Marilyn Monroe. Soup cans. Cows and Mao. Coke bottles and the banana.
Those are the images with which we associate Andy Warhol pop culture, pop drinks, Pop Art. The famous, the consumable, the disposable rendered without disdain. "Modernism had been pretty contemptuous of the aim to satisfy taste, much less popular taste," punk-rocker Richard Hell wrote for Gagosian in 2019, "and Warhol was the first modern high artist to contradict that contempt."
Far less mainstream, but no less important, are the works he did in the early 1980s that make up the Endangered Species portfolio, a pristine example of which anchors Heritage Auctions
' Oct. 19 Prints & Multiples Signature® Auction.
The sale itself features a virtual who's-who of post-war and contemporary artists, ranging from Pablo Picasso (represented here by 1950's Grand Vase Aux Femmes Nues) to Banksy (his coveted Pulp Fiction screen print from 2004) to Jean-Michel Basquiat (1983's Academic Study of the Male Figure, from Da Vinci) and Mel Bochner (2012's Going Out of Business monoprint with oil). This is easily one of Heritage's most comprehensive and exciting Prints & Multiples events in recent memory.
"Warhol once wondered whether Picasso had ever heard of him," says Holly Sherratt, Heritage Auctions' Director of Modern & Contemporary Art. "He might be amused to see that he is featured on the front cover of a major auction catalog while Picasso is on the back cover. The two artists act as the cultural and spiritual figureheads of major epochs in 20th Ccentury art. Warhol's candy-colored animals and Picasso's monochrome vase complement each other, demonstrating the range of their influence, and reminding us why they are household names."
Consisting of 10 signed screen prints, Warhol's Endangered Species portfolio was commissioned by Robert Feldman Gallery's namesake and his wide Frayda, with whom he founded the gallery on E. 74th Street in 1971. In a previous life Robert had been a corporate lawyer, and turned to art as salve and salvation. The couple, too, were political and social activists, and in the 1980s partnered with Warhol on several projects, among them: Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, Myths, Moonwalk and Ads.
Endangered Species, the result of their conversations about conservation, would become their most famous and coveted collaboration.
As the National Museum of Wildlife Art notes, "The idea for the portfolio was born after conversations they had with Warhol about ecological issues, including beach erosion. Warhol owned beachfront property on Long Island, and undeveloped acreage in Colorado. Today, the loss of habitat and biodiversity are urgent topics as the impact of development reaches critical thresholds. Warhol's 15-acre beach is now The Andy Warhol Preserve, a gift to The Nature Conservancy from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts."
The portfolio was meant to make stars of the Bald Eagle, Black Rhinoceros, African Elephant, Orangutan, Grévy's Zebra, Bighorn Ram, Giant Panda, Pine Barrens Tree Frog, San Francisco Silverspot Butterfly and Siberian Tiger featured within, each rendered in Warhol's patented psychedelic Technicolor. He hoped to make each as famous as his beloved celebrities; Warhol himself noted they were meant to look like "animals in make-up."
The museum, which in 2017 hosted a major event built around this portfolio, noted that Warhol's love affair with nature was "lifelong," dating to his Pittsburgh childhood.
"As a child he drew animals in science class at Holmes School, kept a flower garden in the family's yard, and drew in Schenley Park and Phipps Conservatory," the museum noted. "In college, he went to the zoo in Highland Park to draw. Later in his life Warhol created his Cow and Fish Wallpaper, the film Sunset, and hundreds of paintings, prints and drawings of flowers."
Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auction's Director of American Art, says the portfolio in the Oct. 19 auction (numbered 64/150) comes from the original owner, who bought Endangered Species upon its release in 1983 then kept the box under her bed, "where it never saw the light of day." Only three pieces of the signed and numbered pieces from the collection were ever displayed; the rest remained in the original box, "in pristine condition."
"Having never seen this portfolio in its original box, I was shocked and amazed by the condition," Lehmann says. "It was so thrilling. And while this portfolio isn't as mainstream as, say, his Monroe or Elvis, Endangered Species is highly sought-after, today more than ever. In part that's because it's largest set Warhol had ever done. But its subject matter, too, remains very, very timely. And it's clear this work also spoke to his heart. The Pop Art made him famous. But this was his passion."