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Andy Warhol's "Shot Marilyn's"

Authored by Adrian Ormsby

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn is by far the most iconic image of his entire artistic oeuvre and continues to command the attention and admiration of the art world and viewing public over a half century later. Perhaps his most well-known and revered of the many Marilyn images that he produced in the early 1960’s was his 1964 Orange Marilyn*.

Using his newly discovered (to Andy at least in 1964 and by the way, discovered totally by accident) photo silkscreen technique (a medium which would forever dominate his art), Warhol would blow up Gene Korman’s classic 1953, 8x10 inch black and white photographic screenshot image of Marilyn for the movie Niagara (see my image of the actual Korman photograph from the recent Whitney exhibit of Andy Warhol earlier this year). Unlike the numerous erotic depictions of Marilyn in the 1950’s, Warhol would focus only on her face, and in the tradition of the traditional Orthodox Christian icon, would draw a perfect square around the face, adding in the margins on the left and upper sides of the image the dimensions of 23” (inches). You will also notice that on the upper right of the photograph he scribbles 1/3 of 23”, 3X and further to the far right inscribes 2½, indicating the approximate dimensions to which he would blow up the image.

Warhol would actually go 4 times larger, fitting Marilyn’s face into a massive 40 by 40 inch square silk screen canvas and would add his trademark blocks of color to produce his now iconic images of Marilyn, including the famous Orange Marilyn. They would be distinguished and are known today based on the background color, including orange, red, light blue, green, turquoise and a lesser known sage blue *.

What is not well known about the Orange Marilyn, however, is a fleeting yet very significant anecdote about the finished canvas being shot. The story goes that in 1964, a woman named Dorothy Podber, an eclectic friend of one of Warhol’s close associates at his production facility on 43rd street known as “The Factory”, walks into the Factory and asks Andy if she can shoot the stack of Marilyn canvases standing against the wall. Thinking that she was going to “shoot” photographs of the images, Warhol says “yes” after which she immediately takes of her gloves, pulls out a hand gun from her purse and proceeds to shoot a stack of 4 Marilyn’s (including the orange, red, blue and green) with a single shot right between the eyes. Not unexpectedly, Warhol banned her from ever setting foot in the Factory again. The exact whereabouts of the original Shot Marilyns is one of the art world mysteries of today, with speculation that they could be in the hands of the Eastern European mob, being used as collateral along with blood diamonds as part of their huge drug deals (who really knows).

Fortunately for collectors and Warhol connoisseurs, the Estate of Marilyn Monroe commissioned a high quality vintage poster production of the Orange Marilyn in 1998 (see image), to the massive dimension that Warhol specified in his 1964 mock up of the Gene Korman photopraph. They would use the famed German Printmaker “Te Neues Druckereigesellschaft” in English this simply translates as “The New Printing House” * located in Kemper Germany. This vintage image is the closest thing you will ever get to seeing and owning the Shot Orange Marilyn up close, measuring a massive 34 by 26 inches to approximate the scale that Warhol intended and printed on thick high-quality paper (which in my opinion only the Germans can do this well).

Living here in the United States (where owning a hand gun is considered a right more so than a privilege) I have actually considered (as an art historical and forensic exercise I would stress) of going to the shooting range, hanging up one of these exquisite ‘te Neue’ Orange Marilyn’s and reenacting the seminal event of 54 years ago by shooting it square between the eyes at close range with the calm and nerve of Dorothy Podber, with it all caught and recorded on digital video (i.e. using my I-phone) for the art community to admire and analyze (including the spread and size of the soot residue at the edges of the bullet hole, an indication of the distance of the shooter from the image). But alas I don’t own a hand gun (and don’t intend to) and I don’t even own a coveted ‘te Neue’ Orange Marilyn vintage poster. So I will leave that vital art historical and forensic exercise up to the intrepid and scholarly owners of these iconic artworks. Happy shooting and don’t forget to record it for posterity.

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