On 16 April 1981, Andy Warhol poured his anxieties over a new romance into his diary. ‘I decide that I should try to fall in love, and that’s what I’m doing now with Jon Gould, but then it’s just too hard,’ he lamented. ‘You think about a person constantly and it’s just a fantasy, it’s not real, and then it gets so involved…’
Despite Warhol’s doubts, the two men embarked on a relationship that lasted until 1985. Gould would become the artist’s last love and a muse who, even after his death, inspired some of Warhol’s final masterpieces.
The two men first met in November 1980 at a New York exhibition. Warhol was immediately smitten. Gould, then a 27-year-old executive at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, was handsome, preppy and gay, although at the time he was passing as a straight man.
To impress Gould, the normally frugal Warhol showered the new object of his desire with expensive gifts and glamorous outings. He also gave Gould a number of his own artworks as presents, and encouraged him to collect, inviting him into his circle of celebrity friends and artists, which included Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf.
This March, three artworks from Gould’s collection — two that were gifted by Warhol and one by Haring — are offered in the Post-War to Present auction in New York.
‘These three works are intimate examples of the friendship and love that characterised the 1980s art scene, of which Jon Gould was an integral part,’ explains Isabella Lauria, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art specialist and Head of Sale.
‘This portrait of Gould was one of the very first gifts that Warhol gave him at the start of their relationship,’ Lauria says. The artist was so captivated by Gould that he also photographed him more than 400 times over the course of their romance.
Warhol’s depiction of his new love immortalised the young man alongside his celebrity portraits of Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley. The young executive was no household name, but to Warhol he was a star.
For Valentine’s Day in 1983, Warhol had his assistants at the Factory make silkscreen images of hearts as a present for Gould — with the lot shown above being among those gifts. In contrast to his artworks of everyday objects such as Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo soap boxes, the dominant message here is not a brand name, but an uncharacteristically bold declaration of love.
Through Warhol, Gould would collect and become friends with other artists. The above painting by Keith Haring was a gift, inscribed, ‘For Jon Happy New Year 1984 Love, Keith X❤X’.
‘Not only are these works wonderful examples of Warhol and Haring’s oeuvre, but they have great importance with regards to their sentimental value,’ Lauria points out.
Tragically, the couple’s happiness did not last. In February 1984, Gould was diagnosed with AIDS. The news shook Warhol, who was already deeply afraid of all illnesses and contagions. By 1985, the relationship had crumbled, and Gould moved back to Los Angeles. He died a year later, aged just 33.
Sign up today
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week
Warhol’s anxiety over the AIDS epidemic that was claiming his friends became apparent in his work. Although he had been fascinated with death for decades, the theme took on a new, personal dimension.
In his Last Supper series — commissioned in the year of Gould’s diagnosis and begun only a few days after his death — Warhol finally brought together the subject of mortality and his own Catholic faith. Likewise, in Six Self Portraits, completed just months before Warhol’s own death in 1987, the artist presents his own gaunt face like a skull or a death mask.
‘I paint pictures of myself to remind myself that I’m still around,’ Warhol once wryly — and rather poignantly — observed. This group of works from Gould’s collection, together with Warhol’s photographs of him, are reminders of a precious period in the artist’s life when he also had someone else to do that for him.