Why should people only look at one image, and only one image at a time?
In the first room of the Warhol Exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, we are presented with characteristic and familiar Warhol screen prints.
The same image repeated, over and over. Flowers and faces, repeated on different coloured backgrounds. Even on the same background, just copied again and again, they become Not The Same. Repetition changes the same image, just like repetition of sound changes the sound over time. For as long as you are prepared to look, back and forth between them. Sequentially from one to the other. Different colours, made of tears
Does the order in which they are presented make a difference?
Who chose the order? The curator, or the artist?
Most likely the curator in this instance, as the artist would choose to distance himself from the work at every opportunity and by every means.
And how did Warhol decide how many times? Ethel Scull, for instance. 36 times from a photograph taken in a photobooth. My God, she looks terrible. Except of course, she doesn’t. None of them do.
Least of all the serene and innocent beauty of Edie Sedgwick, presented in a four-minute screen test on a big screen next door. Next to Nico. The other most beautiful woman of the time. What do you do when you are asked to do ‘nothing’? Smile? Blink? Edie does not blink. Her eyes are big, and her soul swims lost and deep inside them. Lou Reed, Allen Ginsberg. Stillies. Moving portraits. Sustained repetition
Captivated by Edie and Nico, I barely glanced at the Empire State Building behind me. Untried, I passed un-tested. 8 hours is nothing, and it’s probably still there.
I inhale my first drag on the cigarette of indifference.
Iconic, alluring. Attractive, provocative. Interesting. Pointless?
Is Warhol any good? Word this carefully.
Is Warhol’s ART any good?
Take 3 – Are the individual pieces of Warhol’s art any good?
Are we engaged, excited and enthusiastic by pre-conditioning and anticipation.
It’s Warhol, therefore…?
Check into the third space, and behold the Society Portraits. I didn’t realise they were so big. Each is more than a metre square. Acrylic on silk screen now, enhanced and enlarged. The same, but different.
People see what they want to see. A baby cries, and the Guides beside the door change shifts. “I don’t like this one.” Older women, whispering, outraged and disappointed. “It’s a dancers groin and thigh. See? Stockings and suspenders”. It’s not, it is Sex Parts. Cock. Male, 1977. Black on yellow
People see what they want to see. Portrait commissions make easy money. Sell out. Repeat, move on. Everyone wanted to be done before 1968.
People see what they want to see, and I want to see the pencil portraits, traced on handmade paper. On the wall, in a single line across the end of the room.
These are new to me, and like nothing else on display. Warhol has deliberately used a thick pencil to trace her face, to hide himself, to lose the artist. But here, more than anywhere else, his skill as a draughtsman is evidenced. Hiding in plain sight among the strokes and movement, the varying lineweights that bely his best efforts at uniformity. Economy of line, but such beautiful lines. Her nose, her chin, her ears. A single confident stroke. Ingrid Bergman. Hair and eyes.
“You see, he can bloody draw…”
I’m reassured. I have seen the golden section.
A breathtaking highlight. A moment of Something Special.
Here are dollar signs, sickels and a repeated crucifix. Experiments in abstract – leading to what, piss on paper? That can fuck right off. He’s joking, right?
Ah, wait. I see… satire and transition. But hardly a masterpiece.
Inverted shadows, again revealing Nothing Of The Artist. Man as machine. Press go, and watch the assistants roll them out. Warhol is not an artist, he is the source of an idea. Cheap mass media. Mass; media. Religious imagery too, taking on new forms. Catholic iconography redcued to black on white. Liturgical Mass is repetitive, too.
Stop for a moment at a Great Big Map showing warheads and weapons in Russia. Remember this is not a print, or a reproduction. This is the original piece, created in the factory by Warhology. History manifest. The real deal. A piece of him, the man in the fright wig that no-one ever knew. Its display here further removes him from his work.
What do I think? At least I’m thinking. That surely is the point. Provoke, inspire. Confuse.
Warhology is punk. A disjointed, restless episode. Dramatic, responsive. Placement and chronology are as vital as composition and idea. I am as much a part of this as the celebrities on the canvas.
But hamburgers never held much appeal, and even less in black and white. Unfinished, incomplete. The BB Gloves 85/86 above, lack everything. They lack conviction and expression. It is not even finished. Where is the sensationalism and commitment? Interesting texture, interesting idea perhaps. But, so what?
So What? Madonna on Nude Pix. The New York Post front page, 9 July 1985. So what, indeed? He knew I was thinking that, and hung that piece behind me to turn into as I thought it. Simplicity without integrity? Breathe deep, draw long and watch the smoke, swirl towards the white ceiling.
Like many artists, Warhol returned in his latest work to some of his earliest ideas.
“That’s because he had run out of new ones and did not know where to turn next.”
Don’t we all do that?
The silk screen print of a soup can from a drawing of a painting of a thousand soup cans.
Prizes for placement. Brilliant curating, my darling.
“Art is whatever you can get away with”,
It says so in the shop
And do you know, Campbell’s never gave him even a single can of soup…