What is it
Where in your home would you place an Andy Warhol (1928- 1987), if you had to choose? A Marilyn Monroe silkscreen in the front hall, for all to see? A Campbell’s Soup can in the kitchen? An Electric Chair in the living room? Perhaps you could place a Chairman Mao above your bed. I’d probably put Warhol’s Lifesavers in a white-walled, marble-floored bathroom. But it feels almost sacrilegious: don’t shit where you eat. My issue with Warhol is that I don’t find his art to be particularly special. I understand his influence in the art world; so what? … If I were to write a pro/con list:
MARILYN MONROE (F. & S. II.23), 1967
Screen print in colors
36 × 36 in
Little Electric Chair, painted in 1964-1965
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen.
22 x 28 in
· Warhol’s pros: his use of colors and celebrity – both his own celebrity, and images of ‘great’ celebrities from the 1960s, which create a certain likeability to his art different from the prior post-war abstract expressionists like Mark Rothko (1903- 1970) or Jackson Pollock (1912- 1956) or Agnes Martin (1912- 2004).
· Warhol’s Cons: if you put one of his works of art in a lineup of five behind a glass screen with a Post-it Note number attached to it, I would most likely choose one of the other four options. Maybe it’s just me, but they lack a certain umph – regardless of the medium through which you might look at them – that I get from most works by other artists.
I guess that’s my point: buying art to hang in your own home is different from buying art based purely on the amount you like it. Each work of art has to make sense within the space in which a person chooses to place it. Does an image of a soup can only go in the kitchen, or a chair only in the living room? In Warhol’s case, the chair is electric and might be more appropriately located within a jail cell. I don’t think the prison budget will quite cover that, though.
I recently visited a Warhol exhibition at Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair, London. The exhibit, which moves chronologically across multiple alcoves in the surprisingly large Bond Street gallery, starts with twenty images from 1954, when Warhol and his mother Julia Warhola (1891-1972) published two children’s books, 25 Cats Named Sam, One Blue Pussy, and Holy Cats.
Life Savers (FS II.353), 1985
Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board
38 × 38 in
Tomato Soup, from Campbell's Soup I (F. & S. II.46), 1968
Screenprint in colors on wove paper
35 × 23 in
This first alcove off the main hallway consists of twenty sketches in four rows of five, of cats in different poses on different colored papers: yellow then white then orange then yellow then blue, with short phrases (Some don’t like it at all / Some wear hats / Some wear chapeaux) next to them. The exhibit moves abruptly, almost jarringly, to Warhol’s silkscreens. The silkscreens on view range from colorful images produced during Warhol’s rise to fame in the 1960s of Marilyn Monroe (1926- 1962), to Judy Garland (1922- 1969), to Campbell’s Soup Cans, to less famous silkscreens of Cowboys and Indians, released towards his death in the 1980s.
Warhol colored each image differently: Marilyn’s skin is a pink- purple tone, her hair is bright yellow, and her eyeshadow is mint green, which matches the mint green background. Her lipstick is bright red and pairs with the bright red collar of her shirt. Judy Garland is pale, with fluorescent-looking blue hair and clothing, outlined by a thin red line. Her eyebrows and lips shine red as well.
Garland is surrounded by a black background, at the top of which is the question ‘What becomes a Legend most?’ in pink block letters. At the bottom of Garland’s screen appears the answer in a golden yellow: Blackglama.The exhibit underwhelmed me in an unusual way: I think I would have appreciated each work of art more had I not viewed so many at once. The bright colors throughout the show became almost monotonous in their sheer amount. I wanted to see each of the images separately, rather than allowing my eye to immediately seek the next one. Perhaps I need an in-house Warhol after all.
BLACKGLAMA (JUDY GARLAND) (F. & S. II.351)
Screenprint in Colors
sheet: 964 by 966 mm 38 by 38 in