ANDY WARHOL – FROM A to B AND BACK AGAIN : This post is about a tour of the mega-show being presented by the WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART; a career retrospective entitled, ANDY WARHOL – From A to B AND BACK AGAIN. This is the first major museum show of his work since 1989 (two years after his death). The MWC will be attending at the very end of November (after Thanksgiving) or early December, just a few weeks after its opening. That’s a good thing since you’re likely to want to see this several times. Members, our group size is limited – as soon as a date is posted we will put this in the SIGN UP! section of the members’ site.
CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE ART, PLEASE? That’s always hard to do with Andy Warhol since he treated himself as a central part of his oeuvre. Warhol himself was literally part of the art. He morphed from being an artist, to a personality to a symbol – of the POP Art he came to represent. Case in point: his wacky mop of iridescent platinum hair started out as a realistic wig to hide his baldness from alopecia. But as it became the most recognized element of his look, he began to play with it and make it an indelible part of his carefully crafted persona. It went from being merely blonde, to whiter and whiter, to zanier and zanier – and it surely made Warhol the most easily recognizable person in a crowd. For a long time, the easily identified Warhol seemed to be at every opening, party, meet-and-greet, parade and quasi-event; an enigmatic, affectless Zelig who was embedded in the history of the period.This makes sense for someone who created art out of what was around him in popular culture (the “pop” in POP Art). He would look at people and things seen every day and isolate and “iconify” them. Think of his dollar bill, Campbell soup cans, and Marilyn Monroe silk screens. In each case, they are rendered with hyper-accuracy but also – uh, different, somehow. They’re at a scale which makes you look at them more intently. In the case of the portrait silk screens, they are colored and re-colored in a wide variety of colors, but the underlying image always prevails. Warhol came of age artistically in an era which was dominated by hard-core, super-male and super-intellectual Abstract Expressionists. Not surprisingly, this group felt Warhol was too commercial – he was a “copyist.” Yet, Warhol presaged developments in our society which we spend a lot of time thinking about now – celebrity culture, commercialism, social media, narcissism and technology
Warhol believed that art could be plucked from the life’s continuum and he wasn’t above stoking the experience with near constant parties, events and “be-ins” at THE FACTORY (his studio / factory just north of Union Square) where an ever-changing flux of personalities and just plain folk would wander in and be part of the scene. There would be media celebrities, artists, society figures, students, tourists, indigents and, sometimes, crackpots. Of the moment, Warhol-created celebrities (Viva, Ultra Violet, Edie Sedgwick) were there, too, acting out in extreme ways which might net them some attention from the master. Exploitive? Yes! Drugs and sex? Most likely. Warhol was often, although not always, present usually wielding a Polaroid camera capturing random photos of whatever personalities and goings-on happened to capture his fancy of the moment. This scene changed somewhat after the 1968 assassination attempt on his life by Valerie Solanas who simply walked into The Factory – like everyone else – and shot Warhol. There are a lot of theories, often debunked, that almost dying was a dividing line in Warhol’s persona and art.
But others felt that his work post-1968 showed intense experimentation. It was at this point that he began spending a lot of time on film making and co-founded INTERVIEW Magazine (rather peculiarly now owned by investor and art afficianado Peter Brant who was the magazine’s major creditor) . It was as though Warhol still wanted to be surrounded by people and events but perhaps at arm’s-length, through media. Although he would probably be called a hoarder now, Warhol was often seen around town at flea markets, Goodwill shops, stoop sales, auctions and antique stores collecting items which he felt were interesting; some call him an “archivist” of his time.
Depending on your age, looking at Warhol’s work in a retrospective of this size is like looking at the history of your own era. You can remember, but almost not believe, when (possibly as a result of the VietNam War protests and political action) the world was re-examining everything that had been presumed for generations. -When what was common became new again when looked at with a very different perspective; a not bad description of the art of Andy Warhol.