I’m not really a fan of Andy Warhol’s art. I don’t say this because I’m an art snob (knowing so little about art absolves me of that luxury) but because it’s too everywhere to feel precious. When I saw his first retrospective in 31 years at the Whitney yesterday, I had a hard time reconciling the difference between the original silk screen before me and the Snapchat filters tucked in my pocket. If that’s the case, then why see Warhol anyways? Well, because he is a true pioneer and according to the New York Times, “the most important American artist of the second half of the 20th century.” I know where to pay my respects.
I was charmed to see the pen drawings from his early years as a young gay boy in Philly; the tucked chin of a sultry man with pink puckered lips under a bristly mustache, an elegant rendition of Truman Capote’s hand, the penis wrapped in a bow–all only recently added to his official canon. The impressive breadth of his early work eventually gave way to the art that is so familiar its akin to the Mona Lisas and Last Suppers that he tries to obscure with camouflage and thick white paint. Realizing that each soup was actually different on Warhol’s massive Campbells silk screen was delightfully disorienting.
You come for the punchy pop and matching makeup of the looming Chairman Mao and a wall of many Marilyns. But you stay for the portrait series “Ladies and Gentlemen” that represented Warhol’s underground work of the marginalized. His style was perfect for masking and protecting the identities of the black and Latin drag stars he photographed in 1975.
How did curator Donna de Salvo manage to make an exhibit on the master of mass production feel personal? She paid particular attention to the intimacy behind the icon that gives his art weight. More importantly, how did de Salvo make a collection of some of the most redundant images on the planet feel fresh? Her view of the life of Warhol from a more humble vantage point will satisfy me for the time being. I’ll likely see another “Banana” 1967 on someone’s sweatshirt in a week. Over the past 50 years his work has only proliferated alongside our mediums to be seen and heard. In her book Sexographies, journalist Gabriela Wiener describes the immense popularity of Chilean writer Isabel Allende. “Pop, that expression of the ephemeral, makes Allende paradoxically everlasting.” The same could be said about Andy.