What is it about Warhol?

Susie Rushton on the unstoppable appeal of the Pop artist’s work
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The Independent Culture

There’s art for sale – and then there’s Warhol. When it comes to the economies of buying and selling contemporary art, Andy is in his own league. Take two of the pictures in the gallery.

One canvas is a portrait of Liz Taylor, completed in 1962. The other, of Conrad Black, was finished in 1981. This week, Hugh Grant sold his “Liz” for £11.5m, five times the price he paid in 2001. At what many commentators view as the bursting-point of the current art-market bubble, the unidentified vendor of the portrait of Lord Black of Crossharbour pocketed £140,000.

Whether iconic or rarely seen, at a moment when contemporary art has become inextricably linked to investment, a Warhol canvas is the safest bet there is. In the past year Christie’s report a 30% leap in premium prices for the artist.

It’s easy to account for the price differential between Taylor and Black: the Liz portrait, completed in the same era as his Alis, Marilyns and Campbells soup cans, is a defining work by the artist. Executed in the 1960s, the prints were largely handmade, using silk screens and daubs of turquoise, black and scarlet to convey his subject’s familiar features. His rather flattering rendering of a younger Lord Black, on the other hand, is not a defining work.

The artist loved celebrities but often made good his mantrathat everyone would be famous for 15 minutes by making prints of far lesserknown industrialists and socialites – Yves Saint Laurent even commissioned him to immortalise his French bulldog, Moujik.

Unseen Warhols still excite considerable interest. Another sale at Christie’s in February will bring to the market even more of Warhol’s minor creations: screen prints of flowers, and a Volkswagen. And the market will no doubt lap them up.

The father of Pop art would no doubt relish his modern status as a commodity traded among hedge-fund managers and movie stars. “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,” he once wrote. “During the hippie era people put down the idea of business – they’d say, ‘Money is bad’, and ‘Working is bad’, but making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

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