LONDON – At Sotheby’s in London, a work from Andy Warhol’s very first series of self-portraits has sold for $7.7 million. The work appeared at auction for the first time this evening, 30 years after the artist’s death in 1987.
“In the age of Instagram, Warhol’s fabled prediction that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ has never felt more prophetic, and the artist’s first self-portraits – created using a strip of photographs taken in a New York dime store photo-booth – have never felt more relevant to contemporary culture. This is a work of immense art historical importance that marks the watershed moment when Warhol joined the canon of the greatest self-portraitists,” said James Sevier, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist, Contemporary Art
After achieving renown for his candid portrayals of luminaries including Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor in the early 1960s, Self-Portrait represents the moment that Warhol stepped out from behind the camera and into the glare of its flashbulb. This painting belongs to the very first sequence of self-portraits created by Warhol. Based on the first image in a strip of photo booth portraits, this work is effectively Wahrol’s first-ever selfie. The use of such unconventional source material was, at this time, fiercely innovative, adding to the aura of technical invention that already surrounded the artist. Warhol had previously used the same photo-booth medium to create an extraordinary portrait of the famous New York collector Ethel Scull. The resultant painting is now one of the most celebrated works of Warhol’s early career, jointly owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Warhol considered his first engagements with self-portraiture a consummate success. He revisited the genre throughout the 1960s, and periodically in the ensuing decades. More than any artist before him, Warhol’s image, identity, and constructed public persona, were inextricably bound to his art. The self-portraits thus became the richest and most fertile sites for his invention. Starting with the present painting, he commodified himself into an icon – as immediately identifiable as Elvis, Marilyn, or Liz. In Self-Portrait, as much as in any of the self-portraits that followed, Warhol presents himself as a constructed fiction. We are reminded of the artist’s 1967 statement: “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am: there’s nothing in between.”