Warhol’s ‘Shot Blue Marilyn’ Heads to Christie’s (for $200 Million)

An iconic screenprint of Marilyn by Andy Warhol is heading to auction at Christie’s this spring – with a $200 million asking price, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The 3-foot square silk-screen from 1964 depicts a promotional photo from the actress’s film Niagara. The artist transformed the actress into a pop-art icon by giving her a bubblegum-pink face, ruby lips and blue eye shadow set against a sage-blue background. The work is part of a signature series of ‘Shot Marilyn’ portraits made famous after a gun-toting visitor allegedly fired a shot into a stack of canvases in the artist’s studio in 1964.

The seller of this ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ version is an eponymous foundation created by the well-known Zurich dealer Doris Ammann, who died at age 76 last year, and her late brother, Thomas, a dealer who helped sell and catalog the official inventory of Warhol’s works before Mr. Ammann died in 1993.

If successful, this example will smash the artist’s current auction record of $105.4 million set nine years ago when Sotheby’s sold 1963’s ‘Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).’ Potential bidders will need to spend far more to surpass private sales of Warhol’s work, though. In 2017, hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin paid the estate of publishing magnate Si Newhouse at least $200 million for the orange version from the same ‘Shot Marilyn’ series, according to a person familiar with the deal.

On Monday, Christie’s said it intends to auction off ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ in New York in May with all the theatrical frenzy it gave five years ago to the overall titleholder, Leonardo da Vinci’s $450.3 million ‘Salvator Mundi,’ which carried a $100 million asking price.

‘This painting symbolizes everything that’s relevant to us about the 20th century—you can see all its beauty and tragedy in her face,’ said Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of its 20th and 21st century art departments, during a press conference about the sale. ‘Whenever a painting like this comes to market, it changes the market, and not just for Warhol.’

It has been years since the upper reaches of Warhol’s market underwent a major test, dealers say. Meanwhile, his market pre-eminence has been challenged by younger artists he admired like Jean-Michel Basquiat … Yet collectors have been willing to splurge when prime examples by Warhol come onto the market, including last fall when Sotheby’s sold a nearly 7-foot-tall silk-screen of ‘Nine Marilyns’ from 1962 from the Henry and Linda Macklowe collection for $47.4 million.”

“The rollicking back story of ‘Shot Sage Blue Marilyn’ could give Warhol some added lustre and justify the sky-high asking price, Christie’s said.

Warhol created five silk-screens of the star in this particular ‘Marilyn’ series and experimented with a new screen printing technique he developed and only used for this set, giving each a different background such as red, orange, blue, sage blue and turquoise. The group became the stuff of art-world lore after a performance artist, Dorothy Podber, spotted them stacked against a wall in Warhol’s studio in 1964 and asked if she could shoot them. Warhol agreed, thinking she intended to photograph the works. Instead, she took out a gun and fired at a stack of ‘Marilyn’ works in Warhol’s East 47th Street studio, known as the Factory.

Warhol banished the vandal and repaired the red and blue works that were damaged; the others, including this sage-blue version, remained unscathed. Even so, the incident’s notoriety has since turned these ‘Shot Marilyns’ into plums coveted by some of the art world’s biggest buyers. Owners of other examples of ‘Shot Marilyn’ works include newsprint executive Peter Brant, who said he paid $5,000 for the light blue version in 1967. Greek shipping tycoon Philip Niarchos won the red version at auction for $3.6 million in 1994 when the art market was in a slump. In 2007, Chicago collector Stefan Edlis sold his turquoise version for $80 million to hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen.

Ms. Ammann and her younger brother, Thomas, bought this sage-blue version from Mr. Newhouse, Christie’s said. Over the years it has been exhibited in museums such as New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Paris’s Centre Pompidou and London’s Tate. The Ammanns’ foundation, formed as part of Ms. Ammann’s estate and overseen by her gallery partner Georg Frei, said it plans to ply all the proceeds from the Warhol into charitable causes helping children.”