What Andy Warhol Didn't Do cont.
2. Bruno B.
The Self-Portrait known as "Bruno B" was purchased by Anthony d'Offay Ltd. from Heiner Bastian Fine Art in March 1999. The date attributed to the painting at the time of the sale was 1964. A label affixed to the back of the painting indicates the year of the painting as 1964:
Warhol's inscription with a handwritten date appears below the label:
In his articles for the New York Review of Books, Richard Dorment refers to the painting as having been dated 1969 by Warhol rather than 1964. However, Warhol did not generally write the number "9" with an open top. It could be argued that Warhol did not have the space to close the top of the 9, but that argument does not take into consideration how the number 9 is generally written. Take a piece of paper and a pen. Write down a number 9. Where do you start? At the top. In other words you close the top before continuing with the stem. Also, photographing the work from above could give the appearance that the space between the top of the four and the overlap of the canvas is smaller than it really is. There may have been enough space to close the top of the 9 if it was a 9. It's difficult to tell without seeing the original.
In "What Andy Warhol Did" (NYRB, 7 April 2011), Dorment argues that the signature on the painting is proof of its authenticity and if one painting from the Norgus series is signed than it must mean that all the paintings in the series are authentic. But is this necessarily the case? We know from the previously mentioned situation with Joe Simon-Whelan's Dollar Bill painting that there are cases whereby a work can be signed and still not be authentic. In regard to the Norgus series, If Warhol signed one of the canvases, why not the others? He certainly had the opportunity to do so - assuming that he knew the paintings existed. According to Warhol's colleague, Paul Morrissey, "Ekstract brought the unstretched canvases to the Factory for Andy's approval..." (JSW6) Warhol could have signed them then or at the party at which they were, allegedly, shown. If a signature on one painting in a series is proof of its authenticity, what does the lack of a signature on the other paintings in the series signify?
The questionable date of Bruno B is relevant because if Warhol dated it 1964 it would mean that he either thought it was or wanted it to be considered as part of his authentic 1964 Self-Portrait series. Unlike Simon-Whelan's painting, Bruno B. was included in the first Warhol catalogue raisonné that was put together by Rainer Crone during the late 60s/early 1970 while Crone was a Ph.D candidate. Crone dated Bruno B as 1964 and listed it with the authentic 1964 series of Self-Portraits.
Regardless of whether Bruno B is dated 1964 or 1969, it's clear that Warhol either thought the work was from the 1964 series or wanted it to be considered as such. According to Crone, when he was putting together the cat. rais. he had a meeting with Warhol at which the painting was discussed. Warhol could have said 'this is a 1965 painting, it is part of a series from 1965,' but he didn't. He allowed the painting to be listed in 1964 with the authentic Self-Portraits. Warhol never acknowledged a 1965 series of Self-Portraits during his lifetime and no other paintings from the series were included in Crone's catalogue raisonné.
When I brought it to the attention of Richard Dorment that Bruno B was dated 1964 in Rainer Crone's catalogue raisonné he responded:
"Rainer Crone lists the painting under the 1964 Self-Portraits because his method was to date all works under the date when the first image was printed. If the title or format changed at a later date, Crone notes that, but otherwise all Early Electric Chairs are dated 1963 (though some may have been printed later) and all Little Electric Chairs are dated 1965. Because the Red [Norgus] Self-Portraits of 1965 are printed from the same acetate as the 1964 series, Crone listed them as 1964." (E300311)
During the court case Crone's catalogue raisonné was referred to as the standard to which later catalogue raisonnés published by the Warhol Foundation should be compared. One of Simon-Whelan's complaints was that Bruno B. had been included in Crone's catalogue raisonné but was not included in later catalogue raisonnés. We now find out from Dorment that Crone did not even bother to date Warhol's paintings by the date they were created. Instead, according to Dorment, the paintings in Crone's cat. rais. are dated by the date of the first image, even if other similar paintings were created in a different year - or they were dated by the date of the acetate. Dorment says that the 1965 Bruno B Self-Portrait was listed in 1964 because the 1965 series was "printed from the same acetate as the 1964 series."
