Ever since his death in 1987, Andy Warhol has continued to loom large in the minds of those in the art world and beyond. In his latest exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art, Andy Warhol From A to B and Back Again, Warhol’s career is given a fresh look by curators Donna DeSalvo and Christie Mitchell. From silkscreens, drawings, films, and audio, the draftsman turned art and pop culture icon has been anything but controversial. This survey contains over 300 pieces from the artist’s long and celebrated career, and despite some of the works being over 40 years old, they still feel more relevant than ever.
This show is slated to be the most comprehensive look at the artist’s career in the last 25 years. It is a mix of crowd pleasers such as the Brillo boxes, the Campbell soup cans, numerous celebrity silkscreens, as well as several films which helped to cement his genius in the video making process over 40 years ago. Warhol’s career spanned various media and this show certainly shows that, displaying works of film, sculpture, sound, painting and more. This show perfectly portrays Warhol’s ability to capture kernels of pop culture and manufacture them into works that were reminiscent of both conceptual art and advertisements within the pop art movement – his influence is undeniable.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1928, Warhol would go on to become a major player within the visual art world’s pop art movement. Warhol studied design at the Carnegie Mellon and went on to become a successful commercial illustrator, with his first major commissions being a series of shoe illustrations for Glamour magazine. From there his career was bolstered with the unique and illustrative quality he brought to his drawings. After moving to NYC in the 1950s he landed his first gallery show, which was also when he started to embrace silk screening, which in addition to film, would come to define his career.
The 1960s ushered in a new era for the artist and his now-famous studio, The Factory. The Factory, which was Warhol’s working studio until he died, also served as a creative space where other artists, musicians, and like-minded people of the time came together to collaborate.
Film would be another medium Warhol would also come to define himself within. His famous screen tests of people in The Factory and his one-shot films became his signature moves. Empire, 1964, for example, features eight hours of film footage of a single shot of just the Empire State building. These long one-shot films evolved into more complicated projects involving scripts, filming locations, and familiar faces from The Factory.
The exhibit features several of Warhol’s most iconic films shown on a continuous loop throughout the duration of the show. One must see is the silent film of Edie Sedgwick, who had a very complicated relationship with Warhol despite being one of his biggest stars. Sedgwick is seen staring into the camera for what is only four minutes and six seconds but feels like an eternity. She blinks, occasionally smiles, and forces you to pay attention to her.
Despite his crowd-pleasing status, there are elements of the show that left me wanting more. Warhol embraced his sexual identity in an era where this was suppressed throughout most of the US. He did take risks with being open about his sexual identity, yet the larger aspects of this show don’t directly touch on this aspect of his life. Although this did not define all of who Warhol was, it did inform the art he created and the kind of life he lived. The lived queer experience and queer visibility is even more vital today within this current social climate, which is why shows like this matter more and should be promoting that aspect of the artist’s life.
One silkscreen in particular also captured my attention—Ladies and Gentleman (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975. It is an image of the drag queen Wilhelmina Ross. Like Ross, drag queens, kings, and other queer folks were the subjects of many of Warhol’s work. Warhol explored his subjects and the drag community through polaroid’s, painting and silkscreens, helping to give voice to other queer people of this era. These specific works within the Ladies and Gentleman series titled, Devan Shimoyama’s Cry, Baby is also the basis of a show at the Andy Warhol Museum that is on view until March 2019.
Another fascinating find within the exhibition is a series of short audio recordings Warhol did alongside socialite Edie Sedgwick and Mick Jagger while on a trip to the grocery store. The recordings were all done at random and played on a loop. If you walked past it you might miss it, as the recordings are in a hallway off the last gallery space on the 5th floor. At the end of the short hallway is a door leading outside and three simple speakers are discretely hung overhead. It creates an intimate space to listen and understand who Warhol was and what his creative process was like.
Warhol is an immortal trailblazer within the art world and this show captures just that. However, it falls a little flat after being able to convey the complexities of who Warhol and the subjects of his works really were. Despite its shortcomings, it’s worth a visit to see what Warhol’s work conveys to you in todays age.
Andy Warhol From A to B and Back Again is on view at the Whtiney Museum of Art until March 31st, 2019.