2:08 pm Sep. 6, 2012
The Andy Warhol Foundation’s decision to sell off its entire Warhol catalog through Christie’s this Fall is an effort to raise money for the foundation’s endowment. But the sale is also an opportunity for the auction house to determine how well online-only sales fare in the global art market.
For several years, Christie’s website has featured a live-bidding option, meaning people can bid from home in their pajamas on items that are being auctioned inside a room in Rockefeller Center. The new online-only approach, however, removes the barrier of place and time—potentially drawing more eyeballs and, as a result, higher auction sales.
“Most of our online-only sales will be open and available for a week,” Christie’s specialist Amy Cappellazzo said in a phone interview today. “So if you’re in Azerbaijan, you don’t have to log in at 12 past 3 on a Wednesday morning in order to bid.”
Warhol may be a household name, Cappellazzo added, but many people around the world have never seen a Warhol up close.
“The prospect of delivering his work in places it’s never landed before is very exiting. It’s exactly what Andy would have wanted.”
Christie’s began experimenting with online-only sales last year, putting bottles of wine and articles from Elizabeth Taylor’s estate on the digital auction block. At the same time, The Warhol Foundation was searching for ways to increase its $225-million endowment, in response to cuts in private and government funding for arts programs across the country. Earnings from the endowment go toward funding the foundation’s grants, which amounted to $13 million in 2011. The more of Warhol’s artwork they sell, the more grant money becomes available.
Joel Wachs, the president of the Warhol Foundation, said Christie’s offered the best method of accelerating sales.
“Their willingness to invest in a pioneering online platform was what excited us most about their proposal.” Wachs also said that he hopes to raise the endowment by $100 million.
The foundation’s collection includes more than 20,000 prints, paintings, drawings, photographs, and other material covering the arc of Warhols’s career, from his years as a commercial illustrator to his later fright-wig-and-corset days. Much of the work has never been seen by the public.
The sale was designed to coincide with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s sprawling Warhol retrospective, which opens September 18. Bids begin on November 12 at Christie’s New York auction room, where the more valuable items—like the 1983 silkscreen "Endangered Species: San Francisco Silverspot"—are expected to sell for over a million dollars. The remainder of the estate will be sold privately and online.
The announcement triggered a range of reactions from art-world insiders. Alberto Mugrabi, a New York art dealer whose family is believed to own over 800 Warhols, told the New York Times that flooding the market with a giant sale could damage the Warhol brand.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt prices because none of the stuff is of great significance,” he said. “But still, it’s irresponsible. It’s like sending masses of cattle to be slaughtered.”
But Paul Kasmin, the New York art dealer, approved of the Christie’s decision to sell what are likely to be less valuable Warhol pieces over the Web.
“It’s a clever way to get good values for less-important pieces,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
It remains to be seen whether the clearance sale will cause individual pieces to depreciate or increase in perceived value. In 2007, the Warhol painting “Green Car Crash” sold for $71.1 at Christie’s, more than four times the top auction price for his work. Last year, a four-panel Warhol self-portrait sold for $38.4 million.
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