Dorment's description of Crone's cat. rais. is inaccurate. For instance, if you go to the series that Crone calls "Late Self-Portraits" in his cat. rais., Crone has apparently used the dates that the paintings were actually painted rather than the year that the first image was created or the year that the acetate was fabricated. For instance, no. 174 is dated 1966 and no. 175 is dated 1967. Both are exactly the same size and the same image - the Self-Portrait of Warhol holding his fingers to his mouth.
The real strength of Crone's catalogue raisonné is not the listing of paintings but the essay that accompanies the listings. In his essay, Crone notes, "... Warhol does not use the silkscreen as a specialist or craftsman to produce technically perfect images, but in a consciously unplanned, casual way - too much ink on one print and too little on the next - not subject to any anti-aesthetic theory, but continually and consciously de-aestheticing." (RC10) In other words the imperfections of the silk screen process and the variations produced by it in Warhol's paintings are an important part of the art. Warhol's only paid art assistant during this period, Gerard Malanga, agrees:
"Andy embraced his mistakes. We never rejected anything. In other words, if we were in the process of making a series of paintings and all of a sudden one painting went off a bit, or the image inadvertently overlapped the previous image, we kept right on moving along. We'd keep it, or, as Andy would say, 'It's part of the art'." (GMW37)
The 1965 Norgus Self Portraits, however, were identical. When Richard Ekstract submitted one of his paintings from the same series, one reason that the Authentication Board gave for its rejection was that the ten works they examined from the Norgus series were identical and "the existence of ten identical works is without precedent in the corpus of Warhol's paintings." They also noted that "The only aspect of the self-portraits that Warhol made in early 1964 that is printed is the black silkscreen impression, printed over the areas of hand-painted color. Each impression varies among the works made by Warhol, as does the registration of the black screen over the areas of hand-panted color. This is not the case with respect to the work you submitted and the nine identical examples." (JSW15) In other words, the Norgus series are prints, not paintings or, as Herman Meyers referred to them, they are "reproductions."
Crone outlined the history of Warhol's technique in a statement he sent to the New York Review of Books last year. Richard Dorment paraphrased part of Crone's statement in "What Andy Warhol Did," writing "Dr. Rainer Crone, who worked closely with Warhol to write the first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, contends that Warhol’s decision to give permission to Ekstract to send the acetates to a commercial printer represented a radical innovation in the way he worked."
This is not what Crone said in his statement. Here is what he actually said:
"How aware the artist was of the theoretical as well as philosophical implications of his mechanical technique of art-making, using silk screening and other simple reproduction processes (rubber stamp, 'blotted line'), became evident in the single published interview Warhol gave that, so far as I know, deserves to be classified as accurate:
“…No one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s.”
“It would turn art history upside down?”
This concept, arrived at by Warhol in 1962—following progressive experimentation in his commercial art work of the early 1950s with rubber stamp and mono print techniques—can be declared as one of Warhol’s most significant and important contributions to Western art. Intentional and purposefully conceived, it involves a progressive sequence of mechanical image creations: from hand painting to mono prints, lino cuts, rubber stamps, stencils, single and multiple silk screens in the years 1963-1964."
Crone does not mention Richard Ekstract anywhere in his statement. According to Crone, the "radical innovation" (as Dorment puts it - as Crone does not actually use that term) happened not in 1965 with the Norgus Self-Portraits but with the concept that Warhol "arrived at" in 1962 and the "progressive sequence of mechanical image creations" that led to "multiple silk screens" in 1963-4. In other words, by 1965 - the year the Norgus Self Portraits were created - Warhol's "radical innovation" had already taken place. Later in his statement Crone writes "Warhol’s technique of mechanical reproduction is one of the most important advancements in artistic techniques of the entire twentieth century..." but that technique began in 1962 according to Crone.
