else, they put their images on all the wall and I think I do the same’ (A. Warhol, quoted in Andy Warhol: The American Dream, exh. cat., Porto Cervo, MdM Museum, Arzachena, 2013, p. 98).

‘[Warhol and I] had already been planning for two years to cooperate on a project which was to strike out in a new direction: instead of reproducing the stereotyped icons of everyday life in America, Warhol would be confronted with an image which went against the grain of his usual preoccupations. By virtue of both its content and formal quality, the photograph of Lenin seemed ideal for the purpose’ (B. Klüser, quoted in Lenin by Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich 1987, p. 68).

‘The “Lenin” project began towards the end of 1985 in Italy, when Enzo Cucchi told me about an unusual photograph of Lenin which his friend Claduio di Gianbattista had recently bought in Rome. The following day we saw the black-and-white photograph. It was tattered and faded in places, but it still had the authentic aura of an historical document. Lenin is portrayed here as a self-assured, forceful young man with piercing eyes; a pile of books indicates his occupation as an intellectual, a political theorist. The most striking aspect of the photograph was the austerity of its composition: the way in which head, the shirt, the pile of books, the hand and the cuff contrasted with the dark background almost reminded one of a Suprematist painting’ (B. Klüser, quoted in Lenin by Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich 1987, p. 68).)

Executed in 1986, Andy Warhol’s Lenin stems from the artist’s last great series of works, completed in December 1986, only two months before his death in February 1987. Emerging from an inky black background, Warhol’s Lenin takes on a near-spectral quality conveyed through the striking glow of his tracery. Standing nearly two meters tall, his imposing face looms out of the inky black darkness. Lenin’s impassive gaze is captivating; his pale skin works in stark opposition to the ominously dark setting, which in turn is mirrored in the empty dark hollows of the eyes, made visible by Warhol’s addition of neon highlights which delineate the pupils with an almost hypnotic stare. The outline of Lenin’s face along with the details of his features and beard are all rendered in electric, almost Day-Glo, lines of red and yellow – deftly mirroring the colours of the Soviet flag. Like his other portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Elvis, Warhol’s depictions of Lenin sought to interrogate his public, rather than private, persona. ‘As a portraitist,’ writes Katharina Hegewisch. ‘Warhol was interested less in the subject matter as an individual than in his or her public image as reflected by the media. As seen by Warhol, [his subjects] were imaginary figures rather than real people; actively preferring the shadow to the substance, the artist reproduced media stereotypes instead of dismantling them and looking for the private person beneath the public façade’ (K Hegewisch, ‘Lenin: Andy Warhol’s last series of portraits’, in Lenin by Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich 1987, p. 72).

Warhol’s Lenin series builds on those ideas first developed in 1972 with his works profiling the Communist leader Mao. Thanks to the cult of personality perpetuated around Lenin after his death, his image was widely disseminated as a symbol of the Communist cause, elevated to celebrity status through his own media ‘factory’. Following his death in 1924, Lenin remained a potent symbol of Communism in the East and West. In Soviet Russia, his image continued to be used to perpetuate the Communist ideal; in the West he represented the Red peril, which still reverberated within the American psyche as Cold War arms discussions between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev continued to break down. Warhol’s uncanny ability to tap into the cultural Zeitgeist is abundantly present in his Lenin series, epitomising his interest in those individuals who were able to attain celebrity status, ultimately at the expense of their own perceived individuality. Speaking of Warhol’s depictions of Mao, but in a statement that could equally apply to his portrayals of Lenin, Achille Bonito Oliva has described how ‘Warhol’s work is devoid of political content, but captures and ironically represents the iconicity of power; the charisma that the potentate possesses, fuelled by political proselytism. The success of the commercial product destined for mass consumption in the triumphant US capitalist system is based on this exact same visual strategy’ (A. B. Olivia (ed.), Andy Warhol: The American Dream, exh. cat., Porto Cervo, MdM Museum, Arzachena, 2013, p. 94). Indeed, Warhol’s silkscreening process takes on additional resonance with regard to Lenin’s politics, where ‘machines and other improvements must serve to ease the work of all’ (V. Lenin, ‘To the Rural Poor’, 1903, in V. Lenin, Collected Works: 6 January 1902 - August 1903, vol. 6, London 1961, p. 366).

In his portrayal of Lenin, Warhol chose an image that would have been unknown to many Americans, rather than one of the classic images of the firebrand revolutionary. It was a photograph shown to him by the Munich gallery owner Bernd Klüser. As Klüser recounts, ‘The “Lenin” project began towards the end of 1985 in Italy, when Enzo Cucchi told me about an unusual photograph of Lenin which his friend Claduio di Gianbattista had recently bought in Rome. The following day we saw the black-and-white photograph. It was tattered and faded in places, but it still had the authentic aura of an historical document. Lenin is portrayed here as a self-assured, forceful young man with piercing eyes; a pile of books indicates his occupation as an intellectual, a political theorist. The most striking aspect of the photograph was the austerity of its composition: the way in which head, the shirt, the pile of books, the hand and the cuff contrasted with the dark background almost reminded one of a Suprematist painting … A few weeks later I showed the photograph to Andy Warhol in New York. We had already been planning for two years to cooperate on a project which was to strike out in a new direction: instead of reproducing the stereotyped icons of everyday life in America, Warhol would be confronted with an image which went against the grain of his usual preoccupations. By virtue of both its content and formal quality, the photograph of Lenin seemed ideal for the purpose’ (B. Klüser, quoted in Lenin by Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich 1987, p. 68).

Significantly, Warhol’s source image had already been ‘doctored’: indeed, the photograph Klüser showed Warhol in 1985 was only a detail extracted in 1948 from a group photograph of 1897 showing Lenin surrounded by the Social Democrats who would eventually become his enemies. Warhol modified this image further, reducing the range of colours and placing a stark, glowing border around the salient details of the image. Klüser’s image of Lenin provided the inspiration for three series of paintings in a three different sizes, as well as a number of drawings of collages and drawings, totaling approximately forty works. In an ultimate Warholian twist, his reproduction of the image went directly against Lenin’s feelings about portraiture: ‘as for these portraits! They are all over the place! What is the point of it all?’ (V. Lenin in letter to Bontch-Bruyevich, 1918, Lenin by Warhol, exh. cat., Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich, 1987, p. 67). Ultimately, as Ronnie Cutrone pointed out, Warhol’s political paintings – such as Mao, Hammer and Sickle, Nixon, Vote McGovan – have the same genus as his popular cultural ones. ‘As far as advertising and propaganda go, Coca-Cola signs and Mao posters have the same goal: to promote. In Andy’s world, Marilyn and Mao have the same value, they are both Superstars’ (R. Cutrone, ‘Hammer and Sickle,’ Andy Warhol: Hammer and Sickle, exh. cat., C&M Arts, New York, 2002, unpaged).

title

Andy Warhol (1928-1986)

medium

Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

prelot

PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR

signed

Signed and dated ‘Andy Warhol 86’ (on the overlap)

creator

Andy Warhol

keywords

Andy Warhol , 1980s, Paintings, United States of America, Post War

exhibited

Munich, Galerie Bernd Klüser, Lenin by Warhol, 1987, no. 20 (illustrated in colour, p. 39).

department

POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART

dimensions

72 x 48in. (183 x 122cm.)

provenance

Galerie Bernd Klüser, Munich

Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2005).

Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 12 February 2013, lot 32.

Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

special_notice

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*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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