This is one of my recent AntiqueWeek articles, reprinted for your perusal:
Andy Warhol Still Popular: Napkin Sells for $15,000
BEVERLY HILLS, CA.—On Dec. 7, an anonymous bidder paid $15,000 for a framed cloth dinner napkin featuring a drawing by Andy Warhol, capping off a year of record sales—$560 million—by the late, great, avant-garde artist.
The so-called “Warhol napkin,” which held a pre-auction estimate of $10,000, had ties to Farrah Fawcett, who gained fame during the late 1970s as beautiful private investigator Jill Munroe on Charlie’sAngels, and to her longtime lover Ryan O’Neal, who is best known for his starring role in 1970’s Love Story.
According to Julien’s Auctions, the house that sold the piece, O’Neal, back in 1980, described how the napkin came to be.
“Farrah and I were new lovers,” he said. “We were at a dinner celebrating Andy’s new book at the home of [oil magnates] Lynn and Oscar Wyatt in Houston, Texas. I had known the Wyatts and Andy Warhol for over a decade, and during the course of dinner, Andy observed Farrah and I. He saw the love between us and it inspired him to draw…right there on our napkin. Two hearts joining as one.”
The napkin, measuring 24” by 24”, features Warhol’s signature written in ink, the names of Fawcett and O’Neal, the words “Houston Texas” enclosed by a curved line, a phone number (presumably Warhol’s New York Number), and several split hearts.
In terms of sheer monetary value, the Warhol napkin is small potatoes—Warhol’s “Triple Elvis” brought a record-breaking $81.9 million when it was sold by Christie’s on Nov. 12—but the small piece was the subject of a lawsuit between O’Neal and the University of Texas at Austin, where Fawcett went to school before heading off for Hollywood.
Fawcett, who died of cancer in 2009, had donated all of her artwork to U.T., and the college recently sued O’Neal over a “missing” Warhol portrait of Fawcett. O’Neal countersued over the napkin, which was housed at the university’s Blanton Museum of Art. The jury ruled in O’Neal’s favor, awarding him the portrait and half-ownership of the napkin, which the two sides agreed to auction off and split the proceeds.
The pedigreed napkin sold for a ridiculously high sum, at least according to modern art expert Nadine Granoff of Washington. She laughingly told The Bellingham Herald that “Andy would be so happy. He’d be jumping up and down. It’s just a napkin. It’s this combination of high and low that makes him fascinating.”
Referring to the napkin as little more than an autograph, Granoff said, “I don’t think of it as art. It may have its artistic merit,” but the price paid for it is “just insane.”
Insane or not, the napkin sale reinforces the continued popularity of Warhol, who will be the subject of a new museum opening in New York City in approximately three years. In 2013, more than 125,000 people visited The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, which is the artist’s home town.
Clearly, Andy Warhol, who died in 1987, has had way more than his 15 minutes of fame.