LOS ANGELES — John Moran Auctioneers will conduct its Summer Modern & Contemporary auction on Tuesday, August 30, starting at noon Pacific time. This sale will feature many exceptional artists and their most impressive works, but one stands alone: Andy Warhol’s screenprint portrait of John Wayne. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Out of all the portraits ever produced by Andy Warhol, his depictions of Hollywood celebrities are among the most memorable. John Wayne was originally part of a 10-print portfolio titled Cowboys and Indians, a suite of screenprints of portraits of key figures in the mythology surrounding the American West, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, George Custer and Geronimo.
This unique version of Warhol’s John Wayne, estimated at $70,000-$90,000, comes from the estate of John Wayne, now owned by his daughter, Melinda Wayne Munoz. The story of how it was acquired by the Wayne family back in the 1980s starts with the actor’s son, Michael Wayne, randomly spotting it in a New York gallery.
As a reference for this screenprint, Warhol used a press shot from Wayne’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Unfortunately, he never sought formal approval to use the image before releasing his Cowboys & Indians portfolio, so when the rights to the John Wayne name and images were transferred to the actor’s family after his death in 1979, legal measures were taken against the artist.
After negotiations to license the image were unsuccessful, Wayne’s children filed a lawsuit against Warhol to recover the profits from the artist’s unauthorized use of the image. In response to the lawsuit, all remaining examples of the print were recalled by the Factory, including prints that had already been purchased. These works had their edition number removed, and Wayne’s scarf or pistol was re-colored in one-off color variations before being inscribed “Unique” at the bottom right corner.
Although Warhol was ultimately unsuccessful in re-editioning every print in the John Wayne series, the transformation of the prints into unique objects meant that they could not legally be defined as a product, which provided the artist with some protection against copyright infringement. In addition to re-numbering each John Wayne print from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio, the Warhol Foundation also gave this work, along with several other prints, to the Wayne family as part of a settlement regarding the artist’s unauthorized use of the actor’s likeness.
Also featured in the August 30 sale is a work by the Santa Fe-based Post-War and Contemporary painter Dick Mason. His 1991 piece Painting of a dog in front of a print of a dog in front of a painting of a dog in front of a print. #1, with an estimate of $8,000-$12,000, depicts a pair of dalmatians positioned in front of a print of dalmatians that is tacked to the wall behind them — a clever take on trompe l’oeil painting for the modern age.
This French painting technique, which in English means “trick of the eye,” creates the optical illusion of depth to deceive the viewer about the reality of the subject matter. The 1991 painting reflects a major shift in Mason’s style that came in response to difficult circumstances the artist faced in his personal life. After contracting HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis, Mason adopted a pair of dalmatians to keep him company, and they quickly became the focus of his art. This example of trompe l’oeil exemplifies how Mason sought to bridge the gap between the real world and the imaginary.
Shifting the focus from the Southwest to the East Coast is Alice Baber’s 1976 work Swirl of Sounds – The Ghost in the Banyan Tree. Estimated at $3,000-$5,000, it is painted in deep, rich hues that have been applied to the canvas as semi-transparent ovoids. Baber, who was briefly married to the artist Paul Jenkins during the 1960s, remains one of the lesser-known figures in the Abstract Expressionist movement. Although her paintings were exhibited in New York during her lifetime, Baber remained distinctly untethered to the Big Apple in stark contrast to many of her contemporaries. She died of cancer at the age of 54.
The final highlight in this sale is by an American professional athlete who become an artist, Ernie Barnes. His 1968 work, The Linemen, carries an estimate of $40,000-$60,000. While Barnes’s paintings have been appreciated by members of the Black community since the 1960s, acknowledgment of his significance by art historians and mainstream collectors is a recent development.
Between 2018 and 2019, Barnes’s work was the subject of major exhibitions in both Los Angeles and his home state of North Carolina. In May 2022, the sale of his painting Sugar Shack, which was featured on the cover of a Marvin Gaye album in 1976, caused a sensation. Widely considered to be Barnes’s masterpiece, Sugar Shack sold for $15.2 million – more than 76 times its high estimate – after a prolonged bidding war.
The Linemen, as the work has been known to the family that initially commissioned it, has been a treasured heirloom for three generations. The August 30 sale marks its debut at auction, presenting an opportunity for collectors to acquire a fresh-to-market example of Barnes’s coveted football paintings.
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