Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Andy Warhol - Pro or Con

Recently the show,  History Detectives, launched its new show. They are investigating the claim that a ceramic chip, smaller than a postage stamp and bearing drawings by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, David Novros, Forrest Myers, and John Chamberlain was secretly attached to the craft used for the 1969 Apollo 12 moon landing by an Grumman aerospace engineer. It is a cute story and should make for some possibly interesting TV since there really isn't anything else on.
But reading about this made me think a bit more about Andy Warhol himself and my thoughts on him as an artist.

We all have seen his Campbell's Soup cans from 1961 and all the hype over his pop art explosion but was he this great ground breaking artist or just a fantastic salesman?

Andy Warhol began as a commercial illustrator. His first exhibit was in 1962 when he showed his 32 Campbell's Soup cans in a museum in Los Angeles. And in fact the bulk of his work was produced in a six year span until 1968 when he was shot.

His view on the his art was that we are bombarded with advertising images so much and we experience things through this to the point where the image is lost and becomes banal. He wanted to show the condition of mass advertising and it's effect on human perception. At least that is what he said.

 He shifted from objects to portraits of famous people; Marylin Monroe, Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy just to mention a few. he even tried his hand at photography, and films, all with his eclectic visual bent.

He died in 1987 and was more of a "personality" in the New York art scene than an actual artist. People would flock to see him siting in "Max's Kansas City" and were deeply moved if he made eye contact with them. He was the personification of celebrity, he wanted his "15 minutes of fame", which he coined, to last a lifetime.

He was born of an immigrant family in the blue collar town of Pittsburgh and moved to New York after studying illustration at Carnegie Institute of Technology. His drawings of shoes for advertisements in the 1950's got him the attention needed to spawn his art career. His attention stayed with advertising but took a slanted view of mass marking. 
Warhol once said, "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
 A  1964 exhibit The American Supermarket, a show held in an Upper East Side gallery, was presented as a typical U.S. small supermarket environment, except that everything in it – from the produce, canned goods, meat, posters on the wall, etc. were created by six prominent pop artists of the time, among them Billy Apple, Mary Inman, Robert Watts and Any Warhol.

Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's soup cost $1,500 while each autographed can sold for $6.
By the way, in 2009 His painting, "Eight Elvises" sold for $100 million, yes, $100,000,000. That is a lot of zeros.
The exhibit was one of the first that directly confronted the general public with both pop art and the question of what is art.

The more I research and read about Warhol the more I feel he just capitalized on what would sell. I agree that his original vision was something a bit unique, even though Monet had similar views in some of his work. But I think he was a product of his time and environment. The New York art scene in the 1960's was ripe for change and someone as eccentric and with the marketing savvy as Andy Warhol definitely was able to take a bite out of the Big Apple and the art world.

All of this was actually escalated in on June 3, 1968 with the assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas who was a member of The Factory art scene and founded a movement called Society for Cutting Up Men (S.C.U.M) Do you think she had issues? Supposedly, she gave a script she wrote to Warhol to look at in the hopes of making it into  film with him, somehow the script was "misplaced".

With the assassination attempt, his sexuality and his knack for self promotion, Warhol was destined to be famous.

My question is this, was he a genius artist or just in the right place at the right time and mearly a decent illustrator with a bit of PT Barnum in him?

What are your thoughts?

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