Art Market Watch ANDY WARHOL'S MAO

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Andy Warhol is the measure of the contemporary art market. In 2010 alone, 1,646 works by Warhol were sold at auction, ranging from the exotic Liz Taylor homage from 1962, Men in Her Life, which went for $63 million, to a label from a can of Campbell's chicken vegetable soup that was signed by the artist, which topped $1,000 at auction in Chicago.

This month in New York, several big-ticket Warhol works are hitting the block, including a giant red Warhol "fright wig" self-portrait (est. $30 million-$40 million) and a 1963 portrait of Liz from the collection of hedge-funder Steven A. Cohen (est. $20 million).

Artnet Auctions frequently offers Warhol lots as well, and this week we are proud to present something really special: An authenticated, complete set of 1972 Mao prints in absolutely perfect condition. This set was stored in a flat file at the original printers for nearly 40 years, and only framed in 2010. Each impression is absolutely mint, with the original crisp, vivid color rarely seen in the majority of Mao prints that hit the block.

Complete portfolios that are authenticated and stamped come to auction only rarely. In October 2008, at the very bottom of the market, a stamped and authenticated set at Christie’s London brought just under $500,000. That same month, also at Christie’s London, a signed set in purportedly “very good condition” realized $458,000, almost 10 percent less than the stamped set. Since then no other complete stamped sets have come to auction.

Just last month, Phillips de Pury & Co. sold a signed but less than pristine Mao portfolio for $938,500, the top lot of the auction firm's new print auction at its Park Avenue headquarters. This increase from $458,000 in 2008 demonstrates a drastic rise in prices (see Warhol Mao Print Index Graph) due in large part to increased demand from Asian collectors.

As he had done with Marilyn, Liz, Jackie and Elvis, Warhol transformed the Chinese leader into a global Pop icon. These images of Chairman Mao have a special meaning to a growing generation of Chinese collectors, who arguably see them as a symbol of the New China and the progress the nation has made since the demise of the Cultural Revolution.

The opening bid for Artnet Auctions Mao portfolio is $595,000, and the estimate is set at $750,000-$850,000. The auction runs May 10-18, 2011.

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