Andy Warhol is an art-world colossus whose work accounts for one-sixth of contemporary-art sales. How did that happen, and is he really worth it? Bryan Appleyard canvasses the experts …
Sara Friedlander, the 27-year-old head of First Open Sale at Christie’s in New York, has a startling view of American art history. “Nothing good was made in the 19th century, nothing really good was made in the 18th century and American art in the 20th century for the first three, four or five decades was very elitist.”
There was, in this view, no American Titian or Picasso, Raphael or Matisse. And then, suddenly, on July 9th 1962, there was. That was the date of the first solo show by Andy Warhol, the 33-year-old son of Slovakian immigrants. It was at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and it consisted of a series of 32 paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans, one for each flavour—beef, clam chowder, cheddar cheese, etc. The response was underwhelming. Five sold for $100 each, but the gallery owner bought them back to keep the series intact.
Nevertheless, by the end of that year, Warhol had conquered New York, the capital of the art world, and America had the artist for which she had been waiting. “He reached a public”, says Friedlander, “that no artist was able to do before him. Because he was able to accomplish what nobody else had done and in the way he was able to influence what came after him, I think that makes him, I would guess, the greatest artist of the 20th century.”
There is nothing unorthodox about this claim. Almost unanimously, today’s young art fans adore Andy as earlier generations adored Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock. “To the under-45s”, says Georgina Adam of the Art Newspaper, “Warhol is what Picasso used to be to an older generation…and, like Picasso, he has become a man for all seasons.”
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