When you approach the entrance to Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, there's a painting at the top of the stairs where Andy's green fright wig self-portrait used to stand. This painting is not, at first glance, very remarkable: it appears to be simple gradiations of white and a light cream color, devoid of any subject matter in particular. This might account for the reason so many people pass it by when heading straight into the exhibition.
Give it a closer look, however, and a familiar image will begin to take shape...several familiar images, in fact. And you'll realize that you almost walked right by Warhol's take on one of the most iconic paintings of all time, without sparing it a second glance.
Across the ocean, at this very instant, there are hundreds of people navigating through the Louvre, trying to get a glimpse of the infamous Mona Lisa. Her smile graces everything from coffee cups to Dan Brown novels, and her familiar visage is one of the most recognized in the world. Which is exactly why she is so perfect for Warhol's tongue-in-cheek commentary on art. When her color has been washed out, when she's been replicated several times on the same work, is the Mona Lisa still THE Mona Lisa? Is her inscrutable expression just as mysterious, just as worthy of adoration? Is it the image that matters, or is it the celebrated status of the image that gives the work its meaning?
Similarly, tucked into a corner of the galleries, there is a painting that appears, at first, to be a black rectangle. Further inspection shows that Warhol did a parody of his own Marilyn Monroe portraits, but it is far from the loud, bold colors of his earlier portrayals of the actress: the only thing that differentiates Monroe's image from the black matte background is the faint sheen of glossy paint. Even though Warhol painted all of his Marilyn portraits after her death, this work is by far the most muted and sobering. And the irony is that Monroe's celebrated beauty -- which is now associated with both Warhol's portraits of her, as well as with her own celebrity -- is often overlooked because her likeness fades so easily into the background of the piece.
Both Warhol's Mona Lisa and Marilyn (4) hint at the themes of mortality that underline Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. Fame (or infamy) can be fleeting, and celebrated status, whether belonging to a person or to a work of art, is capable of being manipulated.