Andy Warhol Shot Marilyns are perhaps the most famous works he ever created. The Marilyn paintings and screen prints are an iconic part of Warhol’s legacy. In 1964, Warhol painted five Marilyns with different colored backgrounds and they were stored at his famous studio loft, The Factory. Four of these five paintings would become infamous after an incident that left bullet holes through the forehead of Ms. Monroe.
The Factory was Warhol’s art studio, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Warhol would frequently throw rowdy parties at his loft, inviting celebrities and other well known figures in the New York art scene. These parties became the place to be in New York in the 1960s, and were a hotspot of the fun-loving counterculture that was sweeping the nation. During the day, The Factory was always buzzing with artists collaborating with Warhol, photographers, writers, and other creative people.
Shortly after painting his five Andy Warhol Shot Marilyns in 1964, a friend and photographer named Billy Name visited The Factory with a woman named Dorothy Podber. Podber was a performance artist and collaborator with artists like Ray Johnson. The story goes that Podber saw the Marilyns leaning up against a wall in the studio and asked Warhol if she could “shoot” them. Warhol, believing she meant shooting photographs of the works, he said yes. Podber then apparently peeled off her white gloves and pulled a revolver from her bag and shot the Marilyn canvases right in the forehead of the portrait. The bullet only went through four of the five canvases and subsequently created the works Warhol “Shot Marilyns.”
Warhol asked Name to please not let Podber do that again, and Podber was thereafter banned from The Factory. The incident has since been called a performance art piece by Podber, and the event gained Podber notoriety in the New York art scene. This would not be Warhol’s only run in with a woman and a gun in his studio. Four years later, in 1968, a radical feminist named Valerie Solanas shot Warhol three times in the chest. The Factory was a revolving door for radical artists and activists and these are just two examples of questionable incidents that happened there.
Andy Warhol’s “Shot Marilyns” became some of Warhol’s most unique pieces to date. In 1989, “Shot Red Marilyn,” one of the shot canvases with a repaired bullet hole over Marilyn’s left eyebrow, sold at auction for $4 million, which was the most any of his works had sold for at that point. The outlandish backstory behind these four canvases are as much a part of the work as the image of Marilyn herself. Everyone wanted to be a part of The Factory scene. There is a sense of mystery surrounding exactly what happened there. The “Shot Marilyns” are a reminder of the larger-than-life environment that Andy Warhol lived and created in. Podber may have never stepped foot in The Factory again, but she sure left her mark on Warhol’s legacy.