Sunday, August 6, 2017

Birthday: "During the 1960s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don't think they've ever remembered."

andy warhol stamp.jpg

Andrew Warhola, Jr. (1928-1987)
Artist, Author

He was born the son of a Slovak miner who emigrated to Pittsburgh; he grew up in the Byzantine Catholic Church, and graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology with a degree in art. Over the four decades of his career he became the central figure in American art; founded the magazine Interview; managed and produced one of the most important rock bands, The Velvet Underground, and produced a vast body of work whose value seems to know no ceiling (one 1963 piece, “Car Cash (Double Disaster)”, sold in 2013 for $105 million).

Having dropped the last ‘a’ from his name, Andy Warhol moved to New York in 1949 and made a name for himself in the 1950s a commercial artist, producing loose, distinctively casual designs for everything from shoes to RCA record album covers.

Though he had a few gallery shows in the late fifties and early sixties, he had a hard time finding outlets for his work. Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and others had staked out the field of pop art and no one saw a market hook for the thirty-year-old artist’s work.

A decade in commercial art got Warhol thinking about the endless feedback loop of advertising, commercial products, art, and celebrity. He was influenced by the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, whom Warhol credited for inspiring his most famous epigram: Everyone is famous for fifteen minutes.

A good example of Warhol’s emerging theory of the confluence of the elements of celebrity media culture is embodied in his comment about a soft drink:

What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

Where Lichtenstein parodied comic book art by taking iconic, single-box images and adding out of context, ironic dialogue balloons, Warhol began painting what he saw as the iconic elements of mid-century American culture: dollar bills, nuclear clouds, electric chairs, Campbell’s Soup cans, famous figures like Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. A big 1962 show generated publicity, high dollar sales, and plenty of critical scorn for his apparently uncritical embrace of commerce as art.

He made a sculpture of Brillo Pad boxes, stacked if in a grocery. In 1964 he went a step further,, joining a number of other pop artists for the Supermarket Show- an exhibit set up like a modern food mart, but with all the products usually on sale in one represented by reproductions in art, or altered originals. Warhol’s Campbell Soup paintings sold for $1500 each in the canned food aisle; autographed Coke cans were $6 each.

When he died, The New York Times wrote,

In all these endeavors, Mr. Warhol's keenest talents were for attracting publicity, for uttering the unforgettable quote and for finding the single visual image that would most shock and endure. That his art could attract and maintain the public interest made him among the most influential and widely emulated artists of his time.

Although himself shy and quiet, Mr. Warhol attracted dozens of followers who were anything but quiet, and the combination of his genius and their energy produced dozens of notorious events throughout his career. In the mid-1960's, he sometimes sent a Warhol look alike to speak for him at lecture engagements, and his Manhattan studio, ''the Factory,'' was a legendary hangout for other artists and hangers-on. Members of his entourage have lived the rest of their lives dining out on having been part of it.

''Painting a soup can is not in itself a radical act,'' the critic Robert Hughes wrote in 1971. ''But what was radical in Warhol was that he adapted the means of production of soup cans to the way he produced paintings, turning them out en masse - consumer art mimicking the the process as well as the look of consumer culture.''

At the heart of Warhol’s art was the question, “what is art, anyway?” (he replied, “Art is what you can get away with”), and he got plenty of grief for his use of assistants to execute his designs, thus multiplying his productivity and profitability.

There seemed to be no limit to his talents: he was a pioneer of silk screening as well as a painter, he produced freehand drawings and sketches. He sculpted. He was a photographer. He published books and made films.

His movies were decades ahead of Seinfeld, the show about nothing. “My fascination with letting images repeat and repeat - or in film's case 'run on' - manifests my belief that we spend much of our lives seeing without observing,”  he explained.

So “Empire” was an eight-hour movie showing the Empire State Building at dusk. “Sleep” was six hours of a man sleeping. “Eat” showed a man peeling and eating a mushroom for 45 minutes, and “Blow Job” was a 35 minute, one-camera reel of a man’s face while allegedly receiving oral sex.

