On 23 April 1988, 14 months after the artist’s unexpected death, the sale of Andy Warhol’s personal effects began in New York. There were 10,000 items up for auction. In the six-volume catalogue that Sotheby’s published for the occasion, these lots seem to fit neatly into a connoisseur’s categories: art nouveau and art deco, drawings and prints, Americana, an entire volume devoted to jewellery and watches. The auctioneers had photographed much of this material at Warhol’s house on East 66th Street; his Native American artefacts are lavishly arrayed on the Sheraton dining table, spilling on to 14 Ruhlmann chairs. The impression is of a keen but democratic aesthete’s eye; folk art and mass-produced gewgaws caught Andy’s fancy as much as aspirational antiques. But the photographs record a canny fiction. Sotheby’s handlers had elegantly corralled an astonishing mess, the product of Warhol’s conspicuous but oddly secretive shopping habit. They had turned a morbid, chaotic hoarder into a proper collector.
The elegant distinction between pathology and taste is one of the subjects explored in Magnificent Obsessions, the Barbican’s new survey of artist-collectors present and (recent) past.