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.

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