A Review of Andy Warhol’s work at the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art 2018/2019
‘From A to B and Back Again’
This review was not huge but compact and sought to retrace the steps of the artist as artist and man. Donna de Salvo, chief curator, who has known the artist and his work for years.
Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into a family of Slovaks. Poor, a community somewhat isolated from other groups in the city.
Andy Warhol’s family were devout Byzantine Catholics, a denomination which uses the iconostasis and for whom icons are not simply images to revere, but also representations which have innate powers.
The iconostasis, placed between the sanctuary and the rest of the church, is a device which connects the two worlds in which congregants live: the divine and the secular, the metaphysical and the physical.
A child and a man, for all his life, at every mass – and it is reported that often he was at daily mass – facing a wall of images and colour, floor almost to ceiling. And gold and silver.
Forgiving, penetrating images looking at you, looking upwards sometimes, or downwards. Never away from you.
The artist remained both devout and practising all his life to an extent, according to the curators of this exhibition, not known until after his death.
Living Room, 1948, watercolour. Collection of the Paul Warhola family on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19
Warhol moved to New York after college in 1949 to pursue a career as an illustrator. From 1951 onwards, his mother lived with him until her death.
He began the practice of fine art while he was earning his living as an illustrator. He worked for many different kinds of clients and became, in short order, a very successful practitioner.
The curators of this exhibition noted that his clients appreciated his technical versatility as well as the sensitivity – in his work – of reaction by his clients to that work.
Shoe drawings with a detail called Christine Jorgenson, (Sammlung Froelich Leidenfelden-Echterdingen, Germany loaned to the Whitney in 2018/19) 1956, collaged metal leaf and embossed foil with ink on paper.
Warhol’s most important commercial client, among many for whom he worked, the musuem noted as the shoe company, I. Miller and Sons. His drawings for them in 1956 produced a commerical revival for them with younger customers.
The curators used the word ‘macho’ more than once in describing the hegemony of the Abstract Expressionists who held a vice grip on the art establishment in the first 25 years of Warhol’s time in New York.
They compared this macho with the fine line drawings which Warhol, who was openly gay in a 1950s (and onwards) when homosexuality was accepted only in the community of homosexuals, made of his friends and lovers. These drawings were not shown publicly.
Portrait of John Butler with Dancer, 1952, oil and ink on canvas. Loaned by a private collection to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19
Male Nude, c.1957, gold leaf and ink on paper. Loaned by the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
Portrait of Kenneth Jay Lane with Butterflies, c. 1958, ballpoint pen and watercolour on paper. Loaned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19
Before and After (4), 1962, acrylic and graphite on linen. Whitney Museum of Art, NY.
One of four paintings which the artist based on an advertisement for rhinoplasty.
The museum identifies these paintings with the immense pressure the artist felt prevailed in post-WW2 North American to conform to certain norms of appearance and behaviour.
The artist dropped the final ‘A’ from his second name and in the late 1950s, had his nose ‘thinned’ to conform to mainstream notions of beauty at the time.
Where is Your Rupture (1), 1961, water-based paint on canvas. Loaned by the Broad Art Foundation, Los Angeles to the Whitney Museum of Art, NY in 2018/19
In 1968 the artist and one of his collaborators were shot by Valerie Solanas (1936-1988), also a sometime collaborator. A third collaborator was spared because the gun jammed.
Warhol almost died.
Facsimile of New York Daily News, June , 1968 (“Actress Shoots Andy Warhol”, 1968. New York Daily News archive (with light interference).
Andy Warhol, 1970, oil and acrylic on linen. Alice Neel, 1904-1980, American.
This painting belongs to the Whitney Museum who did not show it in this exhibition.
The artist is presented here in ways which are opposite to the ways in which he normally presented himself. His scars are obvious, as is the supportive corset which he was forced to wear after he was shot. He is alone and eyes closed, very still.
Alice Neel’s comment from 1970 is that she found him personally very kind and reticent and she hoped that shows in the economy of her vocabulary in this painting.
Andy Warhol died following a medical operation in 1987. He was 59.
Portrait of Ted Carey and Andy Warhol, 1960, oil on linen. Fairfield Porter, 1907-1975, American. Whitney Museum of Art, NY (not included in the exhibtion).
