Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn’ sells for $195 million, setting US record

A woman takes a photo of Andy Warhol’s ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ during the press preview for Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art at Christie’s New York on April 29, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Andy Warhol’s 1964 portrait of Marilyn Monroe sold for $195 million at Christie’s on Monday night, becoming the most expensive American work of art ever sold.

The price suggests that the art market, at least at the high end, is largely under pressure from falling inventories and rising interest rates. Christie’s and Sotheby’s plan to sell more than $2 billion worth of art in the next two weeks, and “Marilyn’s” record price could boost confidence among wealthy buyers for other works.

Although slightly below the $200 million estimate, and well below the $250 million to $300 million whispered price many dealers were expecting, the sale is still seen as a vote of confidence for art as a long-term store of value. term amid volatile market cycles. . The buyer was not identified.

“This goes to show that quality and scarcity will always drive the market,” Andrew Fabricant, chief operating officer of Gagosian Galleries and one of the top dealers to the wealthy, told CNBC ahead of the sale. “It will give everyone’s thinking a psychological boost.”

The Marilyn, known as the “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” was one of five versions in different color combinations that Warhol painted in 1964, two years after Marilyn Monroe’s death. With their brilliant colors and captivating expression, the portraits became some of Warhol’s most iconic and famous images. An orange version was recently sold to hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin for more than $200 million.

“It’s the Mount Everest of its time,” Fabricant said. “When these paintings were made, everyone in the world knew the story of Marilyn Monroe, the epic loss and the epic achievement. And Warhol himself was beginning to become an icon. So these are two icons in their heyday.”

The portraits were based on a promotional photo of Monroe from the movie “Niagara.” The portraits became even more famous when, shortly after they were completed, a woman walked into Warhol’s Factory studio with a gun and shot a stack of four of them. The “sage blue” paint was damaged and the others were repaired. But the shots increased his appeal and became part of his titles.

The version sold Monday was owned by a Swiss family of art dealers, the Ammanns, who have owned it since the early 1980s. Proceeds will go to charity. The Thomas and Doris Ammann Foundation in Zurich said it will use the funds to support health and education programs for children around the world.

In addition to breaking the record for the most expensive American work of art ever auctioned, it is the second most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, behind Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which sold at Christie’s in 2017 for $450. million dollars and ahead. of Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger,” which sold for $179 million in 2015.

Unlike most high-priced works sold at auction, “Marilyn” was not sold with a guarantee, which is a minimum price at which a third party or the auction house agrees to purchase the work. Dealers say the sellers wanted to maximize profits for the charity, and guarantees typically require sellers to forgo part of the price hike above the guaranteed amount.

“This was a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Fabricant said. “Pieces like this just don’t show up that often.”

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