Art lovers attending the Andy Warhol show at the Whitney can peruse his trademark works of Campbell soup cans, Mao Tse Tung in psychedelic colour, and of course, Coca-Cola bottles and cows. But this exceptional show, which is the first of its kind in over three decades, not only offers Warhol-enthusiasts their fill of old favourites. The display juxtaposes Warhol’s famous colourful works next to ones that are less familiar to the public yet are daringly dark and quite unlike the artist’s better-known commercial offerings. With 19 sections spanning the length of his career, this show is a great place for art enthusiasts to learn about Andy Warhol, no matter their level of familiarity with his work.
Who Was Andy Warhol?
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol used his talent for drawing to launch a career in illustration. As a commercial illustrator, Warhol has explored the connection between artistic expression and advertising, which became a signature characteristic of his work. Various American galleries began exhibiting his pieces and he soon became known as a controversial and influential artist. Throughout his career, he experimented with a range of art forms, including drawing, painting, silk screening, film, photography, and sculpture. He responded to the mass-media-driven culture of his day by using contemporary pop icons in his work, such as Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Liz Taylor, and Mick Jagger, thus becoming a leading figure of the pop-art movement.
Exploring All of Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again
The exhibition is arranged thematically instead of chronologically, making it more of a journey than a piece-by-piece consumption of artwork. Some of his lesser-known works are showcased in the “Warhol Before Warhol” section, including drawings from the 1950s, when he worked as a commercial illustrator for companies such as CBS, NBC, and Ciba Pharmaceuticals. “Hand-Painted Pop” displays some of Warhol’s work from the start of the pop-art movement and features his depiction of Superman while the “Mechanical Reproduction” section celebrates the iconic familiarity of the Coca-Cola bottle. This series clearly portrays how Warhol used repetitive themes with subtle variations in surface and colour.
Screens, Skulls, and Shadows – The Tour Continues
“Silver Screens” shows some of the artist’s most popular work—photographs of Hollywood’s latest idols screen-printed on canvas. “Flowers” represents a seemingly endless combination of colour; Warhol was once quoted as saying that flowers are “terrific.” Skulls abound in “Still Lifes and Shadows,” which contemplates how images take on meaning, and the “Death and Disaster” series highlights spectacles of violence that include car crashes, suicides, electric chairs, and police brutality. “Most Wanted Men” shuns traditional portraits in favour of dehumanising mugshots, photo-booth strips, and deadpan corporate-publicity headshots framing the subjects in cultural and social terms.
Pop Art and Then Some
The pop-art tradition of using modern popular culture and mass media to criticize or comment ironically on classic fine-art prevails throughout the show, but Warhol took this form a step further, observing and subtly mocking the predominantly heterosexual culture of his time. Feigning respect for deities and eminent political figures, Warhol was able to brilliantly combine the themes of consumer culture and their counterparts throughout art history into coherent works of art.