Warhol and Muhammad Ali – The setup

Richard Weisman and avid sports fan and an investment banker commissioned Warhol to paint portraits of 10 famous athletes in 1977. The pieces were released in 1978. Warhol recognizing as he did with so many things the iconic nature of the subject material agreed to do the series. The ten athletes are as follows:


Dorothy Hamill


Jack Nicklaus

Rod Gilbert

Tom Seaver

Willie Shoemaker

Chris Evert

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

And of course Muhammad Ali

What really happened when Ali and Warhol met?

(Attribution: http://blog.warhol.org/museum/warhols-visit-to-fighters-heaven/)


It’s August of 1977 and Ali is training in Deerlake, Pennsylvania at his training camp “fighter’s heaven”. While the fighter and the artists staff had communicated Ali and Warhol had never met nor spoken. Ali was prone to long rants and Warhols visit sparked a few. While Warhol patiently tried to take some polaroid photo’s that he could use Ali mused on the concept of “white folks” paying $25,000 for his photo. He also regaled Warhol with stories of being a poor black boy raised in Kentucky.

It was his lengthy speech’s that finally required the normally quiet and reserved Warhol to ask

“can we take somewhere you’re not…. speaking”


This series is often commented upon as a “difficult” one. In almost all cases that is a silent nod to the tension between Warhol and Ali caused in essence by asking the sports super star to “be quite”.

The resulting photos are beyond iconic and of course it is Warhols Ali that is the most famous of his “athlete’s” series.

Collectors Details | Andy Warhol’s Muhammad Ali

Signed ‘Muhammad Ali’ (on the reverse)
synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1978.