Every person that experiences the artwork of Andy Warhol faces their own aesthetic existential crisis. Warhol seems to be an artist you either love, or hate; a rite of passage for anyone that wishes to engage with art on a meaningful level. While he polarized opinion during his lifetime, other artists would take note by making sacrifices to the grand alter of Warholian taste; for Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin owe a debt to one of the principal founders of Pop Art. Their ambitions and methods are greatly tied up with what Warhol did.
What surprises me about Andy Warhol is his blatant disregard for the action of his era. While splatter art mirrored the socially turbulent 60’s with a Who-like rage on canvas; a perfect response to the explosiveness of the strumming of power chords and the blood spattering of Sam Peckinpah films and Vietnam, Andy Warhol floated by with bloated canvases of dead stars, flat soup cans, and dreary films. His world is a vapid vessel of celebrity, cash and superficiality. He was as iconic as his era would allow him to be. He did not deconstruct his time period, he mirrored it, he repackaged it, but he was not attuned with the creative thinking of his time. His art does not exist as a language. His dead pan, mechanical process endeared him to those that sought rebellion against fine art and its establishment, but I cannot say that he revolutionized what it means to be powerful in the sense that Caravaggio, Rothko, or Cezanne are.
There’s a silly notion that is being paraded about by Warhol connoisseurs and it is that Warhol’s work in a museum made one think of it differently, like in the case of the “Campbell’s Soup Cans.” This is a bogus theory. It is too fanciful to think that an artwork must be viewed only in the context of a museum, and that it’s interpretation cannot be seen outside of the boundary of museum guff-speak. Inside or outside the museum context, one can make some conclusions on Andy Warhol. He is important in that sense that he makes one contemplate the essence of art and how it is defined (that existential crisis, basically). Warhol and his like came to spit on the old established notions of fine art and what its limitations meant to the artist. Warhol wanted his own image. And he wanted a new method to express his sleazy ambitions.
The technique that Warhol employed with many of his most popular works is known as screen printing. The process could allow him to reproduce images repeatedly with only changes in color. The problem with this method is it’s too hands off. Warhol could have his army of assistants reproduce these images without his guidance. (Nowadays, authenticating a Warhol can be a nightmare, because there were just so many that were made). While Warhol is not the first to engage in this process (for some Old Masters were known to have their assistants execute parts of a work), it is however, concerning. I cannot trust an artist who does not even believe in carrying out the execution of every single one of his artworks. Screen printing reminds me of what the artist Robert Heinecken self-designated himself as a “paraphotographer,” because he worked with photographs that others had shot. Warhol and essentially all of Pop Art, tends to copy or work off of the same images done by other people, but forged in different, simplistic ways. It is a totally unspectacular artistic vision.
I once liked Andy Warhol. I even showed a friend a reproduction of one of Warhol’s many screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. Although I loved the intoxicating sleaziness, my friend turned out more silver than I was for the artwork did not stimulate him in any sense. I even showed him the series of “Campbell Soup Cans.” He was still unimpressed. I then foolishly tried explaining to him the whole concept surrounding the soup cans, and how it was supposed to be reflective of the 60’s consumer society. His response? “Meh.” This incident reminds me of when Warhol filmed himself eating a hamburger. What shocks me is how he goes about eating it. Over two minutes in, he took off one of the buns and folded the rest of the hamburger like it was a hot dog. And he then dipped it into some ketchup. Amazing. Who eats a hamburger that way? Who, besides Warhol? This must be – has to be – symbolic! The violated hamburger must represent Pop Art and Warhol’s degradation of art. Who would have thought?