Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City   September 18, 2012- December 21, 2012

The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh   February 2, 2013- April 28, 2013

This exhibition is over, but we love Sharon’s articles and decided this should stay in our collection.

This timely exhibition about the life and artistic trajectory of the artist Andy Warhol was called an enthusiastic muddle [1] by critic Roberta Smith of The New York Times.   On the other hand, Peter Schjelndahl of The New Yorker called it clairvoyant. [2] He said it was not just a clever show but embraced the quality of the genius of Warhol who had a profound effect on  generations of artistic culture since his  death in 1987 from cardiac arrhythmia.  Guest curator Mark Rosenthal worked with two staff insiders at the Metropolitan Museum to produce a large show of works by 60 artists and a thorough scholarly catalog that tracks the contributions of this icon of popular culture. Rosenthal has been in this game for a number of years as he curated the Abstract Expressionism show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1996 which embraced the three elements that Warhol’s work represent to a tee: Risk, Freedom, and Discipline.

This is a good beginning for the Met that as an institution has taken a bold step with its lease of the Whitney Museum space on Madison Avenue beginning in 2015 for a minimum of eight years for future exhibitions of its own holdings in the field of contemporary art. Many wonder why an encyclopedic museum like the Met would want to venture beyond the art of 1950 with so many other institutions in New York in that game. This show tells it all as we see how valuable the twentieth century artistic genre has become not only in market value, but in its profound effect on so many aspects of our modern culture from fashion, design, media and marketing of all high end brands.  With Prada and Schiaparelli under the same roof as Warhol, the Met has moved way beyond its collections of world culture to the realm of hip hop, the velvet underground and the shifting identities of our tabloid age.

The catalogue follows the exhibition with three sections devoted to Dialogues with Warhol, Interviews with Artists and The Warhol Effect. When Warhol, born Andrew Warhola to a poor Slovakian family in Pittsburgh, took his first job in 1949 in New York as a commercial illustrator, he had graduated with a degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology  in graphic design. Despite his dyslexia, he became an illustrator for RCA Records, designing their album covers.   Henry Geldzahler, a former curator of the Met, predicted that  “Andy’s going to feed a lot of artists for a long time.” [3] Feed them he did with a devotion to the branding of popular commerce culture as a high- end  addition to the world of modern abstraction practiced by his peers, Pollock, Newman and Rauschenberg to name but a few.  He took unashamed pleasure in exploiting news headlines, photos, and advertising images for artistic purposes beginning in the 1950s with exhibitions of his own work. Rosenthal says he co-opted the bully pulpit of popular media and opened new paths by which to integrate his views with his environs. The artist Deborah Kass noted, “Some artists reflect their times and some artists change their times.  You know Andy did both.” [4]

The flow of this exhibition is large and looming as we are led into the first group of works entitled: Daily News: from Banality to Disaster.  In this group of objects, we see media appropriation as only Warhol did at his best, transforming the journalistic photo image to a lithographic print with color added for emphasis and originality. From the electric chair to the Brillo box, icons of his time are highlighted for observation and scrutiny.

Collection of Gilbert and Lila Silverman, Detroit
© 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Section Two is called Portraiture: Celebrity and Power. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy are featured with the artists who took up this lead in portraiture of their own – Jeff Koons and Alex Katz. As I explained to my husband, you don’t have to like it or hang it in your living room, but you do have to note the breadth and depth of Warhol’s contribution to the main stream of America’s visual culture.

Section Three, Identities: Gay, Camouflaged, Hybrid is a bold and brave attempt to catalog and divulge the intricacies of Warhol’s involvement in the gay community.  His openness about his own sexual identity helped transform our norms of acceptable behavior. The catalog notes that as early as 1960, Warhol depicted himself in drag and showed images of cross- dressing and gender manipulation.

The art lawyers will have a field day in the next area called Consuming Images: Photography, Appropriation, Abstraction and Seriality.  What is allowed under copyright law today is a quagmire at best of lifted, borrowing and derivative use. What is a fair copying is up for grabs in our legal circuits, and we see Warhol leading the pack with his silkscreens of the Mona Lisa in 1963 and The Scream in 1984.  What appears to be a news photo of gangster James Cagney can hardly be altered much from its original state in 1962.

The galleries conclude with music and balloons in the area called, No BoundariesBusiness, Collaboration and Spectacle.  Diana Vreeland said that Warhol and his studio ran the social scene of New York City in the 1970’s as he frequented the disco Studio 54 with his entourage of groupies. One painter from Argentina stated that Warhol’s work reached a level that had no boundaries- it was everywhere. Rosenthal concludes that having dispatched modern art’s claim to spirituality and universalism in one fell swoop, Warhol left  “no- holds- barred” in the art world. It would require another half century to issue meaningful judgments about Warhol, and there can be no doubt that artists today draw sustenance from his work. [5]

This kind of show is a “must see” as it sets the stage for all future shows at the Metropolitan Museum of modern and contemporary art. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to read all the labels, but you can stroll through and absorb the breadth and depth of the artistic contribution of one icon in the trajectory of modern art in America. It is lively, engaging, controversial and erotic- reflective of all those elements in our vibrant culture that make it so exciting to live in the art world of the 21st century.

Sharon Lorenzo  2012

1 Roberta Smith, The In Crowd is All Here ?, The New York Times, September 13, 2012.

2 Peter Schjeldahl, Going Pop, The New Yorker, September 24, 2012

3 Mark Rosenthal, Dialogues with Warhol, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, p, 11.

4 Ibid, p,184.

5 Ibid, p,143.