Self-portrait, 1963-64, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19
Self-portrait, 1964, acrylic on silkscreen ink on linen, 1964 (gallery reflected in this painting). Art Institute of Chicago on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2019.
Andy Warhol, The Factory, NY, 1965-66. Exhibited at MOMA, NY in 2018
Rod LaRod, Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey, 1966-67, New York. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, on view at MOMA, NY in 2018
Self-Portrait, 1966, acrylic, silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen. The Art Institute of Chicago on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19
Self-portrait with skull, 1978, acrylic and silk-screen ink on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney in 2019
Self-portrait, 1986, acrylic and silk screen ink on canvas. Solomon R. Guggenheim on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2019
Work and Work Techniques, taken from the notes of the Whitney Museum of Art
In the 1950s, as an illustrator, Warhol used several devices to produce and reproduce his designs. To include stamps, stencils and a technique where he blotted a design made with ink to reproduce that same design.
In the 1960s, the artist adapted the reproductive techniques of his illustrations to fine art. He added the overhead projector and photostat machine.
In 1960, he chose objects in mass circulation to which to apply these methods. Newspaper headlines, advertisements.
1962 saw a shift, on advice, from an attempt at an Abstract Expressionist Coca-cola bottle to one which looks as though it is mechanically reproduced.
This move linked his two artistic worlds: the illustrative and the fine arts.
Children learning about techniques used by the artist in front of Coca Cola (2), 1961 at the Whitney Museum in mid-March, 2019 (I don’t know who owns this painting) which shows the work of the artist’s hand.
Coca-Cola 3 (1962), casein on canvas. Loaned by the Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
Andy Warhol’s signal break-through came in 1962:
the silkscreen technique which is a mode of mechanical reproduction.
The artist further evolved his technique to screenprint photographic imagery directly onto the canvas.
Green Coca-Cola bottles, 1962, acrylic screenprint and graphite pencil on canvas, and detail. Whitney Museum of Art, NY.
The museum notes that, while the format looks like mechanical reproduction, the black outlines of these bottles were probably stamped by hand from a single carved woodblock onto green areas printed in a grid pattern. Thus the variation in the look of the bottles.
The photograph became both the subject of the painting and the means by which the painting was made.
Children being restrained from moving too close to the image of bright soup cans. Whitney Museum of Art in mid-March 2019.
Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962, casein, acrylic and graphite on linen, 32 panels. MOMA, NY on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art, NY in 2018/19
Superman, 1961, casein and wax crayon on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
A little girl colouring her Warhol flowers, March 2019
3 views of Flowers, made between 1964 and 1965 of acrylic or spraypaint or fluorescent paint and silkscreen ink on linen. Loaned by a variety of private collections and foundations to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19.
The artist created 500 images of four hibiscus flowers taken from a magazine. They were silk-screened on canvases of different sizes. He used them to create immersive environments in exhibitions.
The Whitney reprise here a 1971 exhibition at the Whitney where these flower images were hung on the artist’s Cow Wallpaper at this request.
In 1966, Andy Warhol, who had begun making films three years earlier, declared that he was retiring from painting.
Brillo Boxes, 1969, (version of 1964 original), silkscreen ink on wood, fifty parts. Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19.
A number of other products – food products – joined these boxes when they were all first exhibited.
These are not the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp.
These were made by the artist and his colleagues using a factory assembly model.
The museum notes that this mixed media assemblage draws a line between the artist’s practice of commercial design and minimalism.
It is with screenprinted photographs that Warhol created his most famous images: stars, celebrities.
The work shown in this exhibit was mostly roped off or placed under glass or on platforms, as normal; and video cameras operated as usual.
Gold Marilyn, 1962, silkscreen ink and acrylic on canvas. Loan to the Whitney Museum from a foundation in Germany.
Invite yourself into the picture?
Silver Liz (diptych), two panels, 1963, silkscreen ink, acrylic, spraypaint on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018/19
Put yourself in the frame?
But the large Elvis and Marilyn and Brando paintings were roped off and alarmed such that if you bent even at the slightest angle over the rope, alarms shrieked.
There were works far larger which were not so treated; but they did not contain images of our longed-for celebrities.