Like Cage’s composition in which an orchestra didn’t play anything, Warhol’s experimental films made the viewer - and the viewer’s reactions and thought processes-part of the art. His most broadly-successful film, Chelsea Girls (1966) ran two side-by-side reels of home movie footage of two young New York women talking about themselves.

One of the groupies at the fringes of his Factory entourage shot Warhol in 1968 and nearly killed him. He stepped back from the public eye during a long convalescence in the 1970s, then returned with a vengeance in the glitzy Eighties. His proteges drove the auction house sales; he was part of the vocabulary in the smallest town in America. Warhol was at the center of the Big Feedback Loop: everything he portrayed became more famous and valuable; that, in turn, made him more famous and wealthy.

In 1987, Warhol went into hospital for a routine gallbladder surgery and died of a heart attack in his sleep. Depending on which version of his life one preferred, he was 57, 58, or 59. He was probably as surprised as everyone else. “Dying is the most embarrassing thing that can ever happen to you, because someone's got to take care of all your details,” he once told an interviewer.

After some bequests to his family, Warhol left his estate for the formation of a museum of his work and center for the study of contemporary art in Pittsburgh. His personal possessions and collections were so vast, it took Sotheby’s nine days to auction them all. The estate netted $20 million.

An odd-looking, slight figure who dressed liked Woody Allen much of the time, Warhol was one of the most famous men in the world, and one of the most detached from celebrity ever. Anticipating Jerzy Kosinski’s Chance the Gardener in the novel Being There, Warhol treated life as a television show, to be observed rather than experienced (“I'm the type who'd be happy not going anywhere as long as I was sure I knew exactly what was happening at the places I wasn't going to. I'm the type who'd like to sit home and watch every party that I'm invited to on a monitor in my bedroom...When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships”).

He played dumb for the media, asking his keen insight behind a persona of a platinum-wigged gnome who said things no one quite understood (“I am a deeply superficial person”; “I love Los Angeles, and I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic”; “It would be very glamorous to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Liz Taylor's finger”).

Warhol was openly gay when it was still illegal in much of America, but that mattered little as the world tended to come to him in New York. He was also, in the public eye- and often, in his own accounts- only theoretically gay, as he often claimed to be a virgin, and asexual. “Fantasy love is much better than reality love. Never doing it is very exciting. The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet,” he said.

Despite his legendary disconnectedness, Warhol had a dumbfoundingly conventional streak. In 1985, when he exhibited a group of prints of clowns, robots, monkeys and other images he made for children at the Newport (R.I.) Art Museum in 1985, he displayed a wholly unexpected soft spot for kids:
''It's just that the show's for children,'' he told a reporter at the time. ''I wanted it arranged for them. The Newport Museum agreed to hang all of my children's pictures at levels where only kids could really see them.''

He worked at soup kitchens for the homeless and attended mass almost daily. He had a larky side, appearing on kitsch TV series, The Love Boat, as the man threatening to come between Tom Bosley and Marion Ross. He had an environmentalist sensibility, commenting, “I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.”

He was buried next to his parents, under a traditional headstone, after a traditional Orthodox service, but with a Warholian twist: his eulogists included Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson; and Yoko Ono. The Warhol Museum is the largest to be devoted to the work of one artist, and his foundation- begun with $225 million- has given over a quarter-billion away in grants for the advancement of the visual arts. In 2012 the Foundation ignited a firestorm of criticism over its plans to auction off its substantial holdings of lesser Warhol works to expand its financial base and to leave the funds-draining business of authenticating endless streams of claimed works by the artist.

In 2002 the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp based on his silk screen “Self Portrait, 1964). Buying a sheet of them was a close to owning a Warhol as most Americans will ever come.

The sheet also bears a telling quote: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

We enjoy hearing from visitors! Please leave your questions, thoughts, wish lists, or whatever else is on your mind.