Series Highlight: Muhammad Ali & Warhol’s Athletes

Series Highlight: Muhammad Ali & Warhol’s Athletes

Two weeks ago, 10 original Andy Warhol canvases from his famed Athletes (1977- 1979) series went under the auction block at Christie’s Post-war and Contemporary sale in London. The Andy Warhol works lead the sale, with a work featuring legendary boxer Muhammad Ali selling for the top price of the night, Ali painting outshined artworks by other blue chip artists, including Ed Ruscha £4,973,250. The Muhammad and Basquiat.

This is the third grouping of works from the Athletes series to hit the auction block in the last decade, and this time around, the single Muhammad Ali painting sold for more than 8 canvases (including a Muhammad Ali) sold for in 2011. Last year, in an impressive feat, a set of 8 Athlete paintings sold for $15,014,000 at auction. The last two sales highlight a strong performance for Warhol, whose lesser known works continue to rise in value are consistently selling in the millions.

The Athletes series was developed in conversation between Warhol and legendary collector Richard Weisman (1940-2018). Weisman and Warhol were dear friends, who would frequently see each other at The Factory and Studio 54. Weisman is the son of avid collectors Fredrick and Marcia, who Warhol completed screenprints of.

Warhol was unfamiliar with many of the famous athletes depicted in these works before Weisman approached him. Warhol soon became enamored with the fame and fanaticism surrounding sports stars, saying “I really gotta love the athletes because they are the really big stars.”

The series was completed between the years of 1977-1979, when Warhol traveled around the United States taking pictures of the athletes with his famous Polaroid Camera. After the photos were developed, Warhol enlarged the images and transferred them to 40 x 40 inch canvases, that he would screenprint and hand embellish.