Updated May 15, 2022 - Economy & Business

The power and limits of pop culture

Kim Kardashian at the Met gala
Kim Kardashian is seen arriving to The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Anthology of Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022 in New York City. Noam Galai/GC Images

Any doubt that Marilyn Monroe remains as potent a figure now as she was in 1964 was erased last Monday. That's when Kim Kardashian stole the show at the Met Gala by wearing the frock in which Monroe famously serenaded President John F. Kennedy. (Another record: It's the most expensive dress ever sold at auction, after fetching $4.8 million in 2016.)

Why it matters: Cultural relevance "can never hurt" an artwork's value, says Sotheby's Jimenez. But when it comes to important works like "Shot Sage Blue Marilyn," the existence of something like Netflix's Warhol documentary is unlikely to move the needle on price.

The big picture: The Andy Warhol Foundation gets no money when one of Warhol's paintings changes hands — that's just a transaction between the buyer, the seller, and probably some dealer or auction house in the middle.

  • The Foundation does receive money from licensing fees, and owns the copyright on most of the images, but such income is relatively low. In the art world, copyright is worth much less than objects.
  • The Foundation's most recent tax filing shows total assets of $337 million, and total revenue of $13.9 million — of which just $3.56 million was "other income" that includes licensing fees.

The bottom line: The most important and valuable Warhol artworks don't belong to his foundation, or even to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Instead, works like MoMA's "Campbell's Soup Cans," or the Tate's 1962 "Marilyn Diptych," belong to museums that will never sell them.

Editor's note: This story originally published on May 12.

Go deeper