Marilyn Monroe is everywhere at the moment: in a juicy new Netflix documentary, in a forthcoming NC-17 film, in a just-launched J.C. Penney fashion line—and now, on one of New York’s most recognizable buildings.
Starting tonight, Friday, April 29, Christie’s will project an image of Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of the actress onto the facade of Rockefeller Center as part of an effort to drum up excitement for its sale of the painting, from the collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann, on May 9.
It’s a major marketing play for what could be a major piece of business: the painting, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), has an outside chance of becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. The possibility of it eclipsing the $450 million mark set by Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi may be slim, but the artwork already has one telling record to its name: its $200 million pre-sale estimate is the highest such figure ever recorded for a work of art at auction.
“That [the painting] is coming to auction and is poised to break records in sale prices—this is a moment in history,” Neda Whitney, Christie’s head of marketing, said.
Christie’s project follows other, similarly flashy marketing stunts. Last year, the company showed off Warhol’s portrait of Basquiat at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and in 2018, it deployed a multi-tiered campaign around the prized Rockefeller collection.
Both sales ended up being huge hits for the auction house. The Basquiat portrait doubled its $20 million pre-sale estimate, while the $646 Million Rockefeller sale set a record for the highest-ever-grossing single-owner auction.
But for big-ticket events like those, in which the auction house really only needs to hook in the one percent, how much success can be traced back to marketing campaigns?
“Do I capture the buyer by projecting [Warhol’s painting] onto Rockefeller center? Probably not,” said Christie’s chairman of 20th- and 21st-century art, Alex Rotter. “But you know what, the thing we do here is to publicly exhibited. You don’t have to show me your checkbook to walk through the door. I want to show you art.”
“We have the opportunity to share it with the public, so why not?” he added. “It’s art. It should make people happy.”
Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, emblazoned with the Christie’s logo, will grace 30 Rock’s facade from 7:30 pm to midnight every night until May 13, while archival footage of Warhol at work will be projected onto the sides of the building, home to the auction house’s New York headquarters, during the same time period.
The auction house has also partnered with the clothing store Lingua Franca to produce a Warhol-themed sweatshirt; with Pebble Bar to offer a custom cocktail; with La Maison du Chocolat to create a special storefront display; and with Rough Trade records to offer up a 60s-inspired playlist.
All of this can be chalked up to the auction house’s recently ramped-up efforts to “be resonant with all sorts of different audiences,” said Whitney, noting that the goal is to excite future, as well as current, consignors, collectors, and collaborators.
“It’s not a purchase price today, but it’s an investment in tomorrow.”
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