Andy Warhol remains today as one of New York’s, and even one of America’s, most successful and recognizable artists, not only for his commercial work, but also for his openness to experimentation in many medias. His lifelong passion for beauty and the smallest of details in life gave a different touch to the Abstract Expressionism that came before. The positivity and light that shone from many of his pieces was a refreshing difference from the darkness and sadness of the post-war themes. The Whitney Museum of Art is currently holding the exhibition ‘From A to B and Back Again’ celebrating his lifetime of art. Showcasing artwork from over 15 significant period of his life, the collection ranges from his commercial advertisements and comics to his filmmaking and sculptures.
A lead figure of the pop art movement in the 1950’s, Warhol first began his rise to fame with his comics and commercial work. He started his career as an illustrator, focusing on the fashion industry, where he became known for gift for personifying the product he was selling. This was a job where he had to manipulate popular images in an amusing sketch. Taking the idea of a brand he needed to advertise, he rejected the ideas of portraying a project completely accurately and instead generated a bold print that would appeal to the younger audiences.
By taking advantage of the signs and subjects in mass circulation, Warhol’s work captivated millions of people, regardless of age or background: his work appealed to all. He displayed front page news headlines, celebrities, brands, anything that struck him as noteworthy. His most notable pieces are his photographic silkscreen printing, with which he created his iconic Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyn Monroe and Coca Cola bottles. Few works are as instantly recognizable as these, with the bright colors and extreme contrasts accentuating everyday objects. He simply had an incredible sense of the power of images.
Warhol is also influential in many ways aside from his art. He was an unapologetic, openly gay man in a society before any gay liberation movements, surrounded by very little acceptance towards the LGBTQ community. He never shied away from sexuality or identity, something that helped make him the controversial figure he was. He created collections of art depicting drag queens, gay relationships and provocative fashions. Warhol’s own style fitted this theme. His eccentric bleached hair, and uniform of black and leather clothing was tailored to his vision of society. Regardless of these potentially hindering factors, he elevated his own persona into an icon in ways few artists had ever achieved. Yet, this was never his priority. He cared about his art, his inspirations, and his vision over his status or money. Although these gained his recognition in both the artistic and even intellectual world, his work remained personal and unique stylistically.
This exhibition uncovers a great deal about the Andy Warhol we thought we knew, allowing us to see his truly incredible talent of capturing contemporary society in art. He had a amazing ability to recreate people and articles, keeping them recognizable, but redefining them to present his own opinion of them. The Whitney displays so much more than his well-recognized screen printing and comics, displaying how Warhol never limited himself to one media, or even one style. The Factory, his studio, attracted all different characters, from drag queens, to writers, to celebrities, to intellectuals, to young people, and simply anyone else who wished to visit. Collaborating with brands and artists furthered this audience even more, and spread his art nationally. He became a star, a name no one could forget. ‘From A to B and Back Again’ teaches us his bravery in his creativity, and his continuing influence in the world today.
Graphic: Emma McCarthy