Marilyn Diptych, 1962, acrylic, silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen, two panels. Loaned by Tate, London to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
A secular iconostasis. In front of us the heart’s desire of millions. Behind us the cold, bad world.
The iconostasis joins two worlds and this one of Marilyn Monroe joins us to her.
All the artist’s depictions of the actress were done in the aftermath of her death.
Marilyn, 1967, part of the portfolio Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn), colour photoscreenprint and colour screenprint. Philadelphia Art Museum not included in this exhibition.
The artist began making images of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 after she had died. All his images of Marilyn Monroe were based on a publicity still taken by Gene Kornman for the 1953 Niagara.
A secular icon of the greatest hypnotic, seductive attraction.
Green Marilyn, 1962, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, not included in this exhibition.
People viewing Triple Elvis, 1963, acrylic, spraypaint and silkscreen ink on linen. ? loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2019/19
Silver Marlon, 1963, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen. ? loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/2019
The museum reminding all those who crave Elvis, Marilyn and Brando that they cannot have them or be them.
Nor can we approach them closely. They have joined the Olympians.
The artist used a wide variety of media and co-operated with a number of artists. He taught Richard Rauschenberg silk screen printing and made him a memorial of his (Rauschenberg’s) family.
Let us Now Praise Famous Men (Rauschenberg Family) and detail, 1962, silkscreen-ink print on canvas. Andy Warhol,1928-1987, American. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC on loan in 2017 to MOMA, NY. Not shown at the Whitney in 2018/19
MOMA, NY noted, in an exhibition about Rauschenberg and his friends, that Andy Warhol asked Rauschenberg if he could make a portrait of him. This is the result made from one of several phtographs dating from the 1920s and 30s of members of Rauschenberg’s family in Port Arthur, Texas.
Warhol’s title comes from a celebrated 1941 book of photos of the Depression in the south of the US of James Agee and Walker Evans.
Rauschenberg, a famously collaborative and generous artist, was not famous in 1968 and the title is taken as expressing Warhol’s regard for him.
Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963, silkscreen ink on linen. Private loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018/19
Jacqueline Kennedy had orchestrated the loan from the Louvre to the US of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Warhol made this shortly after this loan.
An iconostatic representation of the most famous painting in the world.
Children were discussing in mid-March 2019 the many expressions of Ethel Scull 36 Times, 1963, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen, 36 panels. Jointly owned by the Metropolitan and the Whitney Museum, NY
Crowd, 1963, silkscreen ink on linen, and detail. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19.
The photo reproduced here is from April 1955 of a half million people outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome awaiting Pope Pius XII on Easter Sunday.
The artist has depicted, not the icon, but those for whom icons are an integral part of their faith, in expectation of the appearance of a man who has iconic status in Roman Catholicism
129 Die in Jet, 1962, acrylic and graphite on linen, and detail. Museum Ludwig, Cologne on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19.
Warhol painted this by hand to mimic the qualities of the printing process. This crash of an Air France airliner was the deadliest to this time.
The first work in the artist’s Death and Disaster series.
Mustard Race Riot, 1963, silkscreen ink, acrylic, and graphite on canvas, two panels, and detail. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19.
This is a recontextualized, cropped and blurred reproduction of a famous painting photograph by Charles White of an attack by Birmingham, Alabama police on a civil rights demonstration. White’s photo and essay appeared in Life in May, 1963.
A work in the Death and Disaster series.
Tunafish Disaster, 1963, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen, and detail. Cy Twombly Foundation on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19.
A work in the Death and Disaster series.
Lavender Disaster, 1963, acrylic, silkscreen ink and graphite on linen, and detail. Loan by the Menil Collection, Houston to the Whitney, NY in 2018/19.
The electric chair at Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, NY from an article dating to 1953, just before the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The last execution here was in August 1963.
A work in the Death and Disaster series.
Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times, 1963, silkscreen ink, acrylic and graphite on linen, two panels, and detail. MOMA, NY loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018/19.
The artist said that every time he turned around, the talk was of how many people were going to die and that is how he got started.
The museum also notes that in 1963, Warhol began offering an extra blank panel to his customers for additional cost. Its inclusion here is interpreted as a nearing to the Abstract Expressionism of two artists whom Warhol admired, Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly.
