Monday, December 17, 2018

New York: Whitney Museum of American Art – Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again – Retrospective

New York - Whitney Museum of American Art
Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again

At the Whitney Museum of American Art, until March 31, the retrospective, Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again.  Few American artists are as ever-present and instantly recognizable as Andy Warhol (1928–1987). Through his carefully cultivated persona and willingness to experiment with non-traditional art-making techniques, Warhol understood the growing power of images in contemporary life and helped to expand the role of the artist in society. This wonderful exhibition—the first Warhol retrospective organized by a U.S. institution since 1989—reconsiders the work of one of the most inventive, influential, and important American artists. Building on a wealth of new materials, research and scholarship that has emerged since the artist’s untimely death in 1987, this exhibition reveals new complexities about the Warhol we think we know, and introduces a Warhol for the 21st century.

“I’m still a commercial artist. I was always a commercial artist”

Warhol Before Warhol – one of Madison Avenue’s most in demand illustrators. In 1956 he exhibited a series of gold shoes collages in which he personified numerous individuals – fashionable socialites, magazine editors, art directors, actors, actresses and authors.
Truman Capote – c.1956


Warhol’s admiration for and fascination with Truman Capote, a writer whom he drew frequently. When Warhol first arrived in New York, he wrote fan letters to Capote and called him on the phone every day—until the author’s mother demanded that he stop.

Self-Portrait - 1950s
“Truman Capote” - c.1952
Truman’s Hand -1950s

“I was never embarrassed about asking someone, literally, "what should I paint?" because Pop comes from the outside, and how is asking someone for ideas any different from looking for them in a magazine?”

Hand Painted Pop – Scrutinizing the signs and symbols of postwar America. In the early 1960s, Warhol—along with artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist—began exploring the signs and symbols of postwar America, creating the movement that came to be known as Pop art. He began to make paintings of subjects in mass circulation, such as front-page headlines, cartoons, and advertisements, astutely selecting images ranging from singular and iconic to humorous and campy.

Superman - 1961
Dick Tracy – c. 1961

129 Die in Jet - 1962

“A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke.”

Mechanical Reproduction – discovering the heroism of everyday objects (over and over again) - Using repetition, subtle surface variations, and different color combinations, he transformed quotidian subject matter such as dollar bills, self-improvement ads, instructional diagrams, soup cans, Coke bottles, and supermarket packaging into optically charged, painterly fields. In embracing the image of the Coca-Cola bottle as fine art, Warhol opened up the possibility of linking the worlds of commercial and fine art.
Green Coca-Cola Bottles – 1962
Coca-Cola (3) – 1962

Campbell’s Soup Cans – 1962
Dance Diagram (3) (“The Lindy Tuck-In Turn – Man”) - 1962
Dance Diagram (4) (“The Lindy Tuck-In Turn – Woman”) – 1962

 Brillo Boxes – 1969 (version of 1964 original)

Roll of Bills - 1962

“So many people seem to prefer my silver-screenings of movie stars to the rest of my work. It must be the subject matter that attracts them, because my death and violence paintings are just as good.”

Silver Screens
– From screen to canvas, Warhol reflects on our obsession with celebrity. Warhol had a long-standing fascination with celebrities and famous movie stars, often reflecting larger cultural obsessions. Many of his early silkscreened paintings were of Hollywood’s latest crushes: Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, Troy Donahue, Elvis Presley, and Natalie Wood. For Warhol the timing and selection of his subjects was crucial. He created portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe when their personal lives were made highly public. Elvis Presley appears here in a series of silkscreens created using a promotional still from the 1960 Western Flaming Star.

Triple Elvis (Ferus Type) – 1963

Silver Liz (diptych) - 1963

Thirty are Better Than One – 1963

“My show in Paris is going to be called 'Death in America.' I’ll show the electric-chair pictures and the dogs in Birmingham and car wrecks and some suicide pictures.”

Death and Disaster – Exploring the dark side of American Culture. Warhol’s Death and Disaster works can be seen as monumental history paintings—a genre developed to honor great men and their deeds—but Warhol transforms the tradition in order to speak to the anonymity of disaster and its victims and to the contradictions of life in 1960s America. Drawing on the pictorial magazines of the period—LifeLook, Time—Warhol featured images that captured the spectacle of violence as refracted through the lens of the media: suicides, car crashes, electric chairs, acts of police brutality, and poisonings.
Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times – 1963

Nine Jackies – 1964
Big Electric Chair – 1967-68
Big Electric Chair – 1967

“In one way I was glad the mural was gone: now I wouldn’t have to feel responsible if one of the criminals ever got turned in to the FBI because someone had recognized him from my pictures.”

Most Wanted Men – A controversial mural for the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. Warhol found his source images for the work in a booklet of photographs titled The Thirteen Most Wanted, circulated by the New York Police Department. Although the booklet’s producers were no doubt oblivious to any possible homoerotic double reading of “wanted” men, it seems to have been obvious to Warhol, who appropriated the concept for two nearly simultaneous projects made with very different audiences in mind: the public mural, Thirteen Most Wanted Men, and an unambiguously homoerotic film series, The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys (1964–66). 

