A silkscreen portrait on canvas of the controversial football player OJ Simpson by the Pop Artist Andy Warhol is to be auctioned by Phillips in New York. Andy Warhol’s O.J. Simpson, 1977, brings together two of the most recognisable names of the 20th century.
“Simpson had a five-day beard, and I thought the pictures would be awful, but Fred [Hughes] said no, that they’d be sexy, and he was right, they were.” —Andy Warhol
Part of the artist’s famed Athlete Series, consisting of over 200 portraits made between late March and early November of 1977, the present work reflects the artist’s interest in celebrity and, more broadly, his reinvention of traditional portraiture. He first debuted in 1977 in an exhibition at Coe Kerr Gallery in New York. One of the few portraits signed by the athlete and artist, O.J. Simpson, captures the influence of a notorious figure in pop culture. The present work was previously in the collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and other portraits of the sitter are housed in esteemed university collections such as the University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park, and the Hammer Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Commissioned by Warhol’s friend and collector Richard Weisman, the Athletes Series includes over 200 portraits—more than Warhol painted of Mao five years earlier—of famed sports stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali and Dorothy Hamil. Occupying the role of both a movie star and athlete, Simpson was an ideal candidate for the project. A star running back for the Buffalo Bills and an aspiring actor, he was only 30 years old at the time of his meeting with Warhol. Showing up to their meeting in a Buffalo motel room on October 19, 1977, Simpson forgot both signifiers of his profession – his jersey and a football. Eventually sourcing a ball, Warhol snapped 46 Polaroids of the athlete dressed in a plaid shirt under a blazer, selecting two to use as source images for eleven subsequent portraits. The impermanence of these Polaroids—a medium Warhol used as early as the 1960s when he embarked upon his first commissioned portraits—reinforces the ephemeral nature of fame which Warhol was interrogating in his work.
Orenthal James (OJ) Simpson (born July 9, 1947) is an American former football running back, actor, and broadcaster. He played in the National Football League (NFL) for 11 seasons, primarily with the Buffalo Bills, and is regarded as one of the greatest running backs of all time. However, Simpson’s professional success was overshadowed by his trial and controversial acquittal for the murders of his former wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.
Andy Warhol was the US’s leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in the 1960s. Following an early career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol achieved fame with his revolutionary series of silkscreened prints, paintings of familiar objects, such as Campbell’s soup tins, and celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe. Obsessed with popular culture, celebrity and advertising, Warhol created his slick, seemingly mass-produced images of everyday subject matter from his famed Factory studio in New York City: his mechanical reproduction methods, notably the commercial silk screening technique, revolutionised art-making.
Working as an artist but also a director and producer, Warhol produced several avant-garde films, managing the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground and founding Interview magazine. A central figure in the New York art scene until his untimely death in 1987, Warhol was notably also a mentor to such artists as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Auction 16 May 2023