Contemporary art commentators often claim pop art prince American painter, printmaker, avant-garde filmmaker, record producer and author Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987) was the most influential artist of the second half of the twentieth century.
Until 2012 this idea was not challenged or proven until a selection of Andy Warhol’s famous and iconic works went on show, alongside works by some sixty leading contemporary artists who embraced his ideas and ideals, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) show Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, which broke new ground.
Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it*
Andy Warhol has gained huge following among current generations. Although he is no longer with us, he is still very much a man of the moment.
In his own time Andy Warhol constantly challenged those within his circle, as well as those living beyond the square, through his art works and business acumen.
The Met show at New York reflected five broad themes, ranging from vernacular subject matter to Warhol’s incredible and extensive series of celebrity portraits.
It touched on the issue of his sexual identity, which is always controversial.
Overall the presentation included approximately some 150 works of art in a broad range of media completed across five decades.
While he seemingly broke with all traditions and conventions with his methods Andy Warhol did adhere to views inherent in the goals of Modernist artists of the late 19th century.
The artists of the DeStijl movement, a 20th Century art movement centred in the Netherlands, were one of many groups working to achieve “honesty” in their artwork, a lofty ideal.
Their perception and notion was that the art of the past had been dishonest often portraying people who hid behind a mask. They asserted that much European artwork had been painted to ‘fool’ the viewer’, which is what Andy Warhol actually delighted in doing.
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time*… or can you?
Many were disturbed and scandalized by Warhol’s ability to affect the art market so profoundly.
During the first decade of his works being on display, there was a profound shift in the market and the culture previously attached to the art world.
By elevating the commonplace he took art out of lofty halls, palaces, pavilions, posh salons and galleries where it had been secure into the supermarkets, markets and malls. He moved it away from its perceived aristocratic base making it more accessible for everyman and woman. But did he?
His genius was that he also managed to convert art snobs, aristocrats and corporates who all became followers. Was he achieving his aims at everyone’s expense? You might well say, that his innate abilities included being savvy about ideas and concepts surrounding ‘celebrity’. Was he a true genius?
Very often, say what you will, a knave is only a fool*
While we know Warhol was a major mover and shaker and gained ‘celebrity’ status for himself, the fact that he saw that being commercial and marketing were in fact art forms, is the aspect that will most appeal to this current generation, who embrace the concepts of celebrity, fame, art and commerce with alacrity.
They admired him for using his creative talent to make money, so that he could enjoy his moment in the sun, while helping others to celebrate their own ‘15 minutes of fame’.
Warhol understood reality. He knew how art affected people’s perceptions and why.
Like another icon of business, Steve Jobs from Apple, he ultimately understood our needs perhaps far better than we do ourselves.
Today in contemporary life seeking and receiving support from family, friends and colleagues both in times of sadness or when achieving success, is an expectation of us all.
What must it be like to live in one world with courage and dignity and then have to face humiliation and death in another without support?
Warhol however knew that having a public life could, and would lead to private emptiness and yet he forged forward.
A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer*
Throughout history many personable men and women have paid a high price to live their lives perceived by others as being all about glamour, luxury, ardour, lust, love or loyalty. Very often in reality they end in high tragedy, blood-drenched dust and heartbreaking loneliness.
The loss of singer Amy Whitehouse and the terrible tragedies attached to the loss of pop artist Michael Jackson and actor Heather Ledger informs that truth, as does the death at 28 of Edie Sedgwick, Warhol’s ‘it’ girl, who featured in many of his short films during the 1960’s.
So who was this man behind the mask claiming to be ordinary?
Was what society saw with Andy Warhol a true perception?
Or was he taking the mickey out of everyone, having fun and fooling society en masse.
Was he an artist at all?
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction*
Some lives may have seemed shallow on the surface, but upon investigation we find out they were either far more fragile or, more solid than most.
Everyone whatever the age, and without exception, have one thing in common, facing their own mortality while exploring feelings common to all.
We would have to say Andy Warhol offered society a unique opportunity to gain an insight into the reality of their own perceptions.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012-2014
*Quotes from Brainy Quote Attributed to – 1. William Shakespeare 2 Henry David Thoreau 3. Abraham Lincoln 4.Voltaire 5. Bruce Lee 6. Albert Einstein