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Andy Warhol at the Whitney

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday November 7, 2018

Since his death in 1987, at age 58, Andy Warhol’s work has probably been seen in more exhibitions than any other artist. But it’s been 30 years since the seminal MoMA retrospective—and in the ensuing years Warhol’s predictions about art, culture, and life have been largely realized. Today anyone with a smartphone celebrates themselves through selfies distributed via online platforms. The artist as a work of art is the soul of the art fair scene, if it has a soul. Performance art has taken hold in galleries, museums and on city streets. And hardly anyone living in the First World has missed out on their own 15 minutes of fame—in one medium or another.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Self-Portrait, 1964; courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The vast show of Warhol’s work in painting, sculpture, design and film that opens next Monday at the Whitney Museum of American Art turns a finely etched prism on an artist so ubiquitous that most people think they already know him. Organized by Senior Curator Donna DeSalvo, who met and worked with Warhol in the 1980s, the exhibition presents an ample view of the many mediums that he delved into in his ever-shifting explorations into art making. He pioneered the use of an industrial silkscreening process as a painterly medium, for example, in order to repeat images in seemingly endless variations that question the value of art.

“Warhol produced images that are now so familiar, it’s easy to forget just how unsettling and shocking they were when they debuted,” says De Salvo. “His repetitions, distortions, camouflaging, incongruous color, and recycling of his own imagery,” she continues, “anticipated the most profound effects and issues of our current digital age, when we no longer know which images to trust.”

Arranged chronologically, the exhibition begins with a group of figure drawings of his friends and lovers from his art school years. The dry wit of these youthful exercises, later transformed into an apparently cold, distanced view of art and life, is seen in beautifully realized pages from his student sketchbooks.

In 1949 he moved to New York City, shortened his name from Warhola to Warhol, and began a successful career as a commercial artist. During the 50s he created award-winning illustrations for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour magazines, and window displays for deluxe Fifth Avenue retail stores. During that time he developed a keen understanding of the art of presentation, such as: sex sells; if it doesn’t print well, it won’t sell; the original [the art] is irrelevant.

A wall of his iconic gold leaf metaphorical shoe portraits of fashion luminaries, celebs and other notables is accompanied by a display case of art and ephemera from various features he created on subjects ranging from "Success Is a Job in New York" to shooting heroin to jewelry and handbags, and a celebration of cats and cupids. An adjacent hallway gallery offers 30 or so covers of his later publication, Interview, which he launched in 1969 as the “Crystal Ball of Pop.”

 

 

Above: photos © Peggy Roalf

The next of the fifth floor’s spacious galleries offer several of Warhol’s early works that were presented in gallery shows, including the first from his Death and Disaster series, 129 Die in Jet, 1962, which appears to be a silkscreen, but in fact is done in acrylic and graphite, mimicking the benday dots of a newspaper photo. Before and After, a nose job portrait from 1962, evokes the prevalent craze for self improvement and Warhol’s own nose-slimming effort, accompanied by the first of his Coke bottles and Campbell’s Soup cans. These are followed by two early Marilyns, the super large Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963, and the small Silver Liz (diptych), 1963. 

Right: Mao, 1972; courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

By the time a group of Mao’s come into view, from a page-size photocopy source image to the 14-foot-high Mao, in acrylic, silkscreen ink and graphite from 1972, the breadth and scope of Warhol’s genius is understood. There is more, much more to this expansive show, from the special installation of numerous Flowers  mounted on the recreated Cow wallpaper  in the separate Kaufman Gallery; the Polaroid Self Portraits in Drag series; two of the Camouflage paintings of 1986; one of the large Piss paintings from 1978, and the Sixty-Three White Mona Lisas, 1979, with numerous self-portrait iterations throughout.

And when you consider the various mediums Warhol employed to procreate his vision in multiples of all kinds, you are reminded of a questionnaire in which the answers are buried in the questions. Wallpaper, which is everywhere in this show, starting with one assembled from his ads for I. Miller Shoes, created for the show, to the Cow wallpaper just mentioned, is one of the pay-off answers: it’s everywhere because it [the art] is a commodity.

Another Warholian invention is the artist himself as a commodity. When Warhol came to town, Abstract Expressionism—the epitome of art for art’s sake—was at its height; selling out was considered the most ignominious fate that could befall an artist. But that’s exactly what Warhol did in transforming his persona into a commodity. He was saying, at an extremely high pitch: Get real, art’s a job—just like plumbing’s a job. To understand the influence of this side of his output, just look beyond the consequences of art made by artists for sale in art fairs to the colossal art installations made by artist/employees of big production companies for music fairs such as SXSW or Austin City Limits. Info

A large selection of Warhol’s films will play in the third floor theater [Info]; an installation of his silkscreen celebs occupies the Lobby Gallery; the show is accompanied by a 400-page catalogue edited by Donna De Salvo [Info]; and a continuing series of public programs [Info].

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again  opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Monday, November 12 and continues through March 31, 2019 [Info]. 99 Gansevoort Street, NY, NY Members see the show first, November 7-11 [Info]. The exhibition will then travel to SFMOMA.

Continuing through  December 15, 2018, the Dia Art Foundation presents Andy Warhol, Shadows at 205 West 39th Street, a streetfront space in Calvin Klein, Inc.’s headquarters. Following its New York presentation, the work reopens as a long-term installation at Dia:Beacon in 2019.

See the DART Artis Q&A: Andy Warhol here

See more photos of the exhibition here

 

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