Revolver Gallery in Santa Monica has currently an interesting exhibit presenting 250 original prints and paintings by Andy Warhol. However, I have to add that this gallery deals exclusively in the works of the famous artist, and that this is the largest gallery-owned collection of Warhol in the world. The touring exhibit was visited by over 100,000 people in Vancouver and Toronto, and it is now opened to the public in L.A. (with RSVP) until the end of May.
‘Warhol Revisited’, that I visited with Bowie and the Velvet Underground for soundtrack, presents some of his work from the 60’s to the 80’s, until his death in 1987, as well as the work of some of the artists he has inspired, such as Keith Haring and Deborah Kass. Warhol is one of these very popular artists which continues to have a large cultural relevance, and whose artistic imagery continues to be present in our every day life,… can you pick a Campbell’s can without having a thought about Andy? I can’t… From Marilyn to Bowie and the Velvet Underground, the eccentric visual artist has forever imprinted his vision deep inside our collective mind.
But, what did I learn while visiting ‘Warhol Revisited’? A few things, but mostly the exhibit reinforces the idea that Warhol was obsessed by fame and death, he actually was only interested by celebrities, or by making people famous, and dead celebrities were obviously a must for him.
Beside the commissioned work, such as the 1972 Sunset Series, commissioned by architects Johnson and Burgee to decorate the rooms of the Hotel Marquette in Minneapolis, Minnesota, or the 1983 Endangered Species series (‘Animals in Makeup’) commissioned by Ron Feldman and his wife to raise environmental awareness, the other subjects were pretty much his choices and reflected his own interests.
He produced 472 unique color variations of this Sunset Series, with the use of only three screens, and this is certainly an important trend in his work, mass production, which means that galleries will have plenty of prints to sell for the decades to come.
The Campbell’s Soup cans are obviously his most iconic and most recognized work, he made plenty of them, and the repetition of the design, the uniformity of familiar images was a reflection about mass production in an industrial economy. It’s just funny to think that Warhol ate Campbell’s soup for lunch every day for decades of his life, as if his life mirrored his artistic obsession or vice versa. The exhibit even presents one of the 80 Campbell’s Tomato Juice box, a replica of Campbell’s packaging he did using household paint. This continues to challenge us when something like this is presented as a piece of art, but Warhol precisely became famous because of such controversies, as he continued to produce replica of many consumer products.
The 1967 Marilyn Monroe print series is another classic, and perhaps no other work is more recognizable than this brightly colored work which he started during the weeks that followed the actress’ death, using a photo shot on the set of the movie ‘Niagara’. For Warhol, Marilyn became more interesting after her death, as he was once again making the link between cult of celebrity and death… The 1968 Kennedy series, based on media coverage of the president Kennedy assassination is another example, the series, which includes faces of Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald superimposed, was produced 5 years after the assassination and illustrates his fascination with celebrity and tragedy. Who else but Warhol could have produced a series about the electric chair? It was created after a photo Warhol took in 1963 at Sing Sing penitentiary, the last year the chair was used, and the series is accompanied by a Warhol quote: ‘You’d be surprised who’ll hang an electric chair in the living room. Especially if the background matches the drapes’. Again, this reflects his fascination with tragedy, violent deaths: he even did a ‘Death and Disaster’ series based on car and plane crashes, suicides, showcasing how the media desensitizes us to violent imagery: ‘When you see a gruesome picture over and over again it doesn’t really have any effect’, he said.
Warhol was before anything else fascinated by celebrities of all kinds and origins, that’s why he created a Mao series in 1972, transforming the Chinese leader into a pop icon. He got interested by Mao because he saw a parallel between the leader’s ubiquitous national portraits and our western cult of celebrity.
Warhol photographed the famous boxer Muhammad Ali in 1977 and used it in 1986, as part of his athlete series. if he was not interested by sports, he was intrigued by athletes’ status as pop celebrities, and loved them because they are ‘really big stars’.
More stars are represented in the exhibit, from Jane Fonda to Greta Garbo, Mickey Mouse, Truman Capote (Warhol was fascinated by him), modern dancer Marta Graham, Ingrid Bergman, flamboyant American Mobster John Gotti (commissioned by Time Magazine for their mafia on trial issue), but Warhol’s personal relationship with music is also represented.
If his famous Velvet Underground cover is only sold as banana pillow-toy souvenirs in the gift shop, there is a great series of Mick Jagger portraits. Warhol spent a lot of time with Jagger and his wife Bianca in the 70s, and the famous visual artist had a professional relationship with the UK band since the 60s, as he made the artwork for the Rolling Stones’ 11th studio album, ‘Sticky Fingers’ in 1971. The Jagger series is based on polaroids taken by Warhol at his factory, with added hand-drawn lines reflecting Jagger’s youthful eroticism.
Warhol, who never drove but owned a Royce Rolls with chauffeur, lived like a rock star, with the rock stars, and I tried to see this exhibit in February when it opened… However, it was completely booked for weeks! And this amazing success tells us what a significant icon Warhol still is in our busy culture.
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