Mixing Christ and Commercialism: Warhol's "Last Supper" (1986)
Posted by Andrea D. on May 7, 2010 - 4:31pm
Categories: On the Walls


When wandering through Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, The Last Supper (1986) is undoubtedly one of the exhibition's standouts.

The canvas is massive, a sprawling 32 feet long and 10 feet tall, and it is arguably the piece that best ties together Warhol's early and late artistic career...from advertising / graphic designer, to "King of Pop Art", to his final, faith-based introspection.

None of the paintings in Warhol's The Last Supper series are directly based on Da Vinci's original mural, which has become one of the most recognized images in the artistic canon. Instead, Warhol's paintings are based on reproductions of the original, made possible through art books and even an outline drawing from a children's coloring book. Warhol is re-visiting his fascination with repeated images here: how many repetitions "removed" from the original results in a loss of meaning?

In this particular painting of The Last Supper, Warhol stylistically harkens back to his early days in New York as a graphic designer, and the figures of Christ and His disciples are testaments to Warhol's skilled draftsmanship. Warhol also utilized the design technique of visual poetry in this painting by slamming contrasting subject matter into one piece (in this case, religious imagery and products from advertisements) in order to create new meaning.

However, upon closer inspection, the commercial objects that Warhol included in this piece are not without significance: the motorcycle is a Honda, (the logo of which is a wing, which Warhol attributed to an angel wing), and the eye, which was originally the logo for Wise potato chips, became reinterpreted by Warhol as the "all-seeing eye". Even the appropriated newspaper headline, "The Big C", is a dual reference to both cancer (the subject of the news article) and Christ. The $6.99 price-tag could easily be interpreted as Christ dying for the sins of mankind – essentially paying "the ultimate price" – or it could further reinforce the idea of consumerism in the piece. Indeed, through these forced connections between religious and secular imagery, Warhol prompts us to think about the more cynical, commercialized aspects of religion, as something that individuals must essentially "buy in to" in order to fully believe.

When this notion is taken into consideration, along with the idea behind Warhol's celebrity portraits (Christ being one of the most famous "celebrities" ever), and his use of appropriated logos and cultural imagery, the meaning of The Last Supper (1986) becomes even more deeply nuanced. The work manages to be simultaneously spiritual and scathingly "pop", and it incorporates aspects from many facets of its creator’s illustrious career. All of these elements combine to suggest that The Last Supper (1986) ultimately reflects Warhol at his artistic best—that is, at his most ambiguous.