NEW YORK (AP) — It was 1977, and O.J. Simpson.
Simpson, then 30, showed up without a football or a jersey, and Warhol had to scramble to find a ball. That Polaroid shoot led to 11 silkscreen portraits; one of them is now going on auction for the first time.
Signed by both men, the portrait is billed by the auction house as a work that brings together two of the most recognizable names of the 20th century and captures “a trajectory of celebrity and tragedy.”
“Warhol certainly could never have imagined how differently the image would come to be viewed, nor the controversy that still lingers around its subject today,” said Robert Manley, co-head of 20th century and contemporary art at the Phillips auction house, which is auctioning the work May 16.
It was almost two decades after Warhol’s photo shoot, in 1995, Ronald Goldman. He was later found liable for the deaths by a California civil court jury that ordered him to pay $33.5 million to victims’ families.
In a separate case more than a decade later, Simpson was convicted by a jury in Las Vegas for leading five men, including two with guns, in 2007 and discharged from parole in December 2021.
Manley noted that five decades after Warhol made it, the portrait still evokes a strong reaction.
“Those who view the image of Simpson staring directly down the camera are likely to recall the other notorious picture of the celebrity — his mugshot,” Manley said. “Juxtaposing these two images, created at such different points in Simpson’s life, shows a fascinating trajectory of celebrity and tragedy.”
Commissioned as part of the broader “Athletes” series that included Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where it was donated in 1992 and, according to a spokesperson there, never displayed.
In 2011, it was deaccessioned — or permanently removed from the collection — and sold to an anonymous collector in a private sale through Christie’s, with proceeds going to fund preservation of other items in the hall’s collection, said hall spokesperson Rich Desrosiers. Phillips estimates the portrait will sell in the $300,000 to $500,000 range.
As with any of the athletes in the series, Simpson would not have existing rights to proceeds, the auction house said. The highest price achieved at auction for one of Warhol’s Simpson portraits was $687,000, sold in 2019.
Warhol photographed Simpson died in 1987 at age 58. The work will be on public display May 6-15 in New York before being auctioned.