Famed artist Andy Warhol convinced some of the top athletes of the mid-1970s to pose for polaroid snapshots he turned into art. The long-forgotten, autographed works are about to be sold, likely for non-starving artist prices.
It took only $15,000 to get Muhammad Ali, Tom Seaver and other famous sports stars to pose for Andy Warhol some 30 years ago.
Ali was among the 10 primarily American athletes Warhol turned into portraits as a private commission. Among the subjects were Muhammad Ali, Chris Evert, O J Simpson (when he was just known as a really good football player), Jack Nicklaus and Pele.
Manhattan socialite Robert Weisman paid to execute the series. Warhol was to be paid $80,000 and each of the stars received the $15,000 payment to let the artist take as many Polaroids of them as he needed to get a suitable image to be silk-screened on to canvas. All of the portraits are signed by both the artist and the athlete.
Culture clashes were inevitable. Warhol said his subjects seemed incapable of saying much more than "Gee" and "Wow".
Weisman said: "Jack Nicklaus didn’t know who Andy was," Weisman told the Telegraph of London recently. "When he met him he thought that he was some freaky white-haired weirdo. Andy asked him, as he was taking photographs, ‘Can you move your stick?’. Nicklaus snapped, ‘It’s a club, not a stick’." He added: "Chris Evert was very nervous about how she was going to look. In the end she liked the portrait so much that she asked Andy if he would do some smaller versions of it for her as well." Eight sets of the 40in x 40in paintings were completed.
The other athletes were jockey Bill Shoemaker, Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, hockey star Rod Gilbert and Mets’ ace Tom Seaver. It’s expected all will sell for prices in the millions based on recent sales of Warhol paintings.
According to the Guardian, "analysts say the increasing value of the contemporary art market is being fuelled in part by an influx of money from Asian and Russian tycoons and American hedge-fund managers. Earlier this year Christie’s postwar and contemporary art sale in New York set a one-night record in contemporary art of almost $240 million, with 51 lots fetching more than $1 million.
The set will go on show at Martin Summers Fine Art in London on May 23.