Two fascinating art acquisition stories were revealed yesterday in the New York Times: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s purchase of Andy Warhol’s “Coca-Cola [3]” at auction for $57.2 million (a record for his “Coca-Cola” series) and the even more exciting news that Martha Sutherland, a classmate of Warhol’s at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the widow of the late UA architect Cyrus Sutherland, has donated an early figurative Warhol to the museum. The work, which Sutherland bought for under $50 from Warhol in 1959 1949 is a painting on Masonite of a couple sleeping, worlds apart from “Coca-Cola [3],” painted in 1962, and the pop art he is famous for. The painting on masonite is signed “Warhola,” the name Warhol was born with, on the back.

The works go on view Dec. 26. 

The New York Times said the news was announced earlier in the week, but perhaps due to our chopped liver status, we got word from a museum news release dated today. (The Democrat-Gazette had the story in the paper this morning.)

Christie’s pre-sale release on “Coca-Cola [3]” includes this quote from Warhol:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” 

CBM’s news release quotes President Don Bacigalupi on the importance of the early Warhol, which has never been exhibited, and its provenance:

“This painting exemplifies the young artist’s capability as a draftsman even before moving into his early career as an illustrator,” explained Bacigalupi. “His consummate skill can be seen in the beautifully drawn hands in the work.”

“The painting is a rare discovery, as it has had a single owner since it was created and has never before been seen publicly. Martha Sutherland and Andy Warhol were classmates when she admired his work and bought the completed painting directly from the artist. She maintained and cared for the painting for 64 years, and it occupied a place of pride in her home,” adds Bacigalupi. “She did speak with the author of Warhol’s catalog raisonné, but the painting was excluded when the author died before gathering complete information on this work. Now, we have the rare opportunity to share this significant discovery—an extremely early painting by Andy Warhol—with our Crystal Bridges audience.”

Bacigalupi speculates it could have been Warhol’s first sale.

The painting has hung in Sutherland’s home in Arkansas since 1958. CBM said she donated the work to the museum so it could be appreciated by the public.

“As classmates, I had the personal connection with Warhol, and if we were to pass this painting on to family members, it loses some of that personal meaning,” says Sutherland. “My daughter and I were at Crystal Bridges for the museum’s opening and have since visited many times; we concluded that the best place for the artwork is in a museum, and that a museum in our region seemed like a natural fit.”

The museum also announced that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has donated a book of 21 dye diffusion transfer Polaroid prints made by Warhol in 1971. The Polaroids feature Warhol’s friends and persons who sat for his painted portraits, Bacigalupi said. 

That Warhol rejected his figurative painting, which is quite beautiful, for pop art illustrates his genius: He created a new art form to address contemporary culture. The late art critic Arthur Danto, who gave a terrific talk in Bentonville in 2008 at the invitation of Crystal Bridges, thought Warhol’s work was supremely important in illustrating that art is “the embodiment of an idea.” In his book “What Art Is,” Danto wrote, “Much of contemporary art is hardly aesthetic at all, but it has in its stead the power of meaning and possibility of truth.”