Museum benefits from Warhol's rising star

Record sale should help attendance for North Side attraction

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The record $71.7 million Andy Warhol sale -- four times greater than the last record for a Warhol artwork, set just six months ago -- should only help attendance and attention for the artist's North Side museum.

Warhol "remains the fastest rising and most coveted star of the contemporary market," Christie's stated after the sale.

And if that means that The Andy Warhol Museum is shut out by the high price of bidding for its namesake's art, it also means the collection is coveted to loan out for shows elsewhere.

Warhol himself couldn't have planned it any better -- or perhaps he did.

"Inherent in the [Warhol] artwork is not only its brilliant and sociological mix -- it's also as if the money was ground up and thrown into the paint," said Tom Sokolowski, the Warhol Museum director. "Inherent in it also is what it is worth as a marketable item. ... I think that's what he's talking about all throughout his life."

Already an internationally known commodity, Warhol's art is getting increasing attention from Asian art collectors and museum visitors attending shows the museum tours there.

The Warhol's current tour is in Seoul, South Korea, and goes next to Taipei, Taiwan. According to Christie's, buyers at Wednesday's auction were 18 percent Asian -- 47 percent were American, 19 percent European and 16 percent other.

The museum gets "significant revenue that helps balance our budget" from the tours, largely from rental fees for the artwork and corporate sponsorships, assistant director for external affairs Colleen Russell Criste said yesterday.

About 30 Warhol renderings of Coca-Cola's trademark bottle have been borrowed from the North Side museum to go on display May 24 at the new World of Coca-Cola museum near the company's Atlanta headquarters.

"Warhol took art and he made art available to the everyday man and everybody understood it," Ted Ryan, the exhibit's curator for The Coca-Cola Co., told The Associated Press.

The Warhol may be a prime lender, but like most institutions, it's being priced out as a buyer.

The Wednesday night sale of Warhol's 1963 "Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I)" smashed the previous record $17.4 million sale of Warhol's "Mao" in November. The previous sale was to Hong Kong collector Joseph Lau and the latest one, to an undisclosed buyer, went through a Christie's auction house official based in Asia.

The record sale and others like it, which are being set in a white-hot contemporary art market, will make it tougher for public museums such as the Warhol to afford top-flight art.

The record Warhol sale by Christie's was just short of the record auction for any contemporary artwork, set Tuesday in the $72.8 million sale of Mark Rothko's "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)" by rival Sotheby's.

Contemporary art prices went up 44 percent in 2006, according to Artasanasset.com, from the creators of the Mei/Moses Fine Art Index. Museum officials, including Mr. Sokolowski, fear such high prices will keep public museums from affording such art.

"The prices today are clearly out of line for any museum," Mimi Gaudieri, of the Association of Art Museum Directors in New York, said yesterday. The only hope is "one day they are donated to a public institution."

The silver lining is the spotlight shone on Warhol and other artists whose works go for tens of millions of dollars.

Attendance at the North Side museum is up more than 40 percent from the same time last year. Visits to the museum through the end of April totaled 27,332, up from 19,298 a year ago. The figures do not include special events and education.


Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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