19: Andy Warhol, Knives, 1982
silkscreen ink and synthetic polymer on canvas 70 7/8 x 52 in. (180 x 132.1 cm) Signed and dated "Andy Warhol 82" along the overlap.
PROVENANCE Galeria Fernando Vijande, Madrid Private collection, Europe
LITERATURE K. McShine, ed., "Andy Warhol: A Retrospective", The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, p. 27, fig. 5 G. Celant, ed., SuperWarhol, New York, 2003, p. 435, pl. 207 (illustrated) "Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Work of Andy Warhol", Gagosian Gallery, New York
EXHIBITED Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Andy Warhol, August 27 – October 27, 1992 Vienna, Kunst Haus Wien, Andy Warhol, February 22 – May 30, 1993 Athens, National Gallery, Andy Warhol, June 14 – August 10, 1993. This exhibition later traveled to Thessaloniki, August 27
Andy Warhol's iconic use of silkscreens during the quarter century between 1962 and 1987 reached an intriguing fever pitch during the beginning of the 1980s. Knives, 1982, is a convergence of several contemporaneous trends in his work: beginning in 1979, Warhol painted his Retrospective series, which employed negative images of his own artistic iconography. The title of the series alluded to Warhol's own engagement with his past body of work; a reflection and meditation on his own achievements. Warhol also began in the 1970s to utilize symbols of political significance with greater frequency: from the hammer and sickle to Mao Zedong, Warhol zeroed in on iconography that was legible from a global viewpoint. Warhol, as well, began to return to a common motif in his oeurve in the depiction of violence and violent imagery. His keen sense of observation made him an astute identifier of both obvious and subtle morbidity in everyday life, and, as he conflated so many tenets of his work, he furthered the resonance of Pop Art in its later years. The present lot was first exhibited publicly in Warhol's 1982 show at Castelli- Goodman-Soloman gallery in East Hampton, New York. The exhibition displayed an unsettling and profound contrast between its lavish venue and Warhol's rather macabre and cynical subjects. As he had recently presented his Retrospective series, which conjured a sense of serenity in their selfreferential and reflective nature, the show came as somewhat of a shock to his audience: Warhol silkscreened three prominent images—knives, guns, and dollar signs. In a sense, Warhol was providing a prescient commentary on the impending economic disparity, decadence and rising crime rates of the 1980s; astutely identifying the more sinister themes in the American consciousness. While he chose to appear removed from the content of his silkscreens and from social criticism of the greed and violence in American culture, espousing only aesthetic appreciation for the images he created, Warhol nevertheless highlighted his talent as a social observer: in his work, "sordid reminders of American, crime, murder, and brutality could always surface unexpectedly and then just as quickly disappear"(R. Rosenblum, "Warhol's Knives", Koln, 1998, p. 9). In the present lot, Warhol's painted subjects were first captured with a Polaroid camera, then were blown up to a large format silkscreen. Warhol requested the knives themselves rather impulsively, and a friend of the Factory obtained them from a local butcher. From a selection of many, Warhol chose only the most mundane and ordinary subjects. Indeed, they have no defining characteristics other than the fact that they could conceivably be found in any home in America. Warhol's particular choice of knives reflects his devotion to the ubiquity and banality of certain images that he was able to transform into the most iconic. Instead of photographing the interesting and eccentric blade, "he chooses the common object, considered by most of us as nothing special, and elevat[es] it to art. Kitchen knives never looked more interesting and beautiful"(V. Fremont, "Galaxy 8" Slicer", Andy Warhol: Knives, p. 21). In Knives, 1985, we find Warhol employing one his favorite organizational techniques: three identical images appear horizontally and three vertically. His multiple arrangements invite comparisons to much of his earlier depictions of violent imagery, namely his silkscreens of car crashes and the electric chair. Warhol's use of multiple images mirrors the myriad uses of the same image in society at large. Whether in its use in the media following a grisly murder or afterwards, in our own recollections, the repetition of Warhol's image is a testament to its omnipresence in society's collective consciousness as expressed through mass media. The knives themselves are not a silkscreen of their developed image, but of Warhol's photographic negative. Rather than exist dully, their blades failing to reflect the light of the flash, Warhol's inverse image gives our subjects blades a fantastically lucid surface, nearly supernatural in their glow. Warhol's negative also blurs the edges of each independent imprint of the knives, delivering us not only three knives, but the illusion of twenty-seven gleaming daggers sharing the same space. The multiplicity of these lethal objects makes their presence even more fearsome, an embodiment of the vulnerability that we feel in the face of hidden violence. In addition, each set of three knives is grouped with their three blades over-lapping, the metallic surfaces becoming larger as each progressive knife is placed upon the one below it. Their formation resembles less a