Tim Hunt stood, smiling, at the entrance of Sotheby’s Auction House in the Upper East Side on a brisk spring morning thirty years ago. Tucked under his arm was the auction catalog for the recently deceased Andy Warhol’s estate: a vast collection artwork from incredible Renoir busts, Picasso sketches and Duchamp classics, to more offbeat works like a cast iron stove sculpture of George Washington, carousel horses, and a large wooden clown with a clenched fist. Sotheby’s teemed with elated crowds on that day. “Three early Lichtensteins hang in a parlor furnished with Pierre Legrain’s sharkskin desk and cabinet and other Art Deco treasures that cause aficionados’ hearts to palpitate.” reminisced Suzanne Muchnic of the Los Angeles Times. It wasn’t only aficionados who were transfixed with the belongings. Couples linked arms and entertained the accent of a Degas sculpture in their bedroom. Art dealers flipped and scribbled in their catalogs, bookmarking pages. Young girls picked and pointed at their favorite cookie jars from the horde of 175 that Warhol owned. The auction was a successful spectacle, thanks to the hard work of Tim Hunt and his team. Ecstatic fans came from all over the country to get an inkling of the famously mysterious life of Andy Warhol, and of course, to pose with Warhol’s iconic 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, now owned by our very own director of The Revolver Gallery, Ron Rivlin.
No one had seen the contents of Warhol’s East 66th Street Townhouse, not even Warhol’s friends. Up to his death, Warhol was an intensely secretive person, and for the first time everyone would be able to see his belongings and answer some questions about the late pop artist…or perhaps, generate even more questions.
It took nine days to sell the lot of 10,000 items, generating $25 million, valued today at over a billion dollars. It took much longer to sort through the artwork, and no one knew better than the head organizer of the auction, Tim Hunt. Much to Hunt’s surprise, the price of the precious possessions seemed to be grossly underestimated more times than not. The Revolver Gallery happens to have Hunt’s very own Sotheby’s Catalogue, riddled with notes and occasional tobacco shreds in the margins. David Forester Wilson’s painting, “The Wind” originally estimated to sell for $10,000. Above the estimation, Hunt had scrawled the closing price: $100,000, which today is $213,000 . The pieces have doubled in value since that Spring afternoon in 1988. Every page is jotted with closing prices. One piece is marked twice over with an ‘X’ along with Hunt’s initials. It is “Painted Pine United States Shield,” a decorative piece from the 20th century. It sold for $2,600, a symbol of Warhol’s adoration for Americans artwork and antiques. It was displayed in the entrance hall of Warhol’s townhouse. The pine shield sat in Warhol’s home for years, beside a portrait of a Native American and a Jersey Jim Punch figure. The three pieces were certainly placed there together purposefully. Before the auction, photographer David Gamble was one of the few to be let into Warhol’s home to capture the items together along with other belongings, untouched. Today the “Painted Pine United States Shield,” likely picked up by Warhol from an American antique shop, joins the vast collection of Warhol pieces within our own Revolver Gallery in Hollywood, CA.
The American Trinity
“He was chronically, almost neurotically, acquisitive and he processed a knack for pursuing offbeat material before it became widely popular,” reads an excerpt within the catalogue, written by David Bourdon. The assortment of artwork, furniture, and housewares was certainly eclectic…and extensively diverse. Hunt could confirm.
“Andy’s townhouse really, I mean he had virtually only two rooms you could even get into, because it had become a huge warehouse. He very rarely had anyone in there, all the rooms were filled with boxes and bags. I mean, he bought stuff that he never even unpacked and looked at. Just a crazed collector,” Hunt would later say in an interview.
A visiting friend was taken to Warhol’s bedroom where Hunt opened a drawer and asked her to identify it’s contents. “Guinea pig belts?” she ventured. It was, in fact, Warhol’s extensive collection of toupees.
Warhol certainly had an acquisitive passion, one which he often kindled with visits to antique shops around the United States. You would not have known Warhol was a pop artist solely by strolling through his home, that seemed to be owned by a wealthy character from a Jane Austen novel, mixed with vibrant, humorous pieces from American pop culture. “There was a definite pattern to his haphazard way of collecting,” noted Vanity Fair writer, John Richardson. “Thanks to an innocent but canny eye for things that were off-beat or out of fashion, he was always in a position to be one jump ahead of the game.”
Organizing the lot for sale was no easy feat. 15 months prior to the successful auction, Tim Hunt had received a call from Fred Hughes, Warhol’s business partner. Hunt and Hughes were friends, and upon Warhol’s death, Hughes was overwhelmed with hundreds of items to organize. “Back then it was all done with polaroids and legal pads,” Hunt amused. The process could have been much more painstaking, if not for Hunt’s reputation for being humorous and kind. “They loved him there,” said Damon Brandt, a well-known art dealer. “Tim has always been an amazingly popular character. Every place he has worked, including with me, he has an impeccable reputation. There’s an eccentricity but there’s also a huge amount of knowledge behind it, there’s a passion.” Despite the untimely death of the artist so many people loved, Hunt drove progress forward with unrelenting enthusiasm, and the product was an incredibly successful auction.
The auction allowed Hunt to help fund, and eventually curate, The Andy Warhol Foundation, and later, The Andy Warhol Museum in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The auction will be remembered by so many as the day they got a closer look into Warhol’s life, most likely feeling they were further from figuring the Pop artist out than they were in the first place. Warhol had an eye for the strange, the beautiful, and the antique. It was his eye, and his taste, that drew our attention to both simple and complex themes in our own lives: death, love, joy, weirdness, and most relevant to Warhol, a mystery and complexity that we still wonder about, even now, thirty years later. Walking in and out of the Revolver Gallery, the “Painted Pine United States Shield” mounted above all of us is a totem of reflection on an artist who impacted so many in his life, and beyond.