On November 14, Christie’s in New York will offer Andy Warhol’s iconic Statue of Liberty, a seminal work from Warhol’s greatest and most powerful Pop Art series of the 1960s and one of the most important pictures by the artist ever to come to auction. Appropriating a timeless icon of America and democratic freedom as his own, the painting is a love letter from the fame-struck son of an immigrant family to his beloved New York. Always pushing the boundaries of art, moreover, Andy Warhol’s Statue Liberty is a pioneering example of 3-D painting, the first of its kind. This museum quality work, estimated in excess of $35 million, is the only example of the 1962 series in which Warhol experimented with 3-D techniques, still in private hands. The two other works in this group are in museums: Optical Car Crash is in the collection of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland and a smaller version of Statue of Liberty is in the collection of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
“Andy Warhol’s Statue of Liberty is one of his most important statements on America and on painting in the 1960s. At once deeply personal and universal, Warhol’s Lady Liberty is a symbol of hope painted at a time of crisis in America. It is a famous icon of the American dream, alongside Warhol’s most popular American subjects such as the Coca-Cola bottle, the Campbell’s soup-cans, his Marilyns and Elvis,” said Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art.
Statue of Liberty stands firmly as the launch pad for one of the artist’s most important series from the 1960s—the Death and Disaster paintings. Painted in 1962 at the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement, and in a city under the real threat of nuclear obliteration, Warhol chose to paint his Statue of Liberty as the prelude to his Death and Disaster series, in which he coolly examined the dark underbelly of the American dream. Screened over and over again on the same canvas, in blood red and corrosive green, Warhol’s multiple images of the Statue of Liberty stand as a proud and ironic counterpoint to the car-crashes, suicides, race riots, electric chairs, atom bombs and dead celebrities from this greatest period of his career. Presented in sequence like near-identical stills from a movie, or rows of souvenirs on a dime-store shelf, the Statue of Liberty is here as much a mass-produced commodity of today’s culture as a can of soup.
Andy Warhol’s development as an artist was indelibly linked with New York ever since he arrived in the city in 1949. The proliferation of imagery that Warhol found in New York City fired his imagination and led him to develop a unique visual style that managed to topple Abstract Expressionism as the city’s dominant language of artistic expression. Pop became Warhol’s raison-d’être. An insatiable consumer of popular culture, Warhol took the objects he saw around him and turned them into high art, and from his earliest days as a professional artist, he captured the explosion in modern American culture that would dominate the world. The Statue of Liberty is perhaps one of the most recognizable objects in the world, still revered as the ultimate symbol of democracy and freedom.
Along with Optical Car Crash, 1962, now in the collection of the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, Statue of Liberty belongs to a unique group of pictures in which Warhol pioneered the realm of 3–D painting. He appropriated the image of Lady Liberty from a post-card, first screening it in turquoise, Warhol layered these impressions with the same silkscreen in red, deliberately misaligning each register slightly. The effect through 3-D glasses literally brings a new and magical dimension to Warhol’s art, as well as a gritty and grainy realism to his depiction of the Statue.
To celebrate Warhol’s visionary use of 3-D, Christie’s will include 3-D glasses and a special 3-D section in the Evening sale catalogue.
The Statue of Liberty – A Gift from France
The graceful figure of the Statue of Liberty was destined to become an iconic symbol of freedom ever since the idea was first conceived at a dinner party held in Paris in 1865 at the home of the prominent French political intellectual, Édouard de Laboulaye. Laboulaye had a long standing animosity towards the French ruling elite and had looked to the United States as an example of the kind of democracy he yearned for. Also present at the dinner was Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, an ambitious young sculptor who was an idealist by nature and a Republican by political conviction. Bartholdi persuaded Laboulaye that he should design the Statue and soon produced a proposal that was based on an amalgamation of the fabled figures of ‘Marianne’, ‘Britannia’ and the embodiment of Liberty that had already appeared on American coins and medals. He made a number of preliminary models varying in size and scale but all carrying a symbolic torch that would become the pinnacle of the final design.
Construction of the Statue’s head finally began in France in 1877 and the completed section was exhibited with great excitement at the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris. In 1880, Bartholdi secured the services of the pioneering architect and engineer Alexander-Gustave Eiffel as his structural engineer and in 1885, after contributions from nearly 200 towns and communities across France, the French navy vessel Isère left France with over 200 crates containing the iron skeleton and copper skin of the Statue on their way to her new home across the Atlantic. In October 2012, the Statue of Liberty is currently celebrating its 126th birthday.
“Warhol loved to stretch the boundaries between high art and lowbrow taste. Since the early 1950s, 3–D effects had been popular in comic books and in drive-in horror movies, exemplified by films like Vincent Price’s 1953 House of Wax or Warhol’s own 3-D adult production of Frankenstein in the early 1970s (see tailer below). Just as today, with the massive resurgence of interest in 3-D through films like ‘Avatar’ and new television technology, 3–D has always been at the forefront of the modern age,” says Brett Gorvy. While no doubt relishing the camp, B-movie status of 3–D in the 1960s, Warhol recognized the revolutionary nature of this visual language in art, especially when at that time, many artists – be it Jasper Johns or the Color Field painters – were still exploring the two-dimensional reality of the picture plane in their work.
Andy Warhols FRANKENSTEIN
Image above: Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Statue of Liberty. Silkscreen inks, spray enamel and graphite on canvas, 77 3/4 x 81 in. (197.5 x 205.7 cm.). Painted in 1962. Estimate on request. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2012.