haphazard cluster of blades and more a grotesque group of multiple scissors. Though common and dull in their independence, the knives' convergence paints a monstrous picture; several small knives working together to form a wicked superweapon. And, of course, Warhol's coloring gives the present lot its most mischievous edge. We see Warhol employing this particularly saturated red hue as early as his hand painted images that predate the silkscreens, but most readily identified with his Campbell's soup cans. He readily employed this intense shade of red throughout his career and found it to be a powerful visual statement; it never fails to appeal to the viewer's sense of both passion and dread. A blood red hue, even without any allusion to a violent weapon, commands a sinister respect, one that we associate with our own mortality and demise. The single color hearkens back to Warhol's early silkscreens, such as that of Jackie Kennedy, where he often used one color in lieu of a more decorative effect. Indeed, red gives the viewer less of excuse to view the present lot with merely an aesthetic eye. Instead, Warhol's Knives invites deep introspection, where we contemplate the threats to our own finite existence. Warhol's black and red are echoes of the violent paranoia that enveloped America in the 1980s: as the threat of a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union loomed in the distance, the combination of red and black signaled a dismal combination: Red and Death. The spectral quality of Warhol's knives encapsulates his developing style in the 1980s. As his work became more indirectly referential to the world around him and more sly in its subtlety, his images took on a shifting quality from piece to piece, reflecting the capricious representational elements in his work: "as was more and more common to Warhol's art of the 1980s, positive and negative photographic images are shuffled, so that these once palpable objects take on a phantom quality; almost as if they were memories of the evidence, photographic or material, left in a criminal investigation"(R. Rosenblum, "Warhol's Knives", Koln, 1998, p. 13). But, as is common to his body of work, the latent violence alluded to in the present lot is also a scathing analysis of the reality of consumerism. The innocent and straightforward mass media advertisements of the 1950s and 1960s were gradually replaced with the convenient product promotions of television commercials, evolving ever more aggressive tactics to sell products. Finally, as the 1980s approached, the infomercial arrived. As the ultimate informative advertisement, the informercial assaulted its viewers with incredible detail of its product's benefits, as well as included performative elements aimed at engaging the viewer's sense of humor, empathy, and, ultimately, necessity. Among their most common products were, and continue to be, blades of all kinds—from sets of kitchen knives to blenders. Warhol began his career in advertising in the late 1940s. Observing all stages of the American fascination with kitchen knives, he was privy to its lasting imprint as a symbol of consumerist culture. With an ad-man's eye for the perennial omnipresence of the knife, Warhol's portrayal of the three blades in the present lot fits perfectly in his library of memento mori. While the subjects of his silkscreen may not have been responsible for any particular murder, their violence has permeated the American consumer for years, cutting through any unsure reservations in order to sell a product. Warhol shows us in the present lot that the violence in our surroundings does not only rear its head on cop shows and the media's reproductions of graphic images of horrific crime. It also comes through in the assault of the American consumer, as marketing agencies attempt to dismantle our hesitations to buy a product. This work from the latter half of Warhol's career conjures impressions of his early work. We find a thematic unity in his dark undertones: Marilyn Monroe, car crashes, knives and many other subjects of Warhol's work all demonstrate his tendency towards tragedy. For, in the end, tragic images leave an indelible mark on the the American consciousness. Their power is haunting, and their proclivity staying with us makes tragic images all the more suitable for immortaliztion in an artistic form. When we are confronted with images of dreadful weight, they bequeath the viewer with deeply emotional and reflective process in observation—the knives function much in the same way that a portrait of the electric chair does: it simultaneously frightens us, warns us, and teaches us to avoid encountering it. As his work reached a mature stage represented by the intersecting paths of his many artistic projects, Warhol's art grew immensely in its suggestiveness. However, as the artist who claimed that he only ever recreated images out of an aesthetic impulse, it is the viewer's initial reaction that showcases the most telling aspects of Warhol's art. Knives, 1982, for all of its incredible implications of societal underpinnings, violent subtitles, and political struggle, is a portrait nonetheless. While Warhol "can remind us that his work is firmly rooted in the facets of American life and death that never stopped nourishing his documentary eye and his visionary imagination"(R. Rosenblum, "Warhol's Knives", Koln, 1998, p. 15), he can simultaneously present us with a an eminently recognizable image, and one that is, at its core, a simple slice of American life.