Andy Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests’ Will Get a Rare Showing at Christie’s in L.A.

The Pop artist's moving image works will be on view throughout Frieze week.

Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick (ST312) (1965). © The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Film still courtesy The Andy Warhol Museum.

Andy Warhol once thought it would be downright glamorous to be reincarnated as “a great big ring on Liz Taylor’s finger.” It’s this fascination with fame and celebrity that drove him to create dozens upon dozens of hagiographic portraits—of musicians, cinematic stars (Taylor included), athletes, political figures—over his career. These works didn’t just take the form of his signature silkscreens, but also as his lesser-seen film portraits, a kinetic format that framed subjects in no less of an exalted light. He called them his Screen Tests.

In time for Frieze Week, Christie’s Los Angeles, in partnership with the Andy Warhol Museum, will showcase a special selection of these Screen Tests. It will be a rare outing for these four-minute moving image works, the preservation and digitization of which remain an ongoing project for the museum and its Film Initiative.

“We’ve preserved about 40 percent of them and that means there are a lot more that haven’t been seen or shared,” Patrick Moore, the museum’s director, told Artnet News over the phone. “That’s what we’re trying to do at Christie’s. We want people to see some of the iconic figures, but also show them a few that they wouldn’t have been before because they’ve just been transferred.”

Andy Warhol, Lou Reed (Coke) [ST269] (1966). © The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Film still courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum.

Between 1964 and 1966, Warhol shot upwards of 400 of these Screen Tests, which depicted people in his circle or whoever else happened into his Factory. There were his superstars like Jane Holzer, Gerard Malanga, and Edie Sedgwick; musicians including Bob Dylan and members of the Velvet Underground; and downtown figures ranging from poet Allen Ginsberg to writer Susan Sontag. Warhol instructed them to sit in front of his 16-millimeter camera, which captured the tiniest facial tic or movement, without sound.

“A proper painter was not supposed to be also a filmmaker in those days,” Moore explained. “The Screen Tests opened up a different kind of portraiture for Warhol. It was the beginning of an idea, which is, ‘I’m not going to be pigeonholed into any artistic medium.'”

In his lifetime, Warhol would deposit the camera originals of his Screen Tests at the Museum of Modern Art, which today works with the Andy Warhol Museum to transfer the films to high-definition digital formats. This work has enabled modern-day showcases of the Screen Tests, such as in a 2009 series of concerts, where the films were accompanied by musicians Dean & Britta’s haunting soundtrack, and in 2015, when they were splashed across Times Square billboards as part of a Midnight Moment.

Andy Warhol, Jane Holzer [ST144] (1964). © The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Film still courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum.

The Christie’s exhibition will present eight of these portraits, including ones of Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dalí, Lou Reed, and Niki de Saint Phalle. Two new Screen Tests will go on view for the first time on the West Coast, featuring Holzer and Sedgwick (in color). They will be projected on a loop in Christie’s dedicated gallery space, at 14 feet in height and 16 feet in width, in a screening that the auction house’s deputy chairman, Sonya Roth, described as “immersive.”

“It ends up being this intimate portrait of the person,” she told me. “You’re really forced to look at the detail at that scale. They’ll be really engrossing.”

Both Roth and Moore were quick to highlight the role of collector Maria Bell in pushing through the exhibition. Bell, who is currently producing a documentary on Warhol, was keen to display the Screen Tests, Moore said, to spotlight the Film Initiative and “how much support the films need to be preserved and made accessible.”

Not least, that Warhol’s Screen Tests would go on view in L.A., the heart of America’s moviemaking machine, seems apropos to an artist who always looked to the stars. Moore, in a statement, called it “fitting that his films would now serve to inspire new generations of artists and filmmakers.” Warhol might even deem it glamorous.

“Andy Warhol Screen Tests” are on view at Christie’s Los Angeles, 336 N Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, California, February 27 to March 14. 

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