Andy Warhol is one of the most widely used, duplicated, misinterpreted, refrigerator magnetic artists ever. We have all heard many of the stories ad nauseam: The Factory, 15 Minutes, Brillo, Campbells, Marilyns and the Elvis. Andy Warhol is everywhere. Well, the Andy Warhol we think is Andy Warhol.
Almost exactly 35 years since the famous pop artist died, Netflix has released Andy Warhol’s Diaries, a new documentary that scratches beneath the surface of the artist’s enigmatic life and work. Ryan Murphy’s six-part series is guided by the best-selling book of the same name, compiled by editor Pat Hackett via a series of transcribed calls with the artist over more than a decade.
Pictures lent by Netflix
Warhol had a vision of the world that ended up creating a whole new one, where celebrities were icons, profoundly disguised as superficiality and mass-produced consumerism was high art. Andy Warhol was misunderstood. But this misunderstanding was constructed, immortalized by the artist through artfully unfolded red herring around his sexuality, approach to work and in-depth thinking – this is the Warhol mystery, and it remains insatiable.
Andy Warhol’s Diaries – tender and mesmerizing – lifts the curtain for Warhol’s eternally fascinating (and indistinct) life, work and love, told in his own voice (well, a specially programmed AI version – it seems that the artist finally got his wish to become a machine’).
Through interviews with friends such as Debbie Harry and Rob Lowe and artists Glenn Ligon, Jamie Wyeth and Julian Schnabel, it highlights Warhol’s prophetic view of culture as we now know it, imbued with fame, self-absorption and imagery, but also increasingly fluid views on sexuality. and creative collaboration.
Three contemporary artists inspired by Andy Warhol
American concept artist Glenn Ligon first saw Warhol’s work on a high school trip to Soho, New York. Although it was not now one of the leading voices of his generation, as a 16-year-old, it was not yet at stake to become an artist. ‘I don’t think I knew what that work was about, but somehow I knew it was important. It seemed fun in a way. It was also glamorous, says Ligon in The Andy Warhol Diaries. “Seeing Warhol somehow triggered a wish. So even in my 16-year-old brain, I knew I was seeing something that was enormously powerful. A kind of way forward.”
Ligon’s much cited essay Pay It No Mindappears in the catalog of the Whitney Museum show ‘Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again’ in 2018. It is a critical examination of Warhol’s 1975 series Ladies and gentlemen, which features nearly two hundred portraits of transgender colored women. ‘Did Warhol know any ordinary black people’? asks Ligon, continuing to question the freedoms Warhol took in portraying these people. Despite his criticism, Ligon has noted his appreciation of Warhol’s work, in part in misleading depth as an artist, and his ‘ingenious’ use of color. In 2000, he explored the power of color for dizzying effect in the series Coloring, to which children were asked to color pictures of black icons in coloring books from the 1970s. Without understanding their historical gravity, the children unfolded color freely. IN Malcolm Xthe civil rights leader is depicted with a white face and wearing lipstick, blusher and blue eye shadow.
Deborah Kass, Blue Deb2000, silkscreen and acrylic on canvas © 2022 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Kavi Gupta Gallery
The flat, pop-colored shapes, the lattice of familiar faces, the variations on a color scheme; Deborah Kass’s early work has Warhol’s visual language over the years. But there is a twist, an important one. Kass focused on the deft acquisition and reworking of signature styles from leading 20th-century male artists. Partly burning criticism, partly homage, was her interest in confronting the glaring omission of leading women in art history and in society more broadly.
In 1992, Kass began her ‘Warhol project’, undermining the pop artist’s ubiquitous celebrity paintings and revising these groupings with self-portraits and images of her own heroines, such as Gertrude Stein, Barbra Streisand and Cindy Sherman.
Blue Deb, at first glance, resembles a piece from Warhol’s 1960s series ‘Liz’, depicting actress Elizabeth Taylor. But this painting, like many others, outsmarts the viewer’s complacency towards Warhol’s work – he may be incomparable, but he is not exempt from reinterpretation.
By drawing on and reformulating the visual language of the past, Kass asks us to consider an alternative history in 20th century art in which the work of female artists was iconized as much as that of men, and the ‘tragic muses’ had autonomy. As she told filmmaker John Waters in 2007: ‘It has always been my impulse to use art history as almost finished’.
Jeff Koons, New Hoover Cabriolet1984 © Jeff Koons
Koons has made a USP out of vacuuming art history – done in literal terms with his 1980s vacuum cleaner readymades, and in a Duchampian vein, revising it into something completely new.
Through Koons’ cut, pasted and rethought motifs from pop culture and art history, we can identify the parallels between Warhol’s time and ours; the mass-consuming, voyeuristic, self-absorbed banality reflected in and often on the surface of his work. Like Warhol, it’s not so much about the artist, but about us.
At first glance, the parallels between Koons and Warhol are easy to draw: they are both natives of Pennsylvania, they both work in visual hyperbole, in liberal depictions of sex, flowers, celebrities, have mainstream appeal, and mask depth with banality. But Koons has only openly referred to Warhol in one piece: Hulk Elvis I (2007), where the Marvel character Hulk is placed in the same position as Warhol’s double Elvis (1963), even a riff on a commercial for the 1960 film Flaming Star. §