A work in the Death and Disaster series.
Visitors walking past a wall of portraits of alleged criminals, Most Wanted Men, 1964, silkscreen ink on linen or on canvas (with light interference). On loan from a several private collections and institutions.
The musem explained that the architect, Philip Johnson, commissioned a work from Warhol for the New York State Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Using a booklet of photographs circulated by the New York Police Department called ‘Thirteen Most Wanted’, the artist produced a mural – overpainted with the artist’s final consent because the Powers That Be wanted an upbeat message only. He also produced a homoerotic film series: ‘Thirteen Most Wanted Boys’ (1964-66).
The museum points to this work as evidence of the wide-ranging interest that Warhol had in his society: hero and anti-hero (among other ‘types’ of people).
Nine Jackies, 1964, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, nine panels. Whitney Museum of Art, NY.
Detail of Selections from Flash-November 22, 1963, 1968. One of eleven screenprints, colophon and silkscreened text with screenprinted cloth cover in a Plexiglass box. Whitney Museum of Art, NY.
The artist appropriated Kennedy’s image from a 1960 campaign poster. The screenprints together made a book of Kennedy’s assassination and represents the artist’s very great interest in this assassination and its context.
The museum notes that Andy Warhol completed major series in the 1970s and 1980s whose subjects are the traditional ones: portraits, still-lives, nudes and landscapes.
Sunset, 1972, two separate portfolios of screenprints. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum , NY in 2018/2019
These are eight of a total of 632 unique prints of sunsets each with different colour combinations. They were commissioned by Philip Johnson for the Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis.
Mao, 1972, acrylic, silkscreen ink and graphite on linen. Loaned to the Whitney Museum by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018/19.
The source of all images of Mao made by Andy Wharol was a painting by Zang Zhensi on the front of The Little Red Book. This work follows news of Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.
Mao, 1973, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY not loaned to this exhibition
Ladies and Gentlemen, 1975, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen.
Top row, Alphanso Parnell; Ivette and Lurdes
Bottom row: Helen/Harry Morales; Marsha P. Johnson (who took an important part in the Stonewall Rebellion for LBGTQ rights).
An Italian gallerist commissioned this work of members of the trans women and drag queens. He asked that they not be famous members of the community.
Warhol had his assistants recruit models from bars and meeting places in lower Manhattan where this community gathered. He paid each $50 or $100 and photographed them.
The project became very large and resulted in hundreds of paintings, collages, drawings and prints. The artist, the musuem says, worked directly on the canvas and often with his fingers.
Heroes and anti-heroes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen. Loaned by the Louis Vuitton Foundation to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018/19
Hero and anti-hero
Ladies and Gentlemen, (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas.
Baltimore Museum of Art
In his series in the 1970s and 80s, Warhol often used photographs of objects which he placed in theatrically- lit settings.
Hammer and Sickle, 1976, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018/19
Skull, 1976, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, and detail, (the gallery reflected in both). Private loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
In the skull’s left eye is reflected a work depicting a gun loaned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney. In his right the image of a cross below.
Cross, 1981-82, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas. Loaned by Kolumba, Cologne to the Whitney Museum of Art, NY in 2018/19
Oxidation Painting, 1978, gold metallic pigment and urine on linen. Loaned by a private collection to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19.
One of several experimental paintings in the 1970s in which Warhol used urine or semen. Gold metallic paint changes colour to black or greens when exposed to urine.
This painting was made using the drip method made famous by Jackson Pollock and has been interpreted both as homage and as a sardonic comment on the machismo of the Abstract Expressionists at the tail end of their reign.
In 1978, the artist moved away from objects and in more than 100 paintings, focused only on shadows (‘Shadows’).
Some of these were reproduced in ways which moved the artist from Pop to abstraction.
This enormously well-known artist was subjected to negative criticism for this move because, the museum notes, in part this was not the iconography they associated with the artist.
Andy Warhol persisted with techniques which rendered abstract images.
Shadow (Diamond Dust), 1978 and 1979, acrylic, diamond dust, and silkscreen ink on canvas. Each is owned by a different institution and all loaned to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19.
