Published: May 10, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Doyle
NEW YORK CITY – On April 27, Doyle Galleries conducted the sale of an estate that encapsulated far more than 15 minutes of fame. Brigid Berlin (1939-2020) was a socialite and “Warhol superstar,” and also a prolific artist in her own right. The contents of Berlin’s apartment, which sold in January for $1.17 million, demonstrate her many pursuits, not least of which was interior design. When many of her economic status spend a small fortune for someone else to decorate their homes as a matter of course, this is just one attribute that made Berlin so extraordinary.
Born an heiress to the Hearst media empire, Berlin did not conform to the expectations of her blueblood upbringing. “My mother wanted me to be a slim, respectable socialite,” she said in an interview, “Instead I became an overweight troublemaker.” Distinguishing herself from the “groupies,” Berlin worked with Andy Warhol (1928-1987) as a colleague. He bequeathed the nickname “Duchess” to her, and the two remained close friends until his death. “We wanted to emphasize that Brigid made Andy as much as Andy made Brigid,” said Peter Constanzo, senior vice president and director of rare books, autographs and photographs at Doyle.
Forever maintaining a glamorous way of life, Berlin’s inherent conservatism contrasted with her raucous past. Many listings were made by Berlin’s own hand, or other body part. These ranged from a monotype of one of her “tit prints,” which sold for $5,670 ($1/1,500), to intricate needlework pillows, portraits and handbags. Credited as a forerunner of the “selfie” with her Polaroid camera, a lot of three photographs taken either by Berlin or Warhol sold for $5,985 ($3/5,000). The sale accumulated nearly $300,000 with a 97 percent sell-through rate to a diverse buying pool drawn in by the eclectic collection.
Warhol’s “Watercolor Paint Kit With Brushes” signed and numbered lithograph achieved the highest price at $13,860 against its $5/8,000 estimate. Another surprise was a postcard showing the artist’s signature on Berlin’s pug-engraved stationery, also signed with the pawprint of an anonymous pug, sold for over seven times its high estimate at $4,725. Constanzo indicated a photograph of Warhol with Pope John Paul II in 1980 that sold for $3,465 (estimated at $500/600) as an object that demonstrated Brigid’s solid stance in the artist’s inner circle.
To the delight of researchers of the era, Berlin retained ephemera throughout her life. Calendars from 1971 to 1973 show the fullness of her schedule; November 1971 was tight, with Lou Reed’s birthday scribbled next to dubbing sessions from Ciao Manhattan (1972). While only estimated at $200/400, the calendars jotted down $7,560. An archive of Berlin’s correspondence, mostly postcards, were sent home for $10,710, ten times their $1/1,500 estimate. The value of these sometimes highly personal exchanges from Factory regulars certainly exceeds the art printed on their verso. Both lots sold to private collectors.
The highest selling of the individual pug figurine lots was a continental ceramic figurine from the collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which achieved $3,465 despite its $600/800 estimate. Although Berlin acquired this pug from the royal couple’s Sotheby’s sale in 1997, the Windsors were family friends and she recalled exchanging visits with them. Another lot included photographs of the Duchess with Berlin’s mother, after whom she named two of her pugs. The dogs’ sweaters, embroidered with their initials, were included and sold for $378 ($200/300).
With Netflix’s The Andy Warhol Diaries docuseries bringing attention to the Factory scene and beyond, Constanzo believes that Berlin will become more recognized in the next few years and that the sale’s success was bolstered by the renewed interest in midcentury to late Twentieth Century culture. “Going forward, new collectors will understand these objects [in the context of such shows],” he says. Perhaps lesser-known artists like Berlin will emerge from this rowdy, lost era to gain wider acknowledgment as their work is reexamined by up-and-coming generations.
Prices stated include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, 212-427-2730 or www.doyle.com.
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