From yesterday until September 24, a number of pre-fame works by late American pop artist Andy Warhol will be sold in Hong Kong at the Sotheby’s auction From Warhol, With Love. The sale is thin on images of Marilyn Monroe, Campbell’s soup cans, or other consumer relics. Instead, buyers are being shown a side of the artist that is little understood, from both his pre-fame and later years.
Media reports suggest his Ten One Dollar Bills could fetch $1 million – many more green notes than shown in the simple stencil sketch. In total, the 40-plus works on sale in the auction are valued from $10,000 to $1 million.
“The dollar bills are sort of a little bit later in his career,” said Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist Jacqueline Wachter. “It’s kind of evoking the concept of putting your money on the walls, putting these ordinary objects and elevating them to the status of high art.”
For those who need their fix of more standard Warhol fare, there are also portraits of Mick Jagger, Mao statues, and a self-portrait that is pure Warhol. But for our purposes, it’s more interesting to consider some of the works inspired by his travels in Asia. His Shoe series is also for sale.
Among these Asia-inspired are a number of ink-on-paper works from the 1950s that reveal his output before he became preoccupied with money, pop culture, and celebrity. These include Angkor Wat, several sketches of Bangkok (here’s one), Bali-inspired drawings, as well as sketches of scenes he observed during his journey through Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.
The inspiration behind these Asia-focused works – there are many more – were triggered by Warhol’s trip to Hong Kong in 1956. His sojourn inspired him to incorporate a number of Chinese motifs – gold, butterflies – into his work. Further, his exhibition 15 Minutes Eternal passed from Hong Kong to the mainland, where his work is already well-known. During the exhibition’s stint at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the visitor attracted more than 250,000 visitors in 16 weeks. No less than Chinese dissident, artist, and provocateur Ai Weiwei lists Warhol as a major influence.
“We've really been seeing both in our private sales and in our auction sales that China is becoming a very big part of our business,” Wachter said.
She added, “China was important to him, and hopefully he will be important to China.”
Hong Kong gallery owner Angelika Li added, “Our collectors here are very aware, very learned about Andy Warhol and his artistic career, his charisma, his humour, his colors and his concepts, and how he translated his own ideas through his art.”