Warhol’s Elvis sells for $37m in Sotheby’s sale

Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis sold for $37m (€28m) and works by Roy Lichtenstein and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei broke their own records at Sotheby’s contemporary art sale.

Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl, depicting a woman with closed eyes and flowing blond hair, fetched $44.8m, while Weiwei’s one-tonne, handmade porcelain Sunflower Seeds went for $782,500.

Another major work on the auction block — Francis Bacon’s Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror — also sold for $44.8m

The buyers’ names for each of the four pieces were not released.

The sale came on the heels of art auction history. Last week, the auction house sold Edvard Munch’s The Scream for $119.9m, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

“The reason for these record-breaking sales is, quite simply, the quality of material on show,” said Michael Frahm, a contemporary art adviser at the London-based Frahm.

Warhol’s Double Elvis (Ferus Type), a silver silkscreen image of Elvis Presley depicted as a cowboy, fetched $37,042,500. It had been expected to fetch between $30m and $50m. The auction house said it was the first Double Elvis to appear on the market since 1995. Warhol produced a series of 22 images of Elvis. Nine are in museum collections.

The rock and roll heartthrob is shown armed and shooting from the hip, a shadowy Elvis figure faintly visible in the background. It was offered for sale by a private American collector, who acquired it in 1977.

Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds is one of an edition of 10 and was accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist. The ceramic seeds, which can be arranged in a myriad of shapes, were the subject of a Tate Modern exhibit in 2010.

The previous Weiwei auction record was $657,000 for his Chandelier set at Sotheby’s in 2007.

The work is fraught with symbolism. Sunflowers are at once a Chinese street snack and also an emblem adopted by Mao Zedong.

“The works by Ai Weiwei and Francis Bacon are hot for different reasons,” said Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. “One is electrified by the artist’s political provocations, and the other by the frisson of sexual mystery.”


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