Friday, 20 July 2012

Warhol's Olympics

Almost a month ago a work of art was sold at the Phillips auction house in London for a record £6,761,250. It was the highest price ever paid for a joint work by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat called “Olympics” (1984).

Most people think the Olympics is only about sport. When Baron Pierre de Coubertin began the present modern revival of the games he wanted to include competitions for art, architecture, sculpture and music, and it is these “events” and associated artistic lgbt contributions which I’ll concentrate on in 2 posts over the next few weeks. Today we’ll look specifically at the Warhol and the Olympics.

Perhaps Andy Warhol seems an unlikely contender for an Olympic artist but he used the theme of sport before being invited to submit a work for the games. In 1977 the American art collector Richard Weisman asked Warhol to produce a series of paintings based on sport. The result was a series of 10 portraits of great sporting legends of the time, including Muhammad Ali and Pele.

Perhaps prompted by this sporting portrait series the organisers of the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984 invited Warhol to submit a new work inspired by sport. It would be included is a portfolio of other work by other artists. Warhol used 2 images of a speed skater superimposed one on top of the other, giving the impression of speed.

In late 1983 Warhol was asked by Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger to work with young graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Warhol was one of Basquiat’s heroes and his energy brought a fresh source of inspiration to Warhol. Between them they produced several joint works inspired by the Olympics, which were being held in Los Angeles in 1984.

After his death in 1987 Andy Warhol became part of the “Olympic Establishment” when the Olympic Museum in Lausanne staged a retrospective exhibition of his sport-inspired work in 1995.

Another of the Warhol/Basquiat Olympic collaborations is on display in London this month. The Gagosian Gallery is showing the 1985 work “Olympic Rings”.

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