Pop Art Perspectives
Andy Warhol is an icon. Bright colours and pop art is how most relate to him, but it says nothing of the man himself. An extraordinary auction now attempts to lift that veil, presenting Warhol as the observer, the photographer and even the tourist.
Documenting his 1982 trip to Hong Kong and Beijing, the 201 photographs in the Warhol in China sale by Phillips captures the seminal artist’s little-known trip to the Far East. Beginning as an invitation by Hong Kong engineer Alfred Siu to perform commissioned portraits, it turned into a unique chronicle. Warhol was no stranger to China – he began incorporating Chairman Mao into his portraits in 1972 – but it was only 10 years later that he encountered that iconography face-to-face, not from a little red book.
In the extensive notes he kept throughout the trip, Warhol found Hong Kong “glamorous" and “full of parties" – part of the high society his hosts Siu and Jeffrey Deitch, who co-founded Citibank’s Art Advisory Service, mixed in. In contrast, he found Beijing “astonishing", in sheer scale and in the uniformity of the people.
You see glimpses of this in the photographs from a private European collection. Candid at first, there is still intention behind the lens. The Hong Kong photographs, for example, might focus on familiar subjects – like the Star Ferry – but unusual angles lend a photojournalistic edge. Several were captured from Room 1801 at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, which hosted a Warhol in China exhibition in March. In contrast, the Beijing photos display more curiosity. China in 1982 was a mystery to most Westerners, and Warhol’s photos – of imposing statues of Mao and street barbers – are an extension of his inquisitiveness. But even in that informality, there is precision: photos where Warhol is the subject were staged, shot exactly the way he wanted it.
The most important works in the auction are five stitched photos, some of the earliest examples of a technique Warhol pioneered. The most striking of these is Lot 13 Great Wall of China, where the perspective seems to elongate and amplify the structure.
Phillips expects the sale to fetch at least HK$8.5 million (S$1.5 million). Historical importance may very well push that figure higher. After all, this is a rare glimpse into the private life of Warhol.
A public viewing has been scheduled from 25 to 28 May, with the auction taking place on the 28th.