The exhibition Andy Warhol ~ From A to B and Back Again at The Whitney Museum of American Art is the first Warhol retrospective organized by a U.S. institution since 1989. On view are more than 350 works of art, many assembled together for the first time. Below are just a few of the images in this exhibition, along with the story behind them. Plan on spending the day.
This exhibition reconsiders the work of one of the most inventive, influential, and important American artists. Building on a wealth of new materials, research and scholarship that has emerged since the artist’s untimely death in 1987, this exhibition reveals new complexities about the Warhol we think we know, and introduces a Warhol for the 21st century.
The exhibition positions Warhol’s career as a continuum, demonstrating that he didn’t slow down after surviving the assassination attempt that nearly took his life in 1968, but entered into a period of intense experimentation. The show illuminates the breadth, depth, and interconnectedness of the artist’s production: from his beginnings as a commercial illustrator in the 1950s, to his iconic Pop masterpieces of the early 1960s, to the experimental work in film and other mediums from the 1960s and 70s, to his innovative use of ready made abstraction and the painterly sublime in the 1980s. His repetitions, distortions, camouflaging, incongruous color, and recycling of his own imagery challenge our faith in images and the value of cultural icons, anticipating the profound effects and issues of the current digital age.
“Perhaps more than any artist before or since, Andy Warhol understood America’s defining twin desires for innovation and conformity, public visibility and absolute privacy,” noted Donna De Salvo. “He transformed these contradictory impulses into a completely original art that, I believe, has profoundly influenced how we see and think about the world now. Warhol produced images that are now so familiar, it’s easy to forget just how unsettling and even shocking they were when they debuted. He pioneered the use of an industrial silkscreen process as a painterly brush to repeat images ‘identically’, creating seemingly endless variations that call the very value of our cultural icons into question. His repetitions, distortions, camouflaging, incongruous color, and recycling of his own imagery anticipated the most profound effects and issues of our current digital age, when we no longer know which images to trust. From the 1950s until his death, Warhol challenged our fundamental beliefs, particularly our faith in images, even while he sought to believe in those images himself. Looking in this exhibition at the full sweep of his career makes it clear that Warhol was not just a 20th century titan but a seer of the 21st century as well.”
Warhol based his Mao paintings, drawings, lithographs, photocopy prints, and wallpaper on the same image ~ a painting by Zhang Zhenshi in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (known in the West as the ‘Little Red Book’), and was then thought to be the most widely reproduced artwork in the world.
In a display case close to the elevator on the 5th floor (below) is an exhibit entitled Time Capsule 100, 1973-74 ~ Mixed archival material in cardboard box. These materials were assembled as part of Warhol’s expansive Time Capsule series, which in its entirety comprises more than six hundred containers storing about two hundred objects each.
The project’s origins date to 1974, when Warhol relocated his studio from 33 Union Square West to 860 Broadway. He and his employees had randomly placed the entire contents of the studio ~ including some artworks ~ in uniform cardboard boxes and after the move Warhol decided to leave them intact, creating his own idiosyncratically organized personal archive.
He continued to compile Time Capsules for the remainder of his career, hoping to one day exhibit, and perhaps even sell the sealed boxes as conceptual sculptures.
Paramount and Third Eye are among the hundreds of collaborative works Warhol made with Jean-Michel Basquiat.
An enticing Flower Series (on Cow Wallpapery) hallway led to a large room devoted to the 1964 series.
When these works were exhibited in new York and Paris in 1964 and 1965, Warhol exploited their serial arrangement and variation by installing them in floor-to-ceiling grids that responded to the architecture of each gallery and resulted in an immersive environment.
And have you noticed the Flower Series hanging over the Cow Wallpaper? Well, in 1966 Warhol marked his retirement from painting with an exhibition at the Castelli Gallery comprising two rooms. One was full of silver helium-filled pillows, and the other covered in Cow Wallpaper (1966) ~ the flagrantly decorative quality of which served to imply that he had exhausted the possibilities of painting. For his first Whitney retrospective in 1971, Warhol directed that all the works be hung on his Cow Wallpaper, which inspired this installation.
