In the words of one creative genius to another: ‘Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wall’, which is alright for Bowie to say and put to music, but Tate Modern’s retrospective has more to say about the man behind the art, writes Michael Holland.
The exhibition shows that the shy, young Warhol did not want to be out there taking chances and being seen as a leader, so hid behind the everyday faces and features of American life: Elvis, Monroe, soup cans, Brillo pads and all manner of American consumerism, but at the same time as he hid behind his canvasses and screen prints he was also getting noticed by the millions who had never before had an interest in art. He brought art to the people.
He called his work Commonism Art and his studio The Factory, from where he mass-produced silkscreen canvasses that went on to become the classic Warhols that his fame was built on.
But this exhibition does much to tell the whole Warhol story so does not merely focus on his artworks. The show includes: the arrivals logbook at Ellis Island when the family came from Russia, Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto that called for an end to men and capitalism (She shot and pretty much killed Warhol, although he survived to live a life of ill-health…); several of his 500+ films; books, plus magazines and just about everything needed to tell the story of a fascinating man.
Of course, it’s not all smiling superstars in garish colours, because while many will feel Warhol did more than most to embrace, encourage and highlight the LGBT world, there are those who want to analyse history through today’s eyes and mores. Was Warhol using the scene for his own ends? Was it okay to use anonymous people, recruited from bars and bathhouses, having no say how their photographic images were depicted or exhibited after being paid an initial fee? Opinions will differ.
Nevertheless, Andy Warhol the exhibition extols Andy Warhol the artist. It has examples of his best works – some never seen in this country – and of the different media he worked and experimented in. Not one of the artworks is not eye-catching: The vibrancy burns retinas.
The subject matter time-warps you back to a time when you was young, so I’m not sure if Warhol has the same magnetism to those who are young now. He is a nostalgia trip back to the 60s, 70s and 80s, which is great for me, but maybe not to those who do not realise how powerful his influence was; who grew up looking at those artists who were inspired by him.
But that all matters not because while Bowie had music and lyrics to pay his homage, I’ve got words, and I say the Andy Warhol exhibition is big, brash and brilliant.
I just wish I had him hanging on my wall.
Andy Warhol’s is on at Tate Modern until September 6th. Times: Sun – thur 10am – 6pm; Fri – Sat 10am – 10pm. Admission: £22.
Photos: Michael Holland