A pristine-condition edition of Andy Warhol's 1983 Endangered Species portfolio sold Tuesday at Heritage Auctions
for $1,875,000, the second-highest price ever realized at auction for the landmark work.
The collection of 10 signed screen prints served as the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions' Oct. 19 Prints & Multiples Signature® Auction, which attracted more than 540 bidders who spent $3,439,000 on extraordinary works by Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Banksy, Marc Chagall, M.C. Escher and other art-world titans. The sell-through rate exceeded 99 percent; the sale, too, more than doubled its pre-auction estimate.
"When I logged in to my computer in the hours before the live auction began, I thought I was at a Wimbledon match," says Holly Sherratt, Heritage Auctions' Director of Modern & Contemporary Art. "It was thrilling to see so many bids roll in. I watched several lots exceed their estimates before the live bidding even started. I slept well knowing that we'd have a lot of happy clients."
That Endangered Species brought nearly $2 million should not surprise: This portfolio, limited to just 150 editions, was commissioned by Robert Feldman Gallery's namesake and his wife Frayda. In a previous life Robert had been a corporate lawyer, and turned to art as salve and salvation. The couple, too, were political and social activists, and in the 1980s partnered with Warhol on several projects. Endangered Species, the result of their conversations about conservation, would become their most famous and coveted collaboration.
The portfolio was meant to make stars of the Bald Eagle, Black Rhinoceros, African Elephant, Orangutan, Grévy's Zebra, Bighorn Ram, Giant Panda, Pine Barrens Tree Frog, San Francisco Silverspot Butterfly and Siberian Tiger featured within, each rendered in Warhol's patented psychedelic Technicolor. He hoped to make each as famous as his beloved celebrities; Warhol himself noted they were meant to look like "animals in make-up."
Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions' Director of American Art, says this portfolio comes from the original owner, who bought Endangered Species upon its release in 1983 then kept the box under her bed, "where it never saw the light of day." Only three pieces of the signed and numbered artwork from the collection were ever displayed; the rest remained in the original box, "in pristine condition."
"We all knew this would achieve a near-record price," Lehmann says, "and we're so thrilled the consignor entrusted us with this extraordinary responsibility."
Other Warhol works performed exceptionally well in the auction, among them his rendering of the Paramount logo from 1985's Ads portfolio, which sold Tuesday for $112,500. That's the same price realized for Bighorn Ram, one of the screenprints from Endangered Species. And Warhol's Mao, from 1972's portfolio of the same name, sold for $52,500.
Warhol shared the spotlight in this event with Pablo Picasso, represented by 1950's Grand Vase Aux Femmes Nues an extraordinary example of his coveted ceramic work. The vase sold Tuesday for $350,000, with good reason: It's but one of 25 made; it stands more than two feet tall; and it was making its auction debut, having been with one family for decades.
"We know the people and stories behind these works, so the process is personal," Sherratt says. "The Picasso vase had been in the same family since the 1960s. Now it will be united with a lifelong admirer of the artist. That's the real definition of success."
On the other end of the spectrum sits Banksy's Pulp Fiction, which first appeared in 2002 near a London tube station and features John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as, respectively, Quentin Tarantino creations Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield wielding bananas instead of guns. This coveted screenprint, numbered 427/600, sold Tuesday for $62,500.
Other must-haves in the event included Marc Chagall's Sur la Terre des Dieux from 1967, consisting of 12 lithographs in colors on Arches paper, which brought $50,000; M. C. Escher's spellbinding 1954 woodcut in color on paper titled Tetrahedral Planetoid, which sold for $47,500; and Ed Ruscha's 1989 lithograph Coyote, which howled its way to a $37,500 finish.