In the 1980s, Andy Warhol moved further into contemporary media. He launched his own TV show.
In 1981, Andy Warhol met Jean-Michel Basquiat and made hundreds of paintings with him.
He was one of several artists who moved Warhol to go back to painting by hand.
In the 1908s, much of his subject matter, noted by the museum, was as it had been in the 1960s: the political, economic and social goings-on of the time (Ronald Reagan’s time).
To this was added AIDS and the death by governmental neglect of thousands of people, mostly men.
Third Eye, 1985, acrylic on canvas, and detail. Private collection, Zurich on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018/19. Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988, American.
Wharhol made hundreds of works with Jean-Michel Basquiat. The museum quoted Basquiat that Wharhol would begin by painting “something very concrete like a newspaper headline or produce logo, and then I would sort of deface it.”
Their collaboration would continue until a balance was reached between Warhol’s images and Basquiat’s abstract marks, texts, numbers and pictographs.
In 1986, he used an early computer, a Commodore Amiga, to relay a portrait of the singer, Debbie Harry, to a live audience.
The museum notes, however, that to this artist the question of how images generate meaning was at all times central.
It is inevitable that I say again and again that the promise of our Western civilization is that individuals have sufficient resources to reach mature autonomy in any area open to human endeavour to the extent of his or her own talent and work irrespective of their personal origin and characteristics.
This promise was achieved by Andy Warhol, the first person in his family to go to college.
Nothing can be more gratifying. As satisfying to me as the success of David Hockney, David Bowie and David Bailey (British photographer, born 1933) also, for that matter.
Warhol was born poor. He lived in Pittsburgh in a Slovakian community in an American heartland industrial city far from the centers of everything.
He was a retiring and sickly child, fey, marginal, observing. And cherished.
His work, his talent, his focus, originality and tenacity made him among the most important American artists in the second half of the 20th century.
Rorshach, 1984, acrylic on canvas. Private loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018/19
Perhaps it wasn’t courage but a form of in-your-face insouciance that the artist’s way of life and his art moved opinion leaders to an acceptance of the fact that LGBTQ people are. Are.
Were, are and will be. And are to be accorded the full everything available to everyone else.
Nor did he force his many clients to buy his art. From 1968 on, Warhol received hundreds of commissions for portraits.
These portraits are not icons. They are mediated selfies because these subjects were self-promoted; or these portraits were requested by friends, publicists etc.
A view of portraits made by Andy Warhol between 1963 and 1987
Left: Irving Blum and Kimiko Powers, both 1972
Right: Ileana Sonnabend, 1973 and Henry Geldzahlher, 1973-74.
All acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen. Loaned by various to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
A view of portraits made by Andy Warhol between 1963 and 1987
Joseph Beuys, 1980, acrylic, diamond dust and silkscreen ink on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
The artist developed techniques which – starting from his experience as an illustrator – moved his hand to raise to the surface his culture’s obsessions and fascinations.
Camouflage, Last Supper, 1986, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018/19.
An enlarged photograph of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper with a swatch of camouflage material.
The museum notes the tension in this work; and its depth; and its date which is at the beginning of a widespread AIDS epidemic in which, it has to be recalled, those who were ill were allowed to die by their government.
There are black bands of mourning and oblivion framing this work.
Products; flowers; celebrities; political leaders; symbols; assassinations; the death penalty and executions; criminals; accidents; disasters etc.
Life in general.
Detail of Camouflage, Last Supper, 1986
Once at the surface, the artist flattened the subject and exsanguinated him or her, if human.
The artist isolated all subjects, human and other, from any other context. The focus is the image.
The image of an image and of nothing else.
Details of Camouflage, Last Supper, 1986,
Warhol’s was a remorseless spotlight on the commodification of everything;
on the desire to own everything on the part of some people in an economy in which commodification/consumption is the primary engine of growth and regulator of individual status.
And, concomitantly, on the reduction of everything that cannot be treated this way to unimportance, to no value.
People viewing 63 White Mona Lisas, 1970, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas. Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19.
Warhol illustrated trends already long since extant and mocked them, and sometimes craved them; and was always fascinated to understand them by working on their representation.
