A 21st Century Warhol

By Olivia Anzalone

The ultra-popular retrospective at the Whitney, Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again, presents a modern vision of the eponymous pop artist. Few artists are as present in both the art world and in mainstream society as Warhol. The artist’s carefully curated persona and experimental art practices represents the historic growth in power of images and expanded the role of the artist in society. The Whitney is home to the first Warhol retrospective in an American institution since 1989 (two years after Warhol’s death). By displaying the artist’s entire oeuvre, this massive exhibition reconsiders the Warhol we know, revealing complexities in our vision of the artist and presenting a Warhol for the 21st century.

Spanning multiple floors of the museum, Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again presents a chronological journey through Warhol’s vast portfolio of work. Warhol’s career began in the 1950s, when he pursued being a fine artist through commercial clients, mostly in fashion. He got his auspicious start when he began working for the shoe company, I. Miller and Sons, where he collaborated on an award-winning campaign targeted at new, young audiences. This commercial work later inspired ia series of gold shoe collages in which Warhol personified notable figures including socialites, magazine editors, art directors, actors, actresses and authors. Warhol’s embodiment of Truman Capote, 1956 (above  left) represents his admiration for the author, to who he drew frequently and even sent fan letters to. Also exhibited (above right) were the mismatched buckles in the personification of Christine Jorgensen, America’s first transgender celebrity — presenting an example of early gender-bending in his work.

Moving through the exhibit, Warhol’s transformation from an experimental artist to a revolutionary in the industry is evident. As his drawings turn to house-sized prints of Coca-Cola bottles, Warhol’s silkscreen process is seen floridly in Flowers, 1964. In his highly systematized approach to creation and display, Warhol employed a team of assistants in printing the image of hibiscus flowers from a magazine in seemingly infinite color combinations across hundreds of canvases. The factory-style process Warhol employed to create Flowers, and many of his other prints mirrors the consumer culture contemporary to the piece and even more resonant today.

The final room of the exhibit displays the enormous Camouflage Last Supper, 1986, an enlarged print of Da Vinci’s Last Supper overlain with a standard camo-pattern one of Warhol’s final paintings. This mural-esque print displays a set of tensions in Warhol’s work, evident in the pull between abstraction and figuration, originality and duplication. Further exposed is Warhol’s battle to reconcile his spirituality as a Byzantine Catholic and his identity as a gay man. The various social issues brought up in Warhol’s retrospective present an image of society at the time, but also an image of the cultural landscape today, where we are still struggling to secure queer rights and understand the effects and implications of the capitalistic modes of production employed worldwide. Already a household name, at Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again, open until March 31st, 2019, Warhol’s work has never been more relevant.

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