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Andy Warhol’s $28m “Athletes” in Chinese capital for the Games

The series will go on show at the Faurscho gallery in Beijing

and

London

A complete set of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen and acrylic paint “Athletes” series will go on show at the Faurschou gallery in Beijing on 26 July in an exhibition timed to coincide with the Olympics.

The ten portraits of leading sportsmen and women including Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, Chris Evert and Jack Nicklaus, were commissioned by the Californian collector Richard Weisman, a nephew of Norton Simon, founder of the Californian museum which bears his name, in the late 1970s. He paid $800,000 for the set. Last year the ten portraits were offered in London on behalf of Mr Weisman by the private dealer Martin Summers for $28m. They did not sell. Now Mr Weisman has consigned the set to the Faurschou gallery.

Their display in China, along with other Warhol portraits of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, represents the first major show by the artist in mainland China where his market has never been tested.

While the artist’s Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963, which sold at Christie’s New York in May 2007 for over $71m, setting a new auction record for the artist, is believed to have gone to Hong Kong collector Joseph Lau, no Warhol collectors have so far emerged publicly in China.

“We know there are Warhol collectors in mainland China,” says Jennifer Vorbach, previously of Christie’s and now an independent advisor and curator who has organised the show in conjunction with the Faurschou gallery and Robin Navrozov. Neither Ms Vorbach nor the gallery would comment on the set’s current asking price. “If the right opportunity comes along, we will put any interested parties in touch with Richard Weisman,” says Ms Vorbach.

Warhol produced eight complete sets of the “Athletes” series. Each is signed by the artist and the athlete depicted. Of the other seven sets, three have gone to Mr Weisman’s children, two were given to the University of Maryland and to the University of California Los Angeles, one was split among the associations pertaining to each sport and one was split up among the athletes themselves.

Last November a single portrait of Muhammad Ali, consigned to auction by his former wife, sold at Christie’s New York for $9.2m.

“Many contemporary Chinese artists have been influenced by Andy Warhol where his cultural importance is enormous. The coincidence of the Beijing games makes this show a double whammy,” says Ms Vorbach.