The Whitney Museum Celebrates Andy Warhol, the King of Pop
By Lauren Parker, Contributing Editor
Don’t miss the (literal) pop culture event of the year.
Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again,a career retrospective of the real King of Pop, opens today at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, and there are plenty of fan favorites, plus some pleasant surprises. Warhol’s fascination with fame and branding wasn’t just groundbreaking for its time, but prophetic of today’s social media obsessed society, where everyone really is famous for 15 minutes. His celebrity portraits look like photo-manipulated selfies, while images of banal consumer items like soup cans or Coca-Cola are elevated to cult status. Sound familiar?
"Warhol produced images that are now so familiar, it's easy to forget just how unsettling and even shocking they were when they debuted,” notes Donna DeSalvo, the Whitney’s Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator. “He pioneered the use of an industrial silk screen process as a painterly brush to repeat images 'identically', creating seemingly endless variations that call the very value of our cultural icons into question. His repetitions, distortions, camouflaging, incongruous color, and recycling of his own imagery anticipated the most profound effects and issues of our current digital age, when we no longer know which images to trust. From the 1950s until his death, Warhol challenged our fundamental beliefs, particularly our faith in images, even while he sought to believe in those images himself. Looking in this exhibition at the full sweep of his career makes it clear that Warhol was not just a 20th century titan but a seer of the21st century as well."
With more than 350 works of art, many assembled together for the first time, this sprawling landmark exhibitionoffers up plenty of inspiration for designers, retailers and fashionistas alike. After all, pop images and art techniques have been continually gaining traction on fashion runways, both in ready to wear and accessories (think Prada’s cartoon or Louis Vuitton’s splatter paint handbags of late, not to mention an entire Moschino show scribbled with color). The exhibition’s various rooms fully immerse visitors in Warhol’s loud, colorful works, from vivid 1960s silkscreens of flowers and cows to celebrity icons like Marilyn Monroe or Blondie’s Deborah Harry.
Marilyn Diptych, 1962, showed his topicality. “Marilyn is really a product of the star system and the studio system, and Warhol really understood that notion of the constructed image,” notes De Salvo. Interestingly, the images of Monroe turn from color to black and white, then almost fade altogether. While Monroe’s star really hasn’t faded, let this be a lesson for 21stcentury pop icons famous solely for being famous (Kim K., we’re talking to you).
THE FASHION ILLUSTRATION YEARS
While Warhol is known for his iconic celebrity and brand silkscreens, the fashion industry will be pleased to learn that his first job in New York City in the 1950s was focused on accessories. He started illustrating shoes for Glamourmagazine for an article called “What is Success?” and the show captures this stage of his career beautifully.
“Because Warhol was so identified with shoes, he actually began to make shoe collages, which were called his Personality Shoes and Boots,” adds De Salvo. “He would anthropomorphize the shoe, and in the series there was an Elvis boot, a Mae West shoe, a Diana Vreeland Shoe.” The exhibition dedicates an entire wall of these golden shoe illustrations, all framed and set against a backdrop of shoe and fashion newspaper ads.
“Warhol: From A to B and Back Again,” runs November 12 - March 31, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., Whitney.org