The two Dance Diagram paintings (above), Warhol first exhibited them as a diptych on the floor of the Stable Gallery in 1962.
The above image is a watercolor painted by Warhol in 1948 entitled Living Room ~ the artist’s interpretation of his childhood home.
In the works above, Warhol explores the newspaper page as a subject for his own art. Here he embeds personal content into the highly public form of a newspaper by inserting the name of his close friend and frequent model, Charles Lisanby, a native of Princeton (misspelled “Princton,”) Kentucky, into an article about a local plumber.
My images, below, didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked, but wanted to show the photographs taken in 1959, along with the invoice for development ~ $100.
Many of Warhol’s early silkscreened paintings were of Hollywood’s latest crushes ! Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, Troy Donahue, Elvis Presley…. He created portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe when their personal lives were made highly public. Silver Liz (1963) was made when Taylor had an affair and health crises while filming Cleopatra. The diptych of Monroe was created shortly after her fatal overdose.
Below, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, Acrylic silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen, two panels, is based on a black-and-white promotional still for the 1953 hit film Niagara taken by Gene Kornman. The variations among the fifty screened images of the starlet’s disembodied face, suggest a dynamic narrative of presence and absence, life and death.
On the wall to the right of Marilyn Diptych, 1962 is Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963, which was made shortly after First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy orchestrated the first-even loan of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris to two American institutions, where it met with great fanfare and blockbuster attendance.
And in the center of the gallery, Large Sleep, 1965, which comprises enlargements of two consecutive frames from Warhol’s film, Sleep (1963), a 320 minute depiction of Warhol’s lover John Giorno, sleeping nude.
Using photo-booth technique, Warhol made his first painted self-portrait. The work showcases the artist’s ability to manipulate his persona as a medium unto itself. As he admitted a few years later, “I’d prefer to remain a mystery, I never like to give my background and, anyway, I make it all up different every time I’m asked.”
Warhol took more than five-hundred Polaroid photographs of drag queens and trans women for the Ladies and Gentlemen series, but transformed only a fraction of the images into paintings. Years later, Warhol himself posed in drag as part of an unrealized self-portrait series (also on view in this case).
Below, Oxidation Painting, 1978, Gold metallic pigment and urine on linen ~ yes, you read that correctly. For this particular Oxidation Painting, Warhol poured urine onto a surface primed with a layer of gold metallic paint ~ but usually he or sometimes assistants (and even guests) urinated directly onto the work. When exposed to the acids in the urine, a form of alchemy takes place that changes the color of the gold or copper pigment to either black or green depending on the urine’s mineral content.
This exhibition is on the heals of celebrating what would have been Andy Warhol’s 90th birthday in August 2018, the celebration continues with Andy Warhol: Shadows, on view at Calvin Klein New York Headquarters.
The exhibition, Andy Warhol ~ From A to B and Back Again is displayed on three floors of The Whitney and will be on view from November 12, 2018 through March 31, 2019, along with related programming. After the exhibition at The Whitney, this exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Whitney Museum of American Art is located at 99 Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District.
Andy Warhol ~ From A to B and Back Again is organized by Donna De Salvo, Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator at The Whitney Museum of American Art, with Christie Mitchell, senior curatorial assistant, and Mark Loiacono, curatorial research associate.
In a related event, catch the DiaTalk on Saturday, December 1st ~ Donna De Salvo on Andy Warhol, at Calvin Klein NYC ~ free and open to the public.
An exhibition catalogue is also available and can be pre-ordered here.
Running concurrently with Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again at Whitney Museum will be Andy Warhol’s Shadows, leaving Calvin Klein NYC Headquarters, traveling to The Dia: Beacon, reopening as a long-term installation.
Also on view by The Whitney, Derek Fordjour: Half Mast ~ on the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets. This is part of a series of public art installations on the facade of the building across the street from the Museum. The series was initiated by The Whitney in partnership with TF Cornerstone and High Line Art.
While you’re on Gansevoort Street, Ron English: Delusionville is still on view at Allouche Gallery, directly across the street from The Whitney.