Andy Warhol, A Visual & Conceptual Multimedia Genius

When the young Andy Warhol graduated from college in June 1949, he immediately moved to New York. It took him only three months to begin a brilliant career as a commercial artist. Appropriately enough, Warhol’s first assignment was to illustrate an article in Glamour magazine, “Success is a Job in New York”.
Influenced by the early work of pop artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann, Warhol quickly made the decision to take the leap into “real art”.
In the early sixties, Warhol had become a commercial artist with painterly ambitions – asked by a dealer why his works were smudged, he replied, “But you have to drip. Otherwise they think you’re not sensitive”.
To Warhol, it was a matter of no small interest that the avant-garde could come so close to his own world of commercial art.

Warhol’s early comic strip works were clearly inspired by the work of Roy Lichtenstein, but Warhol quickly found his own style. His iconic portraits of Dollar signs and postage stamps, Coca-Cola bottles, cans and signs; Campbell’s, Mott’s, Kellog’s and Del Monte’s packagings; celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy; tabloids and newspapers such as Daily News and New York Post as well as his recreations of violent imagery from race riots to car crashes, quickly earned the young artist a reputation. Warhol also moved into experimental filmmaking, publishing and multimedia ventures, all the while adding fuel to the Warhol myth.

In 1966, Warhol began presenting The Velvet Underground, the legendary underground band fronted by Lou Reed, John Cale & Nico as part of his traveling multimedia show called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable”. A year later, he produced their debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico. The album cover designed by Warhol is so iconic that people often refer to it as the “Warhol LP” or the “Banana album”.

In art, even the recent past is another country. To experience a frisson of how it felt when Pop Art started to be made, felt and understood radically differently in the early 1960s, visit the current exposition “Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms” at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, USA. Running from Sept 13, 2008 until Feb 15, 2009, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” (named for the Truman Capote novel of the same name) sheds a new light on the celebrated pop artist and focuses on the ideas at the heart of Warhol’s work from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s: embracing consumer culture, exploring sexual identity, challenging social conventions, and erasing distinctions between high and low culture.

This travelling show of ultimate Andy Warhol trivia, is organised by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Moderna Museet Stockholm in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum and presents Warhol’s films, screen-tests, videos and television programmes, which combined with extraordinary archive material, seminal paintings and installations, illuminates his creative process.

Besides Warhol’s film and video work, the exhibit focuses also on less known aspects of the artist by showing some miscellaneous extras. Warhol was obsessive about collecting and on display here are a few of the 600 time capsules that he made in the 1960s, self-consciously establishing a repository of the essential elements of the cultural Zeitgeist that swirled around him. These took the form of cardboard boxes full of old postcards, Christmas cards, telephone notes, photographs, cinema tickets and the odd T-shirt. There are covers of his magazine Interview. There are books, contact sheets, photomat strips and wonderful expanses of his wallpaper: Chairman Mao, cows and Warhol’s face repeated hundreds of times in bright colours.

Wexner Center director Sherri Geldin: “Upon visiting this astounding and ingenious exhibition in Amsterdam late last year, I immediately set the wheels in motion to bring it to the Wexner Center. It explores afresh the remarkable legacy of an artist who utterly transformed the cultural landscape of his own time, but also foretold with uncanny prescience today’s media-obsessed society”.

The mix of celebrity and the underground, reality and artifice, a culture without hierarchies of image or thought, the subtle eroticisation of almost anything he touched: Andy Warhol presented a visual and conceptual overload which emphasises that, inescapably and from all sides, Warhol is our contemporary. “Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms” illuminates his creative process, sheds new light on his work and explores his genius for discerning the way pop culture penetrates our lives.

You can find more info on the Wexner website.

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