Andy Warhol once quipped, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” When it comes to selling artworks by Warhol, we’ve mastered the art of good business. Here we share some of the important things to consider when entering the Warhol market, as both a seller and a buyer.
For many collectors, acquiring and selling art is an exciting, and often addictive, process. An art collection is never a static entity, but rather a dynamic journey, reflecting the experiences, interests and philosophies of its owner. Selling an artwork facilitates new opportunities for a collector, releasing equity and allowing for upward investment in new art acquisitions. There is great joy in seeing your artwork achieve a desired price and transition into the hands of a new owner.
What is a buyer looking for when acquiring an artwork by Warhol? The first consideration is authenticity. Warhol was prolific, producing work in a range of media, from films and photographs, to prints, drawings and works on canvas. Here we will focus on the artist’s signature medium, that of the screenprint. However, the same rule applies across all media; and that is that all artworks should be accompanied by documentation that evidences the artwork’s provenance, and therefore authenticity.
The provenance of an artwork essentially tells the story of that piece. Provenance can incorporate; proof of authenticity, ownership history, exhibition and auction records. Accompanying documentation may also include an account of any changes in how the work has been framed over time, as well as reports by conservators detailing any conservation treatments that have been made to the work. The more comprehensive the accompanying provenance, the more appealing the work is to a potential buyer. The provenance of an artwork can significantly affect the value of an artwork. For example, a piece in excellent condition that has been authenticated by the Warhol Art Authentication Board, is accompanied by a gallery certificate of authenticity, has been owned by a notable Warhol collector and has been exhibited in a museum show, would hold significant value because it has been sanctioned by the legitimising voices that occupy the art market. Equally, if an artwork has no provenance or accompanying documentation it would most likely be considered a questionable investment.
From 1995 to 2012, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board Inc. acted as an authenticating body. The private corporation, working in association with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts certified works submitted for appraisal by classifying the piece according to the following system: A (work of Andy Warhol), B (not the work of Andy Warhol) or C (not able to form an opinion). This decision would be provided in a written document. The artwork would also be stamped to indicate whether it had been authenticated or ‘denied.’ It is important to check the back of your artwork for stamps and markings.
If your piece was purchased from a commercial art gallery, the artwork should have been accompanied by key documentation, including a certificate of authenticity signed by the owner or director of the gallery and a condition report detailing the full condition of the piece. If you acquired your artwork at auction, provenance information can be found in the sale literature and notes.
There are also measures you can take independently to research provenance and assess authenticity. An easily accessible published resource for checking the details of a Warhol artwork is the catalogue raisonné. Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987 by Frayda Feldman and Jörg Schellmann includes over 1,700 print works, documented fully with illustrations. Each entry details the size of the work, the number of works in an edition, and whether a series is signed; making it possible to crosscheck the details of your piece. For example, checking the edition size, paper size and signature placement (if present) can assist in assessing the authenticity of your piece. Online price indices can provide information about an artwork, including its auction history and market insights.
Finally, pay close attention to the artwork itself. Here you can find clues to the authenticity and provenance of the piece. You may find stamps or labels on the back of the frame, that indicate where the piece has been purchased from or framed. The condition of the artwork should be consistent with the age of the piece and other works from the same period. For example, if a signature from one of the artist’s early works appears too sharp, it may have been printed onto a forged digital reproduction. If this is the case, the printing dots in the signature should be visible under a magnifying glass. Warhol favoured certain papers. For his Soup Can prints in the 1960s, the artist deliberately chose thinner inexpensive paper to replicate mass and commercial forms of production. Paying close attention to the condition, signature, surface and size of the work, as well as the type of paper used can assist in identifying the authenticity of a piece.
If you are unsure about the provenance or authenticity of your piece, MyArtBroker can assist you, by providing expert advice and by connecting you with trusted specialists.
Signed or Unsigned?
