“After Warhol, Nothing Looks the Same,” is the provocative tagline for the Met’s major Fall show, Regarding Warhol, Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. This thoughtful exhibition demonstrates the truth of that observation by juxtaposing about 45 works by Warhol—paintings, sculptures and films—alongside 100 works by sixty major artists who have responded to his work over the past fifty years.
At some point in the 1960s the art world profoundly changed. Subjects that once were taboo were no longer so. Subjects that once were solely the purview of advertising campaigns, were now the focus of serious artists. Whether Andy Warhol single-handedly created this transformation is still in dispute. (In fact, the question, “Is Andy Warhol The Most Influential Artist of the Last Fifty Years?” will be debated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday, October 21st.)
However, the Met makes a strong case for Warhol, the great influencer, in this thematically organized show, conceived over ten years ago by guest curator Mark Rosenthal, and organized by Rosenthal, with Marla Prather, Curator, Ian Alteveer, Assistant Curator, and Rebecca Lowery, Research Assistant in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art a the Met.
Warhol started out as a graphic designer and illustrator for department stores and magazines. He seems to have had a natural affinity for American consumer culture. As he slyly observed, “Buying is much more American than thinking, and I’m as American as they come.” That someone who seemed to thumb his nose at “high art” and “intellectual reflection” is now regarded as the most influential artist of his time, is one of many ironies to be contemplated by the arrival of this exhibition.
The first section, “Daily News: From Banality to Disaster,” encompasses Warhol’s fascination with advertising, and press coverage of death, disasters and American consumer culture of the 1960s.
While most of us are familiar with Warhol’s early pieces of provocation, more fascinating to me in this section are the works of other artists, from Hans Haacke to Wei Wei, whose images were directly inspired by Warhol and still deliver a punch (see below).
Met curators suggest, in the second thematic section, “Portraiture: Celebrity and Power,” that Warhol was solely responsible for reviving the art of portraiture. While that may be something of an overstatement, it’s certainly true that his Turquoise Marilyn, Red Jackie, Marlon and Triple Elvis, which appropriated and transformed journalistic images into art, became iconic images. In this show, they are convincingly linked to the later works of Jeff Koons (a direct heir of Warhol’s methods and sensibility), Julian Schnabel, Alex Katz, Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman and others.
“Queer Studies: Camouflage and Shifting Identities,” makes a strong case for Warhol’s key role in breaking sexual and gender taboos, and leading the way toward more openness by artists as varied as Richard Avedon, Catherine Opie, Robert Mapplethorpe and David Hockney. Here, we have, in addition to forthright photographs of male and female nudity, photographs of men “playing” at being women, and women asserting their “queerness.”
“Consuming Images: Appropriation, Abstraction and Seriality,” and “No Boundaries: Business, Collaboration and Spectacle,” highlight endlessly repeated images and environments that envelop the viewer.
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to yet another show on Warhol but, much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It introduced me to a number of artists whose work was unfamiliar to me; it made me think; it impressed me with its intellectual depth. It convinced me of Warhol’s key role as agent-provocateur who blew open doors to art that generations of gifted artists have continued to sail through.
Warhol was famous for playing with the whole notion of art as “business,” thus for me, his elevation of the mighty dollar sign into pieces of art is an appropriate finale for a review of this exhibition.
Whether we like it or not, Warhol is again “hot.” He would have been delighted.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through December 31, 2012