At John McInnis Auctioneers' big showroom, auction director Dan Meader stood in front of dozens of Andy Warhol pieces, a few days before they went up for auction. The artwork ranged from a silkscreen of a New York Post front page on aluminum sheeting to male body sketches and stitched photo collages.
Meader thinks the most important piece is a work he calls "Abstraction." It's the corner of a stretched canvas that's been broken, reshaped into a sculpture and painted with streaks of red, yellow and periwinkle blue. This week, the piece auctioned for $300,000. It was a gift from Warhol to Jon Gould.
"He presented it to Jon and gave it to him in 1983. So you look at this and you think of what's going through Andy's mind at this point in their relationship," said Meader, who discovered the art this summer when he was hired to go through the estate of Jon's mother, Harriet Gould, in Amesbury, Massachusetts.
Jon Gould and Andy Warhol met in 1980. Gould was a 27-year-old movie executive, living in Los Angeles as a straight man. Warhol was 51, an emblematic figure of queer identity in New York.
"That's one of the things that he was most attracted to with Jon, was the fact that he could go out to events with him, and Jon sort of led this life as passing as a straight man and Warhol kind of enjoyed that tension or the complexity of that," said Jessica Beck, a curator at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Biographies of Warhol show he tried to impress Gould with glamorous outings at Studio 54 and expensive gifts, including a Rolex watch. Tom Sokolowski, the former director of the Warhol Museum, said such extravagance was rare for Warhol.
"He was not someone who gave presents to people," Sokolowski said, "because he was a working-class guy from Depression-era Pittsburgh, and he really believed in hard work. But he would say in his diaries things like 'Oh what can I give Jon to make him like me more?' "
Gould eventually moved into Warhol's Upper East Side apartment in New York City, though records show he also maintained his own place in the city. Warhol's biographies say the two men may never have had sex. But Warhol was clearly obsessed with Gould.
During the last 10 years of his life, Warhol snapped photographs every day. The Warhol Museum estimates he took at least 126,000 photos. There are more photos of Gould than anyone else, by the thousands: Gould smiling, tanning at the beach, working out in Central Park.
Warhol, said Sokolowski, "was feeling, you know, like the ugly duckling that he always referred to himself as. And then here was this young man who was interested in him and was, you know, just everything that Andy wanted to be, in a sense."
In 1984, Gould was hospitalized and diagnosed with AIDS. An annotation in Warhol's diary shows that Warhol asked his maids to wash Gould's clothes separately from his. Eventually, Gould moved back to Los Angeles and stopped speaking to Warhol. He died in September 1986.
Scholars think Gould's death deeply inspired Warhol's later work: paintings of attractive male figures or collages with the words "The Big C," referring to "gay cancer," a term used for AIDS at the time. Beck said the artwork from this period deals with such themes as forgiveness, redemption, sin and mourning.
"It brings to light that he was this person in love," Beck said, "and fearful, just like many people were in the '80s, at a time when, you know, it was mass epidemic happening across the U.S."
Warhol died six months after Gould, of complications after gallbladder surgery.
Back at the auction house, Meader said all the artwork proves Gould loved Warhol in his own way.
"It was a two-way street," Meader said. "There was definitely affection on both sides for sure."
As for the "Abstraction" piece, Warhol scholars believe it resembles works from a collection of broken canvases he did with Jean-Michel Basquiat in the mid-'80s — its value deepened by the story of two men in love at the end of their lives.
Listen to the story here:
- Andy Warhol Memorabilia On The Auction Block In Amesbury
- What If Warhol And Capote Created A Broadway Play? Turns Out They Did, Sort Of