Andy Warhol is the art world’s equivalent of the Beatles; his popularity continues to grow with time. One of the great misconceptions of his print market is how his prolific nature works against it. Actually, the opposite is true. The fact that his graphics depict a multitude of subjects, were produced in large editions, and are available in a wide range of prices, affords a diverse group of collectors an opportunity to own his work.
Below are five principles one should consider when it comes to acquiring Andy Warhol prints:
Of course, this question can never have a straightforward answer, given that Warhol's prints can vary in value according to a number of factors: the edition size, colourway, subject matter, whether the print is after a popular Warhol painting, condition and quality. This number of factors, while making the question of cost less straightforward, makes Warhol's art accessible to a variety of budgets. Our soon to launch, dedicated print market index, will be able to offer the more nuanced and case-by-case answers demanded by this question; click here to find out more.
In order to simplify the process of choosing a print, we have divided our guide into the 'best' (ie. more valuable, sought after and famous) and the 'undervalued' (worthy of investment, but on the more affordable side) prints...
While this approach can certainly be applied to any collectible, it probably holds even more true with Andy Warhol prints. That’s because there’s such an obvious difference in quality between the “good stuff ” and everything else. Years ago, when people began collecting Warhol serigraphs, they focused on the images associated with well-known paintings. The guiding principle was the more desirable the painting’s subject, the more desirable the associated print. This led to tremendous demand for works from the following portfolios: Marilyns, Campbell’s Soup Cans (I & II), Flowers, and Maos.
The Marilyns have become a category in their own right. They are by far the most important Warhol prints — nothing else comes close. We spoke to expert art authenticator Richard Polsky who has said of the Marilyns: “I would rather own a Marilyn silkscreen than many drawings and paintings by Warhol. That’s because they capture the essence of the artist’s concerns: celebrity, voyeurism, and spot-on commentary on the times.
Interestingly, I’ve been told the three most desirable Marilyns are (numbers refer to Andy Warhol Print Catalogue Raisonné):
No. 31 (pink)
No. 24 (black and silver)
No. 23 (turquoise)
In my opinion, the best value is No. 23 (turquoise) because it relates to one of the great Marilyn canvases, Turquoise Marilyn (formerly owned by Stefan Edlis and sold to Steven Cohen for an alleged $80 million in 2007). My guess is that it will eventually exceed No. 31 and No. 24 in value.”
If your budget doesn’t allow for a Marilyn print, your best bet is a Mao. There’s something both subversive and decorative about this body of work. Warhol began the paintings from this series in 1972. They were triggered by Richard Nixon’s journey to China to make peace with Chairman Mao. Warhol, always one to seize the zeitgeist, responded with a major series — the first to incorporate hand-painting. The corresponding prints captured the spirit of the canvases. Unlike the Marilyns, where some are clearly better than others, all of the Maos are consistent in quality.
Some of the more undervalued Warhol prints are the Mick Jaggers, Electric Chairs, and Vote McGoverns. The Mick Jaggers have a certain hip quotient to them. They’re simultaneously decorative and edgy. The fact that they’re signed by both the Stones leader and the leading Pop artist means that they appeal to art collectors and collectors of rock memorabilia. Although Warhol and Jagger were friends, and frequently socialized, it was a complicated relationship. Andy was well-known for using people and Mick was wary of being used. Warhol often tried to lure Mick to luncheons he hosted at the Factory to pitch wealthy collectors for lucrative portrait commissions. But Jagger always politely declined.
The Electric Chairs, though historically important, have been a tough sell until recent times. They were considered macabre and hard to live with. Gradually, the Little Electric Chair paintings began to shoot up in value, as collectors discovered they were some of the most affordable works from the vaunted Disasters series. Predictably, the growing popularity of the paintings led to collectors discovering the prints.
One of the more humorous incidents in Warhol’s career occurred when he was asked to design a print as a fundraiser for the Democratic party’s 1972 presidential candidate, George McGovern. Warhol came up with the brilliant idea of creating a portrait of his opponent, Richard Nixon, whose face was screened in a sickly blue-green. Below him was the caption: Vote McGovern. Allegedly, Nixon (who won the election) decided to exact his revenge by having the Internal Revenue Service audit Andy for the rest of his life. The Vote McGovern prints have been overlooked for years. They’re not only historic timepieces, but have a surprising visual appeal.
As Warhol prints have grown in price, so too have forgeries. Marilyns are the most faked Warhol prints. However, in recent years, we are seeing counterfeit prints from the Myths, Ads, and Endangered Species portfolios. Colour laser printers have become so sophisticated that it’s now relatively easy to reproduce a print that looks genuine. The saving grace is forgers often have difficulty adding the “accouterments” which are part of an authentic example: high-quality paper, signature, numbering, and a rubber stamp on the back granting permission for use of the image.
Another problem is that many additional prints from the above series were run off by the original publisher — without Warhol’s permission — that are virtually identical to the genuine examples. These fake serigraphs are harder to detect than the ones which were laser copied (but an authentication expert should know what to look for). The reason they are considered forgeries is because they weren’t authorised by Warhol. Authenticity always comes down to the artist’s intent.
Collectors would be smart to only acquire prints from established galleries, private dealers, online platforms, and auction houses. While even professionals can occasionally be fooled, they always stand behind what they sell. If you deal with less-established players (who won’t offer your money back if there’s an issue), then you’re on your own.
Common sense dictates that you never hang a silkscreen in direct sunlight — this will result in serious fading of colour. Yet, this advice was routinely ignored by owners of many of Warhol’s early prints from the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, we continue to see Marilyns which are sun damaged. The sad thing is that faded prints are difficult to restore (you often see attempts to re-screen early Roy Lichtenstein prints — but they never look quite right). In a way, it’s easy to see why so many Marilyns have condition issues. When the portfolio of ten was first released in 1967, it sold for only $500(!). Since they were of such low value, collectors would often frame them with cheap materials. Frequent problems include failing to use acid-free matboard, not employing acid-free hinges, and not bothering to use glass treated to block ultraviolet rays. We have even seen a pair of Marilyns which were slightly cut down to fit a frame.
Before purchasing a Warhol print, always inspect it. If you don’t know enough to know what you’re looking for, bring in a trusted expert or hire an art conservator to examine it. The latter will add to your costs, but it’s money well spent.
In general, serious print collectors are known to be pernickety. They are all sticklers for condition and terms like “pristine” and “mint” are commonplace. While you might think this is going overboard, they have the right idea. A major print, in superb condition, will always exponentially bring a higher price. In fact, there is a premium for Andy Warhol portfolios where the prints were never framed and come in the original box.
It goes without saying that anyone serious about collecting Andy Warhol prints needs to purchase the Andy Warhol Print Catalogue Raisonné (a compendium of virtually every known Warhol print). Its editors, Frayda Feldman and Jorg Schellmann, did an amazing job of compiling illustrations and corresponding details. The only caveat is the colors of some of the illustrations are somewhat off. Also, be sure you buy the most up-to-date edition.
Though expensive, you might also wish to invest in the Andy Warhol Paintings Catalogue Raisonné. This will provide you with a greater understanding of the context in which the prints were created. It will also add to your enjoyment of his work.
Alternatively, find Warhol's Print Catalogue Raisonné in a library near you here.
If you are interested in learning more about the life of Andy Warhol, we highly recommend the following books: Popism by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett, Holy Terror by Bob Colacello, and Death and Disaster by Paul Alexander.