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Andy Warhol's "Sixteen Jackies" Expected to Sell for $30 Million at Sotheby's in New York
An employee poses with artist Andy Warhol's "Sixteen Jackies" at Sotheby's auction. The piece is expected to reach up to $30million when it comes to auction in New York on May 10. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor.

NEW YORK, NY.- Painted in 1964 at the heart of Andy Warhol's most historic period, Sixteen Jackies is a complex and extraordinarily rare declaration of the twin pedestals on which Warhol's artistic genius rest: ubiquitous public icons and serial imagery. A tour-de-force presentation of one of Warhol's most poignant images –his well-known series of portraits of the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, as seen by millions through the press coverage surrounding her husband's assassination –Sixteen Jackies is also a powerful celebration of Warhol's inspired use of multiple image repetition as a thematic device.

In the early 1960s, Warhol's rows of soup cans and movie stars were screened within a single canvas. With the Jackie paintings, Warhol for the first time created numbers of small panels which he could later assemble into larger compositions. Against backgrounds of blues, white or the extremely rare gold, Warhol screened eight source images that follow Jackie from her arrival at Dallas' Love Field, through the motorcade, to the administration of the oath for the new President Johnson and finally to the funeral in Washington, D. C. Beginning with The Week That Was I which inaugurated the series known as "Multiplied Jackies", Warhol now had the freedom to combine, repeat and invert selected canvases from the original eight Jackie images into a grid, frieze, triptych or diptych format, initially changing some of the earliest large arrangements from one installation to the next, as with the largest of the multiple paintings, Thrity-five Jackies (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt).

In The Week That Was I, Warhol originated the format of 4 x 4 panels and employed all eight Jackie images, with their mirror reversals, and his full palette of blue, white and gold. The Week That Was II is the only "Multiplied Jackie" to also use all eight images, but this time all in tones of blue. The subsequent four Sixteen Jackies, configured in the 1960s and 1970s, experimented with different serializations from a single image up to six images, and with a single color or a combination of two or even three as in the Sixteen Jackies in the Gallery of Modern Art –Iwaki. The present Sixteen Jackies, assembled by one of the foremost collectors of Warhol's work, is exceptional as homage to the importance of The Week That Was I with its 4 x 4 format, polyphonic richness of the palette range and its singular use of seven of the original's eight images to capture that fateful week from beginning to end.

Warhol's Pop idiom was rooted in the pervasive nature of the everyday, but he deployed this as an ambiguous prism for the more astonishing or disturbing elements of our time. For Warhol, celebrity was a fascinating contradiction between the hidden identity of the private individual and the superficial nature of public fame. Moreover, the gleam of commercial prosperity and ascendant youth was only the surface of American life in the 1960s, masking the brutalities of accidental tragedy, racial unrest or capital punishment. The assassination of the virile John F. Kennedy felt like the moment when the glamour and promise of America faltered. It is no wonder that Warhol seized on this event and its historic media saturation as the ideal subject.

The events of November 1963 were a searing time whose televised and print coverage brought images to the public consciousness that remain vivid and potent today in viewing Sixteen Jackies. In fact, the title of The Week That Was refers to a solemn tribute program on President Kennedy by the normally satirical British show, That Was the Week That Was, which aired in the United States on November 24th. Today, the 24-hour coverage of cable news is the norm, but the extent and immediacy of the coverage of that fateful week was unprecedented. The public was transfixed by the extensive live coverage of the aftermath of the assassination, the capture and death of Lee Harvey Oswald and the stately ceremonies surrounding the President's funeral from which Warhol chose his eight images of Jackie's journey from smiling wife to grieving widow. He had previously included the charismatic and stylish Jackie in his 1962 pantheon of iconic goddesses along with Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, portraying them in lushly saturated colors and frontal movie-star poses. Jackie shared a more tragic personal history with Liz and Marilyn, and the suicides, near-death illnesses or death of a newborn baby lay in the background of these glittering personas, increasing the public fascination almost as if it made them more like us. The enormity of Jackie's private loss, played out in such public fashion, conjoined her inner trauma and outer identity, creating a more complicated persona perfectly suited to Warhol. The colors of white and blue were appropriate backdrops for the newly saddened tone of his Jackies and the reverent gold that appears in Sixteen Jackies and dominated the original The Week That Was had unmistakable undertones for the deeply religious Warhol. Indeed, the deeper theme behind Warhol's depiction of his grieving Jackie as icon was "death and disaster", placing monumental works such as Sixteen Jackies in the same realm as Lavender Disaster (1963, The Menil Collection, Houston).

Sixteen Jackies also beautifully captures the multi-layered complexity in Warhol's artistic practice. Unlike the more graphically simple contours of his 1962 portraits of Jackie, Warhol's source for his 1963 Jackie paintings is clearly filmic. The 4 x 4 grid format of The Week That Was and Sixteen Jackies is an intelligent choice for composition, balancing the forceful imagery within a classic rectangle. The sixteen images unspool before us, as if they are frames from a documentary film, implying that the images will continue into infinity. This open-ended infinity elucidates Warhol's acute sense that media saturation and repetitive exposure de-sensitizes the viewer to the humanity of the image. But Warhol took great care that Art, in the end, muted the vulgar sensationalism of a source image and the numbing quality of seriality. Color, placement of the screen and the degree of registration in the act of screening are all conscious aesthetic choices, amplified to a heightened degree by the arrangement of contrasting images within one painting. With the concept behind the "Mutilplied Jackies", Warhol expanded the realm of aesthetic choice, allowing for the independent collaging of images through the arrangement of panels. In particular, the sheer beauty of the multicolored blue, white and gold panels of Sixteen Jackies is a harbinger of the visual extravaganzas of Warhol's arrangements of his Flower paintings.

It is no coincidence that Warhol's concept for the ``Multiplied Jackies'' was born at a time when Warhol added filmmaker to his artistic and creative biography. By the summer of 1963, Warhol was eager to be in the vanguard of redefining yet another medium, like his friend Jack Smith who was a notorious member of the thriving underground film world of New York City. Warhol was fascinated by the low budget, non-commercial and almost amateurish hand-held approach of experimental film with its focus on non-traditional content. While Warhol's filmography can be seen as a rich vein of creativity with strong undercurrents for his silkscreen painting practice, the most fascinating conjunction between the two medium rests in Warhol's famously subversive exploitation of irony. Warhol's style of filming was in stark contrast to the rapid-cut montages and disjointed continuity of the majority of underground film artists and Hollywood directors of the go-go sixties. By contrast, in his first film, Sleep, Warhol shot hundreds of reels of his friend John Giorno while he slept, beginning a tradition in which Warhol instructed his early film subjects to move as slowly as possible, performing mundane activities. As David Bourdon noted about Sleep, "Warhol brought cinematic action to a virtual standstill, and his marathon films became notorious for their minimal content." (D. Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 168) In the realm of the moving image, Warhol's early works are almost static, carrying repetition almost to the point of catatonia, thus removing the role of narrative from one of today's greatest medium for conveying a story or a message. Yet, ironically, in the realm of painting on canvas, multi-paneled Warhols of serial composition capture the moving, fleeting image in concrete form, and paintings such as Sixteen Jackies, present to us a narrative of our times.

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May 9, 2011

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