Exhibit of the week
Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, through March 31
Three decades after Andy Warhol’s death, we are still living in his world, said The Economist. “A spiritual father of this media-saturated age,” he remains “the foremost chronicler of a revolution in consciousness” brought about when “a world dominated by things morphed into one glutted by images.” He glimpsed before anyone else the reality we find ourselves in, where fame has more value than achievement and we recognize that we each are in part a bundle of urges shaped by market come-ons. The images he personally contributed to popular culture have achieved such staying power that “you might think you’ve seen enough Andy Warhol to last a lifetime,” said Deborah Solomon in WNYC.org. But the huge new Warhol retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum reminds us how stirring his work could be. We all know he made himself a household name, but “it still astounds, after all these decades,” to see the work from the moment of his blossoming.
The first gallery pushes some of his greatest hits too hard, said Darren Jones in Artsy.net. No one needs Warhol’s early-1960s Brillo Boxes and paintings of Campbell’s soup cans out front to be reminded that he was a giant of the pop art movement. Fortunately, we quickly step back in time to see how he was pushing toward a breakthrough while working as a commercial artist in the ’50s. His 1956 collages of ladies’ shoes “almost dance off the page with joie de vivre.” The iconography of our mass-market culture and the Byzantine Catholic Church he grew up in are blended in everything he touched over the next several years, said Holland Cotter in The New York Times. In his hands, the recently deceased Marilyn Monroe became a martyred saint and Coke bottles the equivalent of religious relics. By the 1970s, of course, he was bigger than the art gallery world and faced accusations that he’d sold out. But “good work still came,” and it took a dark, fatalistic turn in the decade before his death, in 1987, at 58.
The attention lavished on his large-scale 1980s work is “the show’s boldest gambit,” said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. His abstractions made with copper paint oxidized by urine slyly reference the macho abstract expressionists who preceded him, and they deserve a fresh look. But they also “feel strained.” It’s better to leave this show with the memory of a sunset he reproduced in a series of 1972 screen prints. These revealed to me a dimension of his genius too often forgotten. “Their meltingly beautiful, never-fail audacities of drenching color reminded me that Warhol wasn’t only a twistily clever demiurge. He was wonderful, too.” ■