One small point: With respect to Dr. Crone, there are problems with the Gene Swenson/Andy Warhol interview from which he quotes and refers to as "the single published interview Warhol gave that... deserves to be classified as accurate." David Bourdon brought attention to the problems with the Swenson interview in his 1989 biography of Warhol:
David Bourdon (Warhol (NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989), p. 163):
"This widely quoted interview is troublesome for art historians. Swenson and Warhol were good friends, but the artist was in one of his uncooperative moods, prompting the critic to conceal his tape recorder during the interview. Some of the more 'intellectual' quotes attributed to Warhol sound as if they may have been doctored by Swenson, particularly the remarks concerning the Hudson Review, a literary quarterly that Warhol was not known to read.
Swenson's discussion with Warhol was one of eight interviews with as many artists published under the title What is Pop Art? in the November 1963 and February 1964 issues of Art News. Seven of Swenson's eight interviews were reprinted in Pop Art Redefined by John Russell and Suzi Gablik (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969). Through careless editing, the last eight paragraphs of Swenson's interview with Tom Wesselmann, starting on page 118 with the question 'Is Pop Art a counter-revolution?,' are appended to Swenson's interview with Warhol. As a result of this production goof, several of Wesselmann's remarks are erroneously attributed to Warhol; these bogus 'Warhol' statements include his characterization of painting as 'audacious'; his claim that he got the subject matter from the fifteenth-century Flemish painter Hans Memling and his content and motivation from Willem de Kooning; and his avowed love for the paintings of Mondrian, Matisse, and Pollock."
Because of the Pop Art Redefined catalogue, the phony Warhol quotes are continually perpetuated. Richard Morphet, for instance, began his essay in the catalogue to the 1971 Warhol exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London with a long epigraph that ostensibly cites Warhol; the words are actually Wesselmann's. Art historian Thomas Crow also tripped up on the false Warhol quotes in an otherwise excellent article, 'Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,' Art in America, May 1987, pp. 128 - 36. Crow had the good sense to note parenthetically that Warhol was capable of 'an inscrutable allusion to Memling as one of his sources.' Warhol, indeed, would have been unable to distinguish a Memling from a lemming."
In regard to the Norgus series, there is nothing "radical" about producing identical prints (or "reproductions") and calling them paintings - as Dorment suggests. Silk screens were just one tool that Warhol used in the creation of his paintings. Over-painting and/or under-painting was another tool. Around the same time or just after the Norgus Self-Portraits were claimed to have been created, Warhol was producing his coloured Campbell's Soup Cans which involved hand (spray) painting as did numerous works thereafter. Unlike the Norgus series, each work was similar, but different. As stated by the Foundation in their rejection letter to Richard Ekstract, "the existence of ten identical works is without precedent in the corpus of Warhol's paintings." The imperfections caused by the silk screening process are an essential aspect of Warhol's art - something which was noted as early as 1968 by William S. Wilson in his seminal "Prince of Boredom" article.
William S. Wilson ("Prince of Boredom: The Repetitions and Passivities of Andy Warhol," Art and Artists, March 1968)
"Silk-screening makes repetition part of the meaning of the image. Even one silk-screened print is felt as a repetition, and Warhol repeats these images until repetition is magnified into a theme of variance and invariance, and of the success and failures of identicalness. The silk-screening is a technique allowing precise delineations, but it is used sloppily by Warhol, allowing sentiment and lack of sentiment, care and carelessness, to jostle together.
Since the medium could easily be used with more precision, and is not, the purpose must be to call attention to the fact of repetition by not repeating precisely. So Warhol succeeds at failing to repeat, and this failure suggests that successful repetition is to be pitied, while the failure to repeat is to be feared."
Richard Dorment's argument that the Norgus series was a radical innovation presupposes that Warhol did the series in the first place or at least knew about it. There is no hard evidence that such was the case. The printer who printed the works (Gus Hunkele) never had contact with Warhol and it is unclear whether the person who arranged for the works to be printed (Herman Meyers) was following Warhol's instructions, Richard Ekstract's instructions or Paul Morrissey's instructions. Just as confused is the reason for doing the series in the first place.