The Andy Warhol Foundation joins up with leading licensing agency to develop products for the mass market

The foundation has licensed Warhol imagery for around 13 years


New York

Andy Warhol Christmas cards? Warhol drawings of angels on ladies silk pajamas? Look for these and other Warhol-related products in stores soon, says Martin Cribbs, licensing director for the New York-based Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

In October, the Foundation partnered with the Beanstalk Group, a leading licensing agency headquartered in New York, to develop items including dishes, jewellery, sportswear, clothing and decorative objects adorned with lesser known images from Warhol’s oeuvre, such as his toy paintings, camouflage patterns and S&H Green Stamps.

“Warhol’s influence continues to grow and resonate deeply with popular culture—it has become a brand,” says Mr Cribbs, who expects the deal to earn the foundation anywhere from millions to tens of millions of dollars.

The income, Mr Cribbs adds, will come from a “guaranteed amount” paid by manufacturers of Warhol products, in addition to “royalties based-sales” of these items.

Last winter, the foundation entered into at least three licensing agreements, Mr Cribbs reveals. One, with Cultura, a Monaco-based clothing designer, will result in a full line of women’s blouses, jackets, skirts, pants and t-shirts, retailing from $100 to $250 apiece, which should be available to consumers this spring. Items will include a blouse featuring Warhol’s 1960 “Before and after”, a green silk dress displaying the 1962 “Dance diagram” (1962) and a pleated blouse adorned with the 1964 “Red Jackie”. Another agreement is with Rosenthal Porcelain, based in Selb, Germany, which will soon begin manufacturing various serving plates, platters and other tabletop items—each costing from $200 and up—decorated with Warhol’s animal and angel drawings from the 1950s, as well as his flower images from the 1980s. And Rome-based stationary designers, Campo Marzio Penne, will oversee production of such leather-bound items as address books, agendas and diaries, each exhibiting an assortment of 1950s and Pop imagery.

Although the foundation has licensed Warhol imagery for around 13 years—mainly on notebooks, calendars and t-shirts sold in museum stores (a condom package decorated with Warhol’s camouflage paintings and emblazoned with the caption “they’ll never see you coming” has been a top seller at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for years)—the agreement with the Beanstalk Group marks a more aggressive effort to market Warhol’s name and art. “I’ve been pushing this for the last three years,” Mr Cribbs says. “Advertising and fashion continually use imagery that alludes to Warhol’s work, why shouldn’t we capitalise on his influence?”

Warhol’s posthumous popularity proved a decisive factor in persuading at least one former associate of the artist, Vincent Fremont, to support the Foundation’s new policy. “I was always resistant to signing licensing agreements for Warhol’s art; Andy himself was against it when he was alive,” says Fremont, who today serves as the foundation’s agent for sales of Warhol’s drawings, paintings and sculpture. “But it became clear to me that if we didn’t do it, we’d have a more difficult time preventing unauthorised and low-quality products.”

To help insure that the Warhol legacy is not cheapened by pirate reproductions, the foundation turned to Beanstalk, whose clients include such American icons as Coca-Cola, AT&T, McDonald’s, Harley-Davidson, in addition to Ford Motor company, which owns the privately held licensing firm. In their first collaboration, Beanstalk brokered a joint licensing agreement between the foundation and Coca-Cola to produce Andy Warhol jeans, which sell in Europe for around $220. “Now they’re searching out the best manufacturers for Warhol products,” Mr Cribbs says.

These changes in the foundation’s policy toward licensing occur in the background of a change in leadership at the institution, which was established in accordance with Warhol’s will after the artist’s death in 1987. After a tenure of more than 10 years, Archibald Gillies, retired on 1 October from his $238,000 a year position as president of the foundation. His replacement is Joel Wachs, a Los Angeles councilman known for his strong advocacy of the arts, who stepped down from his political position with two years left on his term to assume his new duties in New York. “I was on the council for 30 years,” says Mr Wachs, who has served on the Warhol Foundation board since 1996. “It’s not like I just up and left my constituents.”

Mr Wachs finds himself at the head of a foundation which has weathered internecine board fights and rumours of impending bankruptcy in the early and mid-1990s to emerge as a $100 million art institution which annually gives out between $4-11 million in cash and gifts of Warhol art to contemporary visual arts organisations.

He plans no major changes in the foundation, and instead will continue policies set by his predecessor. “With the demise of the National Endowment for the Arts, we are one of the leading funders of contemporary art institutions,” he says. If anything, Mr Wachs adds, he will push the Foundation into more aggressively making the case for the importance of artists‚ to American society and defending rights of free speech and expression.

As for the foundation’s new licensing initiative, Mr Wachs supports it whole-heartedly. “There are so many tie-in possible with Warhol’s art,” he remarks, noting as an example the fact that Campbell Soup now pays the foundation to use Warhol’s images of the company’s own soup labels. “I just want to make sure the products remain high-quality.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Warhol—at an outlet near you'