On May 17, Christie’s will offer Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963 as a central highlight of its Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art (estimate in the region of $30 million*). The silver Elvis paintings that Warhol made in the summer of 1963 are among the defining icons of his oeuvre. Representing the culmination of several series of celebrity portraits that Warhol made in the early 1960s, these definitive ‘icons of an icon’ rank amongst the most resonant and enduring pictorial statements of his art. Double Elvis pays tribute to a larger-than-life superstar whose international fame brought him the level of celebrity Warhol himself so coveted and admired. Double Elvis unites two of the most venerated men of modern times—the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Prince of Pop.
Double Elvis [Ferus Type] will be offered alongside Warhol’s controversial Most Wanted Men, No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr., 1964, uniting two exceptional canvases that share in the artist’s obsession with American icons of all kinds.
Alex Rotter, Co-Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, remarked: “The King of Rock’n’Roll and the career criminal – icons of icons. These two paintings are very memorable and early examples of Warhol’s profound understanding of fame. Both works, pure black silkscreen on silver and white backgrounds, are the best of Andy Warhol in one auction. We are thrilled to present them together in Christie’s New York sale of Post-War and Contemporary art.”
Loic Gouzer, Co-Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, remarked: “For Warhol, an artist who was obsessed with popular culture and fame, Elvis was a perfect subject. With its monumental size and its shimmering silver surface, this painting encapsulates the glamour and power of Rock and Roll as Warhol saw it. Coming from one of the most ground-breaking exhibitions ever staged for Warhol, this painting holds a paramount place within the pantheon of his celebrity portraits.”Warhol’s Double Elvis does not portray Elvis the hip-shaking musician but rather Elvis the actor playing a role in the 1960 movie Flaming Star, a liberal-themed Western in which Presley plays Pacer Burton, a half-Kiowa youth torn between two cultures. The painting is a unique variation from a group of portraits of single and multiplied Elvises created especially for Warhol’s second solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles—the center of America’s entertainment industry. Of the twenty-two extant ‘Ferus Type’ Elvis works, eleven are in museum collections, including the canvas Bob Dylan insisted on taking in exchange for his presence in a Warhol film, now housed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Double Elvis features two black screenprinted images of the King on a silver painted ground. A bold, high-contrast figure is accompanied by its ghostly duplicate, collapsing Warhol’s strategy of serialization into a single frame, while also providing an eerie reminder that Presley was a twin, his brother being lost at birth. When the crowd of cloned Elvises was shown at the Ferus Gallery, the paintings were both confrontational and an almost anonymous backdrop.
The Ferus Gallery’s director, Irving Blum, had tried to press on Warhol the idea of a mini-retrospective, writing, “your exhibition should be the most intense and far-reaching composite of past work, and the Elvis paintings should be shown in the rear of my gallery area.” Warhol, however, insisted on focusing on his new work and planned to utilize the gallery’s physical space as part of a highly conceptual installation. Before his arrival, Warhol instructed Blum to line the front room with his series of Elvis paintings and the back room with portraits of Elizabeth Taylor.
The repetition of the image created an impression of mass production that had rarely been seen before in an artistic context. The effect was of great interest to artists like Larry Bell, who wrote in response to the exhibition: “It is my opinion that Andy Warhol is an incredibly important artist; he has been able to take painting as we know it, and completely change the frame of reference of painting as we know it, and do it successfully in his own terms. These terms are also terms that we may not understand … In any event, nothing can take away from it the important changes that the work itself has made in the considerations of other artists.”
Christie’s will also offer Andy Warhol’s Most Wanted Men, No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr., 1964 (estimate in the range of $30 million*) as a highlight of its May 17th Evening Sale. This diptych belongs to one of the artist’s controversial Most Wanted Men series, which was originally conceived as a monumental mural to celebrate the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and famously destroyed just a few days before the fair’s official opening. Later that year, Warhol made a series of nearly two dozen larger than life-size canvases featuring thirteen of these “most wanted” men, among them was the present work.
