If there is one artist who had subsumed the various aesthetics and styles of the the Modernist & Post-Modernist artists, and brought it to it’s qualitative apotheosis (at least what I think) then that artist is Andy Warhol and his oeuvre, pop-art. In an exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Andy Warhol’s pieces, lesser known and more popular, are brought to life.
The exhibition brings together a number of his works, mainly held otherwise at other galleries in the UK. Art post-1900’s has baffled me; mainly, I think because of the erosion of traditional and ‘objective’ value that has been in the repertoire of traditional art history. Whether