In Retrospective. Warhol. El Arte Mecánico
During the Spring and Summer of 2018, the Museum Picasso in Malaga exhibited Warhol. Mechanical Art – a major retrospective of Andy Warhol’s work. The exhibition explored the innovative ways in which Andy Warhol applied the idea of mechanic processing and its available techniques to create a multi-faceted serial body of work. Displayed in chronological fashion, the show included paintings, sculptures, drawings, silkscreen paintings, audiovisual installations, artist books, films, record sleeves, posters, magazines, objects and photographic and audio material. This review focuses on how Andy Warhol created his own media and artistic persona.
Throughout his career, Andy Warhol portrayed the main key players in American culture of the sixties and the seventies – from film, to music, TV and politics. “His country had become the ‚factory of the world’, and was going through a period of confidence in science, technology and progress when possessing everything that seemed to be within anyone’s reach.” – says Jose Lebrero Stals et al in the exhibition catalogue.
Walking through the exhibition you saw the portraits of iconic figures such as Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, Marylyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Jackie Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Mao Tse Tung, a.o.
Outstanding in technique are the twelve canvases of Mao (1973). Their painterly qualities allow us to find uniqueness within mechanical repetitiveness, originality within seriality. Each portrait becomes individual and completely distinct from the others in the series. They also become abstracted from its original political and historical meaning. With delight, our eyes wonder from one to the next trying to identify which one is our favorite.
‚Hammers and Sickles 3’ (1978) also illustrates an interesting mixed media technique. It combines silkscreen with acetate and coloured graphic paper collage on paper. The layering effect and resulting three-dimensionality add a sensual and optical quality to the work. It shows a marvelous push and pull of transparency and opacity, sharpness and blurriness, color surface and silhouette.
It was extremely interesting to see the celebrity scrapbooks that Andy Warhol made as a child (ca. 1938–42). In these, he lovingly collected cut-out pictures of his favorite Hollywood stars.
Andy Warhol’s fascination with Hollywood celebrities and stardom has been extensively written about. It is absolutely fascinating to see how early this interested developed and how much of a leitmotiv it became throughout his career.
The black and white screen tests of artist friends, musicians and fans who hung around The Silver Factory in its early years, ca. 1963-5, are yet another stepping stone along this pathway on how to role model stardom. These screen tests include Edie Sedgwick, Paul America, Nico, Yoko Ono, Marcel Duchamp, among many others.
Impossibly long considering today’s attention span, the screen tests let observe how people behave in front of a camera, how they shift in and out of different characters interchanging between boredom and awareness of the medium. Watch it long enough and you’ll see that even in silence, pure mediatic presence arises at certain moments. Things like mood, becoming a character, having screen personality, become graspable.
The screen tests provide unaccountable learnings in these areas. On how to switch on and off camera presence, how to play a role (by the subject), how to create a story (by the viewer who can’t help but create mental interpretations of what he is seeing).
“The art work is then, not something made by the artist alone, but depends on how it is exploited by whoever is contemplating” – as noted in the exhibition catalogue.
“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” – Andy Warhol.
It is evident how intensively and purposely Andy Warhol studied stardom since a very young age. More than a mere subject of his artistic work, it was his passion and obsession. Andy Warhol role modeled celebrity with such intensity, focus and purpose that he truly came to embody it and create his own persona.
This artistic focus and interest, notorious and supporting relationships, extensive plastic surgery, are some examples of how Andy Warhol found ways to align all areas of his life to meet his life’s purpose.
“What is shown in ‚mechanical art’ is the actor who has made a character out of himself, who displays himself to society as a syncretistic artist capable of uniting the figures of the shaman, businessman, genius and cultural editor with skill and disquieting ambiguity. […] Nevertheless, the important thing when seen from our perspective half a century later is that “he become an artist for people who knew very little about art. He represented an ideal form of life that touched his world from many sides. He embodied a concept of life that embraced the values of an era that we are still living in. In certain ways he created an iconic image of what life was all about. No other artist came close to doing that.” – states Jose Lebrero Stals et al in the exhibition catalogue.
Andy Warhol lived his purpose so intensively that its spell is felt even today, way beyond his time and age.
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Image Sources (from top to bottom):
MALAGA (Spain), Mayo 2018 – Exposicion “Warhol. El Arte Mecanico”, Museo Picasso Malaga, del 31 Mayo – 16 Septiembre 2018 © MPM/jesusdominguez.com.
Andy Warhol, Mao, 1972, Acrylic oil, silkscreen on canvas © Josep Sunol, Barcelona ©The Andy Warhol Foundation Inc, VEGAP Malaga 2018.
Andy Warhol, Screen Test, Edie Sedgwick, 1965, 16mm film transferred to digital, b&w, silent ©The Andy Warhol Foundation Inc., VEGAP Malaga 2018.