I Bought Andy Warhol


In 1987, Richard Polsky put aside $100,000 to buy a Warhol painting, a dream that took twelve years to realize. In a book that spans the years from the wild speculation of the late 1980s to the recession of the 1990s, Polsky, himself a private dealer, takes his readers on a funny, fast-paced tour through an industry characterized by humor, hypocrisy, greed, and gossip.

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In 1987, Richard Polsky put aside $100,000 to buy a Warhol painting, a dream that took twelve years to realize. In a book that spans the years from the wild speculation of the late 1980s to the recession of the 1990s, Polsky, himself a private dealer, takes his readers on a funny, fast-paced tour through an industry characterized by humor, hypocrisy, greed, and gossip.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Polsky's most involving pages briefly recount the ill-fated auctions of May 1990, when the art market was in free-fall and masterpieces regularly failed to meet their reserves. But he only glances off the surfaces of the subjects suggested by his title. If you're looking to understand how Warhol came from the back of the Pop pack to pull the highest price per square inch of any contemporary painter, or if you want to have explained to you the sometimes counterintuitive numbers game on which the art market rests, you've got the wrong book. But if you want to know who chucked the chicken leg that stained the $65,000 Ruscha that wild night at Corcoran's place, Polsky is probably the only guy who'll rat him out. — Glenn Dixon
Publishers Weekly
When Warhol died in 1987, Polsky, owner of San Francisco's Acme Art gallery, committed $100,000 and the next 12 years to obtaining a Warhol original, hoping to "join the elite group of people who recognized [Warhol's] brilliance and owned a small but glamorous part of it." Readers who expect that statement to foreshadow disenchantment will wait in vain. As a reputable dealer, artnet.com contributor and the author of serial Art Market Guides, Polsky brings the uninitiated an authoritative, historically informed introduction to a rather shady trade. He rehashes, for instance, the lore regarding the Warhol estate, which reportedly secreted his works away to private collections to stage their scarcity after Warhol's death. When Orange Marilyn finally surfaced at auction, billed "not as a painting, but as an icon," it sold for $17.3 million. But while he adeptly expounds the market's plunge from the heady '80s to the early '90s, Polsky makes his own "four-year war of attrition," including his sporting concession to ride the New York subway, seems like tepid fare. Still, for the curious, Polsky serves up endless insider antics and telling tableaus: a food fight that results in a damaged Ruscha, an L.A. gallery that christens its opening by carpeting Rodeo Drive in white. Perhaps most amusing is a collector who displays, among Rene Magrittes and Francis Bacons, rare insects and taxidermied house pets, which Polsky wanly appreciates as offering "provocative counterpoint." Warhol shadows the scene like a spectral under-painting: his tender cosmetic treatment of endangered species and dollar signs alike bespeaks a wry indifference to subject, allowing prized items to be as banal as obsession itself. Polsky's unabashed esteem for rarity is a curious tribute to the democratic side of the artist whose icon he seeks. Any artworlder over 40 will read his account anyway. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this first foray into nonillustrated books by art publisher Abrams, Polsky, who might be described as a very major minor art dealer, here sets out to claim his place in Warhol history. An autobiographical account of his career in the art world is framed by the premise of purchasing a canvas by the Pop icon. Polsky fills his lively, gossipy tale with allusions to artsy insiders and offers such broad wisdom as "Art dealing is a lot like playing poker: when you're hot, you're hot." If nothing else, it is testament to Warhol's sweeping legacy that such a chronicle can constitute an entire book. Although art world denizens may find some of the anecdotes mildly amusing, there's nothing new here, and the book makes little attempt to illuminate anything other than the business of paintings. Given the vast amount of wonderful writing about the artist, modern art students of any level would do well to look elsewhere for humorous or historical revelations on Warhol.-Douglas McClemont, New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Often biting, always amusing behind-the-scenes glimpse of the heady world of art collecting. A former gallery director, gallery owner, and private art dealer, Polsky has also written a series of financial guides to the art market and is a contributor to artnet.com. Here, he charts his 12-year quest to acquire a Warhol painting with the $100,000 he’d set aside for that purpose in 1987. The goal was at times tantalizingly close, at times impossibly remote as the art market paralleled the fluctuations of the stock market, whose excesses fueled and quenched its flames. In the author’s words, this is about "doing business in the art world," a promise he fulfills while sparing the reader the stupefying details of its more mundane aspects. Polsky goes directly for the meat: the quirky characters and surreal situations, the high-figure deals and over-the-top greed, the outright snobbery and seemingly purposeful sexual ambiguity. Some particularly funny moments include his observations on a gallery receptionist’s icy disdain, the humiliating finesse required merely to get a rival dealer’s catalogue, and a Whitney show of Warhol portraits with many of the portrait subjects in attendance. At his weakest, Polsky interrupts the narrative to score an additional point or drop another name. But his genuine admiration for Warhol’s work makes this account seem honest, rather than carping. It’s a juicy tale of money and manipulation that rivals anything Wall Street has been able to deliver recently, but it’s not merely for those with the bucks to purchase a well-known work of art. Anyone with an interest in contemporary art and its celebration of those who have achieved their 15 minutes will take pleasurehere. Sound advice, together with a plethora of wry anecdotes on the subject of acquiring a work of contemporary art, brings the ethereal down to earth without dragging it through the mud.
Art Week
"There's a certain underdog quality to Polsky that will appeal to those who may feel intimidated by art-world wheelers and dealers."
Charlotte Observer
"[An] engaging and humorous tour of the art world and the characters who inhabit it."
Christian Science Monitor
Houston Chronicle
"Thoroughly delightful. an informed, instructive, fun read that introduces you to a world you're never likely to experience first hand."
New York Observer
". dishy debunking of some of the scene's more prominent figures. His good humor and wonder.gives the book a lost-in-the-funhouse giddiness."
Susan Orlean
"I Bought Andy Warhol is a wry, smart, intimate journey through the contemporary art world. Polsky's pursuit of Warhol is a perfect chance to see the art market and its characters in high relief."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810942714
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/15/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Polsky began his professional career in the art world in 1978 as an exhibiting artist and director of a San Francisco gallery. In 1984 he founded Acme Art, where he showed the work of such artists as Joseph Cornell, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and outsider artist Bill Traylor. Since 1989 he has been a private dealer specializing in works by postwar artists, with an emphasis on Pop art. He is currently a contributor to artnet.com and lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2003

    I want my money back...

    I read this book on the red eye flight from San Francisco to New York hoping it would put me to sleep. It kept me up like NYC garbage truck at 3am. The author is a snob, beyond belief. His tone is condescending at best. It is like a bad gossip column where he seems to piss on everyone else without ever taking a moment for self reflection. The common denominator in all his dealings is him so I suggest rather than point out everyone else¿s foibles take a good look in the mirror. And for god's sake where was his editor? There are moments that are funny but in general I felt embarrassed for this guy. Yes some of his observations rang true but his 'insider' point of view is obvious at best. I felt like I was being told by a self proclaimed 'expert' that the sky was blue. Lame book, I want my money back.

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