The Enduring Fame of Andy Warhol

Warhol’s influence on society has steadily grown in the two decades since his death in 1987 and has yet not reached its zenith. Warhol’s ideas were “far out” during his lifetime but are coming more and more to resemble life as we know it. Over the course of 30 years, more and more people have understood that Warhol’s
art opened up opened up a territory as large as the world itself: a large and fascinating universe including Hollywood stars, Coca-Cola bottles, underground movies and music, mysteries and terrors, humor and wit.

Tom Armstrong, the first director of Pittsburgh’s Warhol museum, describes the “Pope of Pop” as a key figure in contemporary culture: “More than any other figure of his time, Warhol challenged our way of thinking about art. Andy was a painter, a sculptor, a graphic artist, a filmmaker, a music producer, an author, a publisher. The scope of his creative activity was extraordinary and it touched on the entire range of popular culture”.

In the foreword of the book “Andy Warhol Portraits”, American art historian and curator Robert Rosenblum stated that this was only the beginning of the story: “Warhol quickly emerged as a leader of the Pop Art movement. His work provided an instantly intelligible chronicle of what mattered most to people, from the dead of Marilyn Monroe to the ascendancy of Red China.”
Rosenblum compares Warhol’s art to a March of Time newsreel: “An abbreviated visual anthology of the most conspicuous headlines, mythic creatures, personalities, movie and music stars, tragedies, artworks, even ecological problems of recent decades. Everything and everybody is here – with infinitely more speed and wallop than a complete run of New York Times on microfilm: airplane crashes and volcanic eruptions, electric chairs, President Nixon, and the Thirteen Most Wanted Men, giant pandas, the hammer-and-sickle, transvestites, Santa Claus and Raphael’s Sistine Madonna”.

Warhol’s greatest gift was probably his observational ability. From his ubercool stance as the silent watcher, Warhol took it all in and saw it for how it truly was.
Warhol’s art reflected the contemporary culture of the United States, and therefore of a world culture that was coming more and more under the American influence. He addressed the changes brought about in our society through mass productions and mass communications in a way that was daring and yet instantly accessible.
By creating artworks inspired by consumer goods as Coca-Cola bottles, Heinz boxes or Campbell’s Soup cans, Warhol presented the world with genuine philosophical challenges.

For the first time in ages, painting was addressing the world at large, and the world knew it was being addressed. But there was a second level to the mass media controversy: not what Warhol painted, but how. Some of his first Pop artworks were made by hand and showed evidence of great skill.

In his later works, Warhol’s hand became less evident. To produce his pictures of Marilyn and Elvis, he made silkscreens print of photographs, which he colored with the aid of stencils. This method offended art critics who wanted to see traces of the artist’s personality on the canvas, or proof of his hard work. But that objection seemed to miss the point.

Warhol had adopted the methods of mass production to make images of celebrities who were themselves mass produced. Marilyn Monroe existed not only as a flesh-and-blood person but as millions of pictures in magazines and newspapers, on album covers, movie screens and film posters. She was infinitely reproducible.

Warhol also understood America’s fascination with celebrity. The “celebrity concept” had an incredible impact on American culture and it quickly became the N°1 topic for Warhol and the Pop Art movement. By becoming a true celebrity himself, something that hadn’t been done before by any US artists, Warhol invented a new approach to America’s fascination with fame.
Andy Warhol’s life is a great example of somebody who courted fame and publicity, achieved it, yet never really gave much away about his “real” personality. Just as is the case with Coca-Cola’s secret formula, the public was really fascinated by the high level of secrecy Warhol managed to surround himself with.

Warhol had been obsessed with fame ever since his childhood when he collected autographs from stars, but what fascinated him the most about the subject was the difference between truth and reality in the world of Hollywood. Warhol subscribed to the postmodern concept of truth as a subjective value and adored the tabloids. In his book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again”, Warhol talks a lot about fame: “A good reason for being famous is so you can read all the big magazines and know everybody in all the stories.”
Warhol even created his own magazine in 1969, Interview, which he claimed he started so that he and his friends would always be invited to the movie premieres and best parties. And of course, starstruck as he was, Warhol always liked to hang around with the popsingers, actors & actresses or other superstars.

Warhol’s most famous quotes are on the subject of fame and the fifteen minutes he felt everyone would get. When he made this statement, it may have sounded like a throwaway soundbite but fact is that in today’s world of cross-genre multi-media, obsessive celebrity madness, reality TV with it’s non-stop “new star” bombardments, Warhol’s philosophy has never been so closely felt.

Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame run on …

Advertisements

Andy Warhol – Supermarket of Styles

Today, more than 45 years have passed since Warhol started showing Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Over the course of all these years, more and more people have understood that Warhol’s art opened up an undiscovered territory as large as the world itself; that this territory includes not only stars and soup cans, humor and wit, but also mysteries.

His clients soon included The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany & Co. Andy removed the final a from his name and became Warhol. Apart from the purchase of a hairpiece early in the ‘50s and a nose job in 1957, this was about the biggest change he made in himself, as he went from poverty in Pittsburgh to success in New York.

By 1952, he’d received his first medal from the Art Directors Club and had been given his first solo exhibition, at the Hugo Gallery. Warhol exhibited drawings based on the writings of Truman Capote. By 1956, he was participating with a series of drawings of “personality shoes” in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art: Recent Drawings USA.
That same year he also had two solo shows at the Bodley Gallery and went on a round-the-world tour. In 1957, he incorporated himself as Andy Warhol Enterprises to help manage his commercial work.

All this time, Warhol had continued to paint; he also kept abreast of the avant-garde. We know he was aware of Jasper Johns’s work and also of Robert Rauschenberg’s art. In defiance of the prestige then enjoyed by abstract painting, both of those artists incorporated immediately recognizable, images into their works. Jasper Johns painted the American flag, while Rauschenberg inserted objects such as Coca-Cola bottles and photographs of President Eisenhower into his paintings. 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.

In 1960, Warhol took up the dare and made his first paintings based on comic-strip characters. He exhibited them the following year, not in an art gallery, but in the window of Bonwit-Teller, as the background for a mannequin display. Then he visited the Leo Castelli Gallery and discovered, to his surprise, that Roy Lichtenstein was also making paintings based on comic strips. Apparently, Warhol was on to something. But if Lichtenstein had staked out the comics as a subject for art galleries, then Warhol would have to find something else.
What he found, beginning in 1962, was nothing less than the entire American scene. Whereas other artists like Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann where also working with Pop Art imagery in the early 1960s, Warhol quickly emerged as a leader, painting grass-roots brand names like Campbell’s, Mott’s, Kellog’s, Del Monte, Coca-Cola; American money, postage stamps, and bonus gift stamps, tabloids and his childhood comic idols Superman, Dick Tracy, Nancy and Popeye. He also portraited the most popular stars from James Dean, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor to Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

But this was only the beginning of his art and vision. Warhol’s art is a visual anthology of consumer brands, headlines, personalities, mythic creatures, tragedies and even a tribute to his favorite artworks. Some of his first Pop pictures were made by hand, and to a knowing eye they gave evidence of great skill – for example the images of Campbell’s soup cans with peeling labels, which are marvels of illusionistic brushwork. But soon Warhol adopted the methods of mass production to make images of brands and celebrities who were themselves mass produced.