Art History class teaches us many well-known facts about Andy Warhol:
Fact 1: Andy Warhol was one of the founding fathers of Pop Art. "Pop Art", or art depicting subjects from popular culture, allowed Warhol to seamlessly blend his background in commercial design with avante guarde art. Simultaneously, pop art questioned whether every-day objects and advertisements could (or should) be worthy of being called "art."
Fact 2: Andy Warhol made silkscreen prints into an acceptable (and popular) art form. Warhol's many silkscreen prints of Marilyn Monroe, created after the death of the actress, are probably his most well-known silkscreen pieces. Working in his New York studio (also known as "The Factory"), Warhol and his assistants used stencils and stretched canvas to mass-produce multiple reproductions of the same image, in an attempt to erase the personal touch of the artist from the creation of art.
Fact 3: Andy Warhol was obsessed with celebrities, money, and fame. Warhol created portraits of celebrities ranging from Sylvester Stallone to Georgia O'Keeffe. He coated many of his works with the dust of crushed diamonds, in order to enhance their value and prestige.But even though Warhol enjoyed and was entertained by many aspects of the celebrity lifestyle, he was a reserved individual at heart, often shy and content to watch the action unfolding around him instead of directly playing a part in it. This shyness, as well as his refusal to explain much of his work to the media, often made him appear aloof and superficial; however, this was really Warhol employing his public persona, keeping his personal beliefs and feelings relatively private.
While these facts are essential to understanding Warhol's work, they barely begin to touch on the lasting impact of his ideas, or on the artist as a person. What about Warhol has allowed his popularity and importance to the art world to remain constant for so long? Why does the Campbell's soup company (and, to some extent, the Coca Cola company) continue to use the same brand that Warhol associated with them during his Pop Art period, almost fifty years ago? What makes Andy Warhol special enough for contemporary pop-music icon, Lady Gaga, to list him among her inspirations, in the same company as David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, and Chanel?
The answer lies in Warhol's ability to reinvent things. To reinvent what constitutes art, how art is made, how fame (or infamy) is created, how a public identity is manufactured. And, true to form, Andy Warhol: The Last Decade reveals an artist who is unafraid to defy the conventions of his own characteristic style. Featuring his forays into abstraction (the Oxidation Paintings, Shadows, Rorschachs and Yarn Paintings), his collaborations with Jean-Michel Basquiat, and his religious-themed Last Supper series, Warhol's most productive decade produced some of his best work, allowing him to actively engage with both his medium and his subject matter in a way that is just as personal as it is Pop Art.
Andy Warhol: The Last Decade opens on February 14, 2010.
* Quote from John Richardson's eulogy for Andy Warhol.
Image Credit: Andy Warhol Self-Portrait, 1986. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen 40 x 40 in. Mugrabi Collection.