Andy Warhol (1928 to 1987) was the son of immigrants, a shy gay man who became a leading figure in the visual art movement otherwise. He was born in 1928 as Andrew Warhola to working class parents from present day Slovakia. In 1949 he moved from Pittsburgh to New York. Initially working as a successful commercial illustrator, his skill at transforming the imagery of American culture soon developed as ground-breaking pop art.
Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans surely rank as some of the most well-known images of American modern art. The artist said, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years.” This lack of epicurean imagination seems an odd admission for an inventive personality.
This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK.
There is no doubt though about Warhol’s creative scope. His career encompassed work in painting, silk-screening, photography, film, and sculpture. He is credited with inspiring the expression ‘15 minutes of fame’ but his own reputation has endured way beyond his own lifetime. The subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions, books, and feature and documentary films, a new exhibition Andy Warhol at Tate Modern will look at the both the extraordinary life and the work of the pop art superstar.
Warhol lived an openly gay lifestyle in a time when being gay was illegal in the United States, as elsewhere. His particular personal style encompassed a signature shock of white hair, black leather jackets and distinctive eye glasses. Experimental dressing up features frequently in the many self-portraits by the artist and these have become iconic works in their own right.
Warhol’s work explores the relationship between artistic expression, advertising, and celebrity culture that flourished by the 1960s. He managed and produced experimental rock band The Velvet Underground, wrote numerous books and founded Interview magazine. At the height of his popularity at the centre of New York’s social scene Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory, was well-known for eclectic gatherings of intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights and celebrities.
Andy Warhol used celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor in his work. The black and silver, life-sized images of Elvis Presley, America’s most famous rock and roll singer, are haunting. Created from a film still from Flaming Star (1960) the works depict Presley dressed as a cowboy with gun drawn. Warhol’s rare use of painting on canvas in these pieces draws out the star power of the subject and the mimicry of the ‘Silver Screen’ in the colours is commanding. If you were there in the 1960s, an era of enormous social, political and technological change, Warhol’s work also makes a powerful personal impact.
He was an artist who embraced consumerism, celebrity and counter culture and redefined modern art. This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. There are twenty-five works from his Ladies and Gentlemen series and portraits of black and Latinx drag queens and trans women being shown for the first time in 30 years.
Also in the exhibition are Warhol’s floating Silver Clouds which I recall from a previous exhibition. Visitors will be able to experience the psychedelic multimedia environment of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series of multimedia events organized between 1966 and 1967.
Andy Warhol is organised by Tate Modern and Museum Ludwig, Cologne in collaboration with the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibition runs from 12 March – 6 September 2020.
Andy Warhol (1928 –1987)Marilyn Diptych 1962Tate © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc / Artists Right Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London
Andy Warhol (1928 –1987) Green Coca-Cola Bottles 1962. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchasewith funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art 68.25.© 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
Andy Warhol (1928 –1987) Self Portrait 1986Tate © 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London
Andy Warhol (1928 –1987) Debbie Harry 1980. Private Collection of Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport 1961© 2020 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London