Flowers Warhol perfects his systemic approach to art making. Warhol used an image of four hibiscus flowers from a magazine and, with the help of assistants, silkscreened it across more than five hundred individual canvases, methodically producing paintings in different sizes and seemingly endless color combinations. In doing so, Warhol mirrored the options that existed in consumer culture—small, medium, large, extra-large—and the idea of theme and variation throughout the history of art. 
Flowers -1967-68
Cow Wallpaper – Pink on Yellow – 1966
Acetate mechanical for 82-inch Flowers – 1964

Self Portrait – 1966

 Ethel Scull 36 Times – 1963 - detail

“…People usually just go to the movies to see only the star, to eat him up, so here at last is a chance to look only at the star for as long as you like, no matter what he does and to eat him up all you want to.”

Filmmaking – (super) star maker.  Warhol turned to avant-garde film in part because there he was free to explore raw, subversive subject matter in a way that he knew the conservative art world did not allow. He increasingly featured homoerotic imagery, foregrounded New York’s subcultures—including those he created himself in the Factory featuring his superstars—and deconstructed the tropes of Hollywood cinema, even as his films’ narrative structures grew increasingly complex.

Jack Mitchell – Andy Warhol with the cast of his play Pork at La Mama – 1971
Facsimile of the Playbill for Andy Warhol’s Pork -1971

“I was having so much fun in Paris that I decided it was the place to make the announcement I’d been thinking about making for months: I was going to retire from painting.”

Installations Warhol announces his “retirement” from painting. At the height of his popular fame as a painter, Warhol put aside not just painting but also his signature appropriation of mainstream commercial products in favor of underground culture, drawing on many of the Factory habitu├ęs for his disparate ventures. He entered into a period of intense productivity, developing projects in new media, video, publishing, music, and fashion, while continually experimenting across media.

Michael Kostiuk – Andy Warhol vacuuming the carpet for an installation piece at Finch College Museum of Art – c. 1972

“Everybody’s always asking me if I’m a Communist because I’ve done Mao.”

Mao – Warhol’s take on the most widely reproduced portrait in the world. Warhol based his Mao paintings, drawings, lithographs, photocopy prints, and wallpaper on the same image: a painting by Zhang Zhenshi that served as the frontispiece for Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (known in the West as the “Little Red Book”), which was then thought to be the most widely reproduced artwork in the world.

Mao – 1972
Facsimile of photograph reproduction (Mao Tse-Tung) – n.d.
Mao – 1973 – photocopies

Still Lifes and Shadows – questioning how images create meaning. For a series of still lifes begun in 1975, Warhol worked with assistants to make theatrically lit studio photographs of a variety of objects, such as a skull or a hammer and sickle, positioning them to cast shadows so dramatic that they took on identities of their own. 
Skull – 1976

Hammer and Sickle – 1976 Hammer and Sickle - 1976
Cross – 1981 -82
Gun – 1981-82 + Self-Portrait with Skull – 1978

“I’ve always believed in television. A television day is like a twenty-four-hour movie. The commercials don’t really break up the continuity. The programs change yet somehow remain the same.”

Andy Warhol Enterprises. The Factory expands its ventures in contemporary media. In addition to his art, Warhol availed himself of various means of distribution, from printmaking to publishing to television. From 1979 until his death, Warhol collaborated with producer Vincent Fremont and director Don Munroe on forty-two episodes of television. Also, Warhol launched Interview magazine in 1969, largely as a means of promoting and contextualizing his own underground films. 

“The 1980s are so much like the Sixties.”

CollaborationsWarhol inspires – and is inspired by – a new generation of artists. Warhol was also conscious of a younger generation whose re-engagement with popular culture, riffs on graffiti, and New York East Village locus intrigued him. In 1981 Warhol met Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, and Keith Haring, who would all collaborate with Warhol on paintings. He was attracted to and energized by the expressive immediacy of their artistic approach, which in part triggered his return to making new work with the hand-painted technique he had used pre-silkscreen. In diary entries from the early 1980s, he mentioned Basquiat, Haring, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Cindy Sherman, and other young artists.

Exhibition poster (Warhol Basquiat Paintings/Tony Shafrazi - Bruno Bischofberger – New York – September 14-October 19 1985) – 1985

“Nobody really looks at anything; it's too hard. I think someone should see my paintings in person before he says they're vacuous.”

The Last Supper – A meditation on militancy, spiritual sacrifice and mourning. Among his final paintings, Camouflage Last Supper is perhaps one of the most personal works of Warhol’s career. The painting combines an enlarged photograph of a print of Leonardo’s mural with a standard camouflage pattern from a swatch of fabric.  The mediated imagery creates tensions—between surface and depth, original and copy, abstraction and figuration. Made in the early years of the ongoing AIDS crisis, the painting offers a meditation on militancy, spiritual sacrifice, and mourning, perhaps expressing the complexities of Warhol’s experience as both a gay man and a Byzantine Catholic, whose continued religious practice was not fully revealed until after his death in 1987.

Camouflage Last Supper - 1986

All text courtesy - Whitney Museum of American Art


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