Detail of 63 White Mona Lisas
Warhol made the expression of this commodification on canvas and in film fashionable, glittering, pricey, delicious, to be bought and sold and displayed for status.
Warhol then went further.
He made his expression of this commodification into a business and himself into a businessman. He did not think that anyone escapes commodification. He was paid handsomely for everything that he did.
Why this is an unAmerican act for which Warhol is to be scolded isn’t clear to me.
This ‘Business Art’ disturbs many people.
They have gone on to be disturbed further by latter day artists who have taken up Warhol’s idea with enthusiasm and pump out their art as in a factory. For eye-popping prices.
For myself, the important question is always: is the art of interest, of value; does it have meaning?
If yes, I don’t care how much of it is sold.
If no, Marcel Duchamp is always with us: and this ‘art’ is not art.
Detail of 63 White Mona Lisas
The spotlight did not focus only on remorseless commodification.
It focused also on people and objects and events and attitudes. I don’t know that he judged these. He represented them (in the parliamentary and also ordinary meaning).
And there is his late work.
This was pointed up in this exhibition by works from Warhol’s last series with The Last Supper as subject.
The Last Supper, 1986, synthetic polymer pain on canvas. MOMA, NY not on exhibition at the Whitney Museum.
The paintings centered on The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci was the last series the artists painted.
Dove is the patented name for personal care products made by Unilever, a multinational company originally ?Anglo-Dutch. GE is General Electric, a large American conglomerate corporation.
These late works reference his faith which, it seems, gave him his first understanding of the enveloping power of images to reflect and give meaning to and shape a world.
Detail of The Last Supper, 1986
The influences, pressures on the artist’s work have been studied:
his fascination for celebrity and star status
his close observations amounting sometimes to voyeurism
line and colour
his insight into the materiality and venality of his civilization
his interest in the extremes of his culture – the antiheroes; and the violence of his civilization
his sensitivity to and experience of the sudden acts of God which come to overturn a life or the life of a nation
the possibilities which emerged from the techniques he adopted and adapted including those which have evolved today into social media
the constraints of institutional Abstract Expressionism and of the openings made possible by the evolution of minimalism and Pop.
Detail of The Last Supper, 1986
There continues to be an influential view of Warhol as the desecrator of our lives, the man who evacuated our depths with an art of the flashy surface.
According to the art historian, Neil Printz, there is “no place for our spiritual eye to penetrate it (a Warhol canvas.)”
On the contrary, it seems to me that the artist received a direct transmission from his faith and that he infused his work with that faith.
Not only in his late paintings with the central figure of Christ, camouflaged and submerged in commercials.
But also with the stacked format and gorgeous colour of his paintings and portraits. And his empathy for some of the subjects of those paintings.
Perhaps not so obvious an influence because he kept his faith close (and his not infrequent work in New York’s homeless shelters equally close).
Detail of The Last Supper, 1986
We, of course, cannot now know the full meaning to Warhol of his faith. Because, even had he not held his faith close, many of us are, if not faithless, without faith(s).
If the spiritual eye is not penetrating the canvas of a multiple Marilyn, it may not be a defect of the canvas but of the eye.
Perhaps motes are floating in that eye.
In his life and in the work practices and entertainments of his studio (The Factory, 1962-1984 at three locations in New York), where people were encouraged to express their sexual and gender preferences,
the artist set an example of what it means to be fully self-actuated irrespective.
Detail of The Last Supper, 1986
Andy Warhol’s work is an example of the balancing act of a complicated life, knowing and self-knowing, and not reducible to this but not that;
which was singlemindedly productive.
And faithful in both secular and spiritual senses.
Insouciant maybe but certainly not without fear. Running up against the proprieties.
And so what?
In any case, are the proprieties on the margins of a world, far from the center of everything, identical with those at its zenith;
at its center (de)forming its glittering heart?
Warhol’s was an astounding achievement.
In the Bottom of My Garden, 1956, twenty-two offset prints, some hand-coloured, hardcover bound. Loaned by the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh to the Whitney Museum of Art in 2018/19
Lips, c. 1975, silkscreen ink on paper, 104 sheets, hardcover bound (the arms of the photographer reflected over the image). Private collection on loan to the Whitney in 2018/19
Lips and painted angel wings.