Saturday, March 08, 2014

Andy Warhol - an American Story (an exhibition)

Andy Warhol, Skull, 1976 museum moderner kunst stiftung ludwig wien, Vienna © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc, by SIAE 2014 © museum moderner kunst stiftung ludwig wien, Leihgabe der Österreichischen Ludwig Stiftung
Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, 8 March - 28 May, 2014. Viewed 8 March 2014.

Official introduction: "The spring season of the Sara Hildén Art Museum opens with an exhibition of Andy Warhol, king of pop art. The exhibition presents around 150 works coming from famous institutions such as the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Albertina and the MUMOK in Vienna, and great historical collections such as the Sonnabend and the Ronald Feldman in New York. These masterpieces provide an overview of the crucial years in the career of Andy Warhol, an artist who, while denying he was such, shook the foundations of the academic world of painting and criticism in the second half of the 20th century, changing forever the image of America, and with it, of modern contemporary society."

"Curated by Walter Guadagnini and Claudia Zevi, the exhibition is organized in thematic sections, providing for the first time a differentiated and surprising view of Warhol´s inspiration – its reasons, its links and its variety – ranging from the extraordinary season of Pop Art to the pathos of his portraits of Marilyn, Liz and Jackie, to his denunciation of violence in American society, to the lesser known abstract works of his last period."

"With him, for the first time, the abrasive obtrusiveness of images, the advent of the star system, the standardization of modern myths, the interaction of the media with crucial events in the history of the United States, the centrality of consumer goods in daily life, are shown in all their diverse reality. As demonstration of Warhol´s versatility, of his ability to express himself utilizing all the means available to the contemporary artist, from traditional canvases, drawings and graphic works to photography, serial images and cinema, in an infinite variation of themes and techniques, the exhibition presents works created in a wide range of procedures."

"Life, death and society: these are Warhol´s most famous icons. Through Campbell´s Soup, Marilyn, Liz Taylor, Mick Jagger and John Lennon, but also Jacqueline Kennedy and Mao Zedong, through the electric chair and race riots, the exhibition surveys American history in its consumerism, its star system, its political leaders and events."

"Warhol also narrates the tragedy that struck Naples with the earthquake of 1981, representing it on the pages of newspapers or by the simple black line of a seismograph, and lastly by his homage to the city, an exceptional series of great paintings of Vesuvius."

"And in his final season, he is still surprising, still inventing new series. Eggs and spools of thread become gigantic abstract paintings confirming once more that, since Andy Warhol, art has never been the same."

I quote this introduction although I find some phrases in it shallow, and today it seems that we sometimes take the shallowness of Andy Warhol for granted. The introductions on display in the exhibition itself are good and relevant.

Warhol was striving for honesty, and that is why his clinging to the surface is always paradoxical.

Warhol was one of the original postmodernists, which also means that there is no irony or parody in his embracing blatant emblems of consumer society and the star system. His approach has something to do with pastiche, but such words do not really do justice to him.

Warhol did not find himself an artist. There is always something of an industrial designer and commercial artist in him, but he kept transcending those boundaries.

The exhibition is very good, covering Warhol's work from 1948 until 1987. It is full of surprises and useful reminders. His early jazz album covers are fine. His late abstractions are impressive.

One of the reasons why it is not right to call Warhol superficial is his obsession with death. He kept studying death in many ways: in his images of electric chairs, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and car crashes. He never really recovered from his own assassination attempt. To his late works belongs a series about the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius. The Shadow is also among his late themes. He pictures himself together with a skull of The Shadow. There is always an aspect of the death mask in his countless self-portraits.

Warhol's entire oeuvre can be seen as the most immense expression of the vanitas theme.

Warhol was ahead of his times: Facebook, selfies, and reality tv are Warholian phenomena. He of course coined the phrase about fifteen minutes of fame.

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