Andy Warhol is everywhere these days. Just yesterday, on the 50th anniversary of his first show, the Met unveiled the “Regarding Warhol” retrospective, which includes 50 of his works and 100 more from 59 of his contemporaries. This coincides, not unintentionally, with Target’s launch of 1.2 million special collector editions of Campbell’s tomato soup, mimicking the $10 million dollar print of Warhol’s Four Campbell’s Soup Cans — so the everyday shopper can buy their own piece of pop art for just 75 cents a can (or rather the $50+ enterprising shoppers have been hawking on eBay). Then, of course, there’s the on-going legal battle between The Velvet Underground founders, Lou Reed and John Cale, over the proliferation of their debut album’s cover graphic, the iconic, 45-year-old pop art banana designed by Warhol (who used to hobnob with The Velvet Underground and Nico as they conducted band practices in his infamous Factory). Even without all this press, you’ve still probably seen a Marilyn Monroe triptych decal pasted on the back of a Macbook belonging to some wannabe Warholic (read: tryhard trendygirl in Libe).
And just when you think you can’t stand to see another brillo pad sculpture replica as an iPhone case, or one of those truly grotesque instant pop-art applications that people use to transforms pictures of, like, their dog or whatever, get this: You will only see more of Warhol in the coming years. In fact, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts announced earlier last week that it intends to release 20,000 pieces of Warhol’s remaining estate. That’s TWENTY THOUSAND. While Warhol was one of the most prolific artists of all time and a general poster boy for meaningless excess, 20,000 pieces of work (silk-screens, archival materials, drawings and photographs) is unreasonable, and the implications of such an aggressive marketplace move might rock the art world.
Only Christie’s has obtained the privilege of auctioning off all 20,000 pieces in intervals within the next five or so years. While this may sound like a rather unhurried pace in other industries, in the art world this is definitely express shopping. What’s more, this fire sale will be held primarily on the Internet. Because nothing says priceless art like “add to cart.” Only 350 pieces will be sold under the gavel in a New York showroom this November 12 to ascertain the best price for more valuable pieces, such as a 19-foot silk screen entitled Three Targets and a paper collage of Jacqueline Kennedy called Jackie. The rest will be moved in online-only sales, which Christie’s believes will garner top price for the pieces by reaching a larger global audience where the clout of Warhol’s name alone will carry the sale. However, wasn’t it rival auction-house Sotheby’s who tried to revive the online-only sale in 2003, only to flop on its face in a lucrative deal with eBay that failed to sell much of anything?
And wouldn’t flooding the market with 20,000 Warhols serve to devalue all of his works thereafter? Since 200 Warhols are transacted in the art world a year, there seems to be little room for growth in this already saturated market. Of course, this news has been fatal to anyone who actually owns a Warhol, such as Alberto Mugrabi, a New York dealer with 800 pieces himself. He and his colleagues have already offered to buy out the $100 million dollar estate collection for fear that the Foundation will dilute the Warhol brand with their current decision, but the Foundation declined.
Michael Strauss, chairman of the Foundation, is adamant — he no longer wants the liability of insuring and protecting 20,000 pieces of art. By liquidating the Foundation’s assets, he says, “We’re converting art into money.” Ostensibly, this $100 million in sales will be used to give more art-related grants, but with a $225 million endowment in the bank already and only a microscopic fraction of that used in the past years for grants, there is a bit of confusion. Is he converting art into money to rest on top of his enormous mountain of existing, unused money? Meanwhile, will his plan to turn Warhol’s art into money actually turn Warhol’s art into trash?
Soon, you’ll find Warhol’s once-priceless prints in yard sales. We’ll wrap Campbell’s soup cans in Warhol’s print of Campbell’s because it’ll be more cost-effective than printing the labels themselves. We’ll shred up those pesky Elvis Presleys and Marilyn Monroes and Queen Elizabeths to making bedding in our hamster cages because trees need to be conserved more than Warhol’s works do. Fish markets will start wrapping their fish in Warhols because the newspaper industry is dying but, hey, we still have approximately sixty billion of these ugly screen-prints to recycle. Next week, you’ll walk through the Met to see the “Regarding Warhol” exhibit and get to place little pink sticky notes on all the pieces you want to take home like you’re choosing accent furniture at a Raymour & Flanigan. Tomorrow, I’ll walk into Libe and see tryhard trendygirl’s MacBook slapped with a Banksy decal because Warhol is, like, so over. And you know what? She’ll be right.