About Most Wanted, Gouzer remarked: “From the spotlight of Hollywood to the crackling flash light of a prison mug shot, these two works exemplify Warhol’s fascination with exploring life’s dichotomy. Throughout his career, Warhol exposed the tenuousness existing between fame and shame and between life and death one silkscreen at a time. It is a real privilege to be able to stage this Warholian collision between the light and glory of Double Elvis and the darkness and underground grit of the Most Wanted Men.
Rotter continued: “Despite its dark subject matter, Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr. fits perfectly within Andy Warhol’s Pop vernacular. Just as he did with his paintings of Elvis, Liz Taylor, Campbell’s Soup cans, and Coca-Cola bottles, Warhol set out to embrace the entire range of Americana. Thirty years later, the popularity of Television hits as America’s Most Wanted and the current trend for social media hashtags such ‘#hotfelon’ personified by Jeremy Meeks, this work demonstrates that the phenomenon which Warhol had identified is still alive and well. It is exceptionally rare that examples from this notorious series come to auction, and we expect that it will be met with enthusiasm across the collecting community.
Part of this important series, Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr. is one of only six subjects that Warhol made two versions of, with this particular work’s sister painting being housed in the permanent collection of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main. With his boyish good looks rendered in Ben-day dots, Most Wanted Men No. 11 John Joseph H., Jr is a haunting reminder of the dark underside of America during a time when the country was projecting a confident, forward-looking culture to the rest of the world.
Among his many depictions of American cultural icons, the subject of Andy Warhol’s Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr. stands as one of the most striking. With his chiseled features, dark, smoldering eyes and wavy brown hair, the could easily belong to one of the teenage matinee idols with which the artist began his career. Yet, with a police ID slate pinned to his jacket, and rendered in monochromatic Ben-day dots, this 22-year-old is actually a dangerous criminal, an armed robber wanted by the New York City Police Department.
In the beginning of 1963, the architect Philip Johnson approached Warhol, along with Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Peter Agostini, John Chamberlain, James Rosenquist, Robert Mallary, and Alexander Lieberman, to create a mural-sized work to adorn the outside of the Panoramic Cinema Theater, a centerpiece of the New York State Pavilion at the World’s Fair to be held the following year. For his part, Warhol decided to reproduce, on a monumental scale, thirteen mugshots of various criminals taken from a booklet entitled The Thirteen Most Wanted Men.
The Thirteen Most Wanted Men series was controversial from the start. The large-scale mural was painted over just days after it was first installed, although the exact reasons have proved to be difficult to ascertain. Initially, it was thought that Warhol himself had instigated this process, saying that he wasn’t happy with the final result. While press reports at the time reported that, “Mr. Warhol claims that the work was not properly installed and felt that it did not do justice to what he had in mind. Mr. Johnson [Philip Johnson, the architect] said yesterday that he was in agreement with the artist and ordered the mural removed from the building.” But perhaps more logically, it might have been felt by the fair’s organizers that a work of art depicting armed robbers and murderers was not in keeping with the fair’s theme of “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.” Whatever the precise circumstances around this act of censorship (or self-censorship), the resulting controversy has meant this series has an important place in the artist’s oeuvre.
Most Wanted Men No. 11, John Joseph H., Jr. was acquired first by Mickey Ruskin, the founder, and owner of the legendary New York nightclub and restaurant Max’s Kansas City. Soon after it opened in December 1965, Max’s became the regular hangout of a new generation of New School painters and sculptors that included Robert Rauschenberg, John Chamberlain, and Larry Rivers; other artists who frequented the venue included Brice Marden, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Serra, Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. But perhaps their most famous patron was Warhol himself, who would often frequent the famous backroom, taking over the entire space and turning it into the epicenter of New York nightlife at the time. In addition to this distinguished provenance, the painting has been included in a number of important exhibitions including the seminal retrospective of Warhol’s work organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1989, and which later traveled to the Hayward Gallery in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
*Other fees will apply in addition to the hammer price – see Section D of the Conditions of Sale at the back of the sale catalog.
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium. Sales totals are hammer price plus buyer’s premium and are reported net of applicable fees.