Unsigned does not mean a piece is inauthentic. Warhol produced such a volume of work, and used methods considered non-traditional at the time; for example, he collaborated with studio assistants, sometimes not signing works until they had been sold, he used a different signature across his career, and did not sign other works at all. It has been reported that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts originally owned nearly 100,000 works that are now in circulation. The most recent edition of the Warhol Catalogue Raisonné added 500 works to its records since the previous edition. Within this context it is important to also consider significant factors such as condition, subject matter and rarity. For example, in 2011, an unsigned unique acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas entitled Self Portrait, 1967 sold for £10,793,250 at Christies; over double its highest pre-sale estimate. The piece had been held in a private collection since 1974 and authenticated by the Andy Warhol Authentication board upon discovery.
In order to assess authenticity and value it is necessary to look at the specific attributes of your piece. If the piece is unsigned, does that correspond to the details provided in the Warhol Catalogue Raisonné? If the piece is signed, does the signature correspond to the documented signature Warhol used at that time? For example, in 1954 Warhol used a very cursive handwritten signature, while in 1967 he was using a stamp.
Before approaching a sale, it is important to evaluate the condition of your piece. MyArtBroker’s chosen conservation experts can assist in assessing any issues that may affect the value of the artwork. While works on paper do naturally age, there are issues common to prints that need to be addressed before they deteriorate further; such as staining, foxing and mould. A professional conservator can undertake the correct measures to address these concerns as well as others such as cockling (a wrinkling in paper that can occur due to the way the ink has been distributed during printing, humidity or poor framing).
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of framing in protecting and preserving your artwork. A professional framer will follow conservation-grade standards that include using UV-filtered glazing, fillets and acid-free materials. Even with these protective measures, permanent damage can be caused by direct sunlight and changes in temperature. An artwork should therefore be kept in a stable environment.
Last year it was reported that Warhol’s Orange Marilyn sold for more than $200 million in a private sale. An indication that the artist’s early career signature subject matter continues to endure in terms of value. Warhol has created an instantly recognisable vernacular of iconic subjects, from Campbell’s soup cans to flowers and film stars. Indeed, it is arguably impossible to think of Marilyn Monroe without conjuring Warhol’s image of the her. The popularity of subjects that have become part of popular culture and gained universal appeal, such as Elvis, the dollar bill and Warhol’s self-portrait, is reflected in the artist’s record at auction.
New exhibitions can encourage a renewed interest in different aspects of an artist’s career. This can involve critics and collectors reappraising certain subject matter or historical periods, making that subject matter more prized, or resulting in work from that era becoming more sought after. For example, the Whitney Museum’s exhibition ‘Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again,’ involved a reappraisal of some of the artist’s lesser known works, including those from his late career in the 1980s, a period considered by some to have been previously undervalued.
Paying attention to forthcoming auctions is also important. Several auction houses may be offering a large volume of work by Warhol during upcoming sales, this may attract more attention to the Warhol market. However, if a similar piece to your work is being offered in another sale this could indicate market saturation. Alternatively, perhaps you have an artwork that has not yet been offered publicly on the secondary market or that is not being offered elsewhere; this would increase the desirability of the artwork.
Auction vs Private Sale
Knowing where to sell your artwork is important, this will depend on your own level of confidence and expertise in the art market. Auction houses will appraise your work for free and help you set a reserve price. On the day, you might be lucky – or not at all. You may be up against similar lots that have the potential to weaken the appeal of your piece. The auction house will also take a substantial sales fee. An unsuccessful sale at auction can result in a piece being ‘burned,’ wherein an artwork remains unsold and therefore loses credibility and short-term value. Selling privately through a site like MyArtBroker is a safer bet for the inexperienced, first of all it’s completely free, you’ll gain access to a network of clients specifically collecting works by Warhol, and the broker involved will know their tastes and how much you can realistically sell the piece for. They can discretely market the piece too, helping your chance of selling at the right price.
In many ways, Warhol demystified the contemporary art word by making art that was accessible to all and by celebrating the commercial value of art. MyArtBroker follows in the artist’s footsteps by seeking to demystify the process of selling and collecting art and sharing knowledge that has been traditionally kept under wraps by gallerists and auction houses. The above guidelines are intended as a starting point to assist you in making the buying and selling process as smooth and straightforward as possible.