Andy Warhol (1928–87) was one of the most recognisable artists of the late 20th century, yet his life and work continue to fascinate and be interpreted anew. A shy, gay man from a religious, migrant, low income household, he forged his own distinct path to emerge as the epitome of the pop art movement. Launching next spring, this major new exhibition at Tate Modern – the first at the gallery for almost 20 years – offers visitors a rare personal insight into how Warhol and his work marked a period of cultural transformation. Drawing upon recent scholarship, it will provide a new lens through which to view this American icon.
Featuring over 100 works from across his remarkable career, the show will shed light on how Warhol’s experiences shaped his unique take on 20th century culture, positioning him within the shifting creative and political landscape in which he worked. While he is best known for his iconic paintings of Coca-Cola bottles and Marilyn Monroe that held up a mirror to American culture, this exhibition will emphasise recurring themes around desire, identity and belief that emerge from his biography. It will show how this innovative artist reimagined what art could be in an age of immense social, political and technological change.
Key works from the pop period, such as Marilyn Diptych 1962, Elvis I and II 1963/1964 and Race Riot 1964, will be examined in relation to contemporary issues around American culture and politics, while Warhol’s drive and limitless ambition to push the traditional boundaries of media will be represented via his famous Screen Tests 1964–6 and a recreation of the psychedelic multimedia environment of Exploding Plastic Inevitable 1966, originally produced for the Velvet Underground rock shows. Visitors will also be able to experience Warhol’s floating Silver Clouds 1966 installation, initially meant to signal his ‘retirement’ from painting in favour of moviemaking. He famously stated that ‘good business is the best art’: the exhibition will look at how Warhol’s forays into publishing and TV, as well as his interest in club culture, can be viewed as an attempt to bring the stars of the underground into the mainstream.
Following his shooting by Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol returned to large-scale painting projects and the exhibition will emphasise his skill as a painter and colourist with a room dedicated to the largest grouping of his 1975 Ladies and Gentlemen series ever shown in the UK. These striking portraits depict figures from New York’s transgender community, including iconic performer and activist, Marsha ‘Pay it no mind’ Johnson – a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Warhol’s final works of the 80s, such as the poignant Sixty Last Suppers 1986 – on view at Tate Modern for the first time in this country – will be considered in relation to the artist’s untimely death as well as the unfolding HIV/AIDS epidemic, which ultimately went on to impact the lives of many in his close circle.
Tate Modern, Bankside, SE1 9TG from March 12th – September 6th. Times: Open daily 10.00 – 18.00 and until 22.00 on Friday and Saturday. Admission: £22, £20. Phone: 0207 887 8888.