Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday November 6, 2019


In celebration of AI-APs Illustration Week, headlined by The Party tomorrow night Info and studio visits Info, with artists and creative heads streaming into NYC from coast to coast, DART offers a view from Chicago today, and one from the West Coast on Friday. Here, from CHI:

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 exhibition, which also stopped at The Art Institute of Chicago. 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. Photo above © Peggy Roalf, from Whitney Museum of American Art presentation 

Left: Mao, 1972; courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago; © 2018The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This vast show of Warhol’s work in painting, sculpture, design and film, organized by Whitney Museum of American Art Senior Curator Donna DeSalvo, and making it’s third and last stop here, turns a finely etched prism on an artist so ubiquitous that most people think they already know him. The exhibition presents an ample view of the many mediums that Warhol 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, thus questioning the value of art.

 “This is the first exhibition organized by a U.S. institution in 30 years. But it’s also actually the most comprehensive exhibition that’s ever been organized of the work of Warhol,” says Ann Goldstein, the Art Institute deputy director, who curated the show’s installation in Chicago. “This is an opportunity to dive deeply into one of the most extraordinary artists of our time, whose work still resonates, is still relevant and is still thought provoking so many years after its production.”

During the 50s Warhol 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.”

Big Electric Chair, 1967-68© 2018The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Among Warhol’s early works from his Death and Disaster series, is 129 Die in Jet, 1962, which appears to be a silkscreen, but in fact is done in acrylic and graphite, in which he painstakingly mimicked 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, along with the first of his Coke bottles and Campbell’s Soup cans. Following are the memorable early Marilyns, the super large Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963, and the small Silver Liz (diptych), from 1963.

By the time a group of Mao’s come into view, from a page-size photocopy source image to the enormous Mao from the Art Institute’s collection, 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; the Polaroid Self Portraits in Drag series; two of the Camouflage paintings of 1986; one of the large Piss paintings from 1978, and the Four Mona Lisas, 1978, recently donated to the Art Institute [info], with numerous self-portrait iterations throughout. 

Right: Four Mona Lisas , courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago; © 2018The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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 arrived in New York, 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

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again continues through January 26, Tickets 2020. Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, iL Info 2019 [InfoOnline The show is accompanied by a 400-page catalogue edited by Donna De Salvo [Info]; and a continuing series of public programs [Info].

See the Andy Warhol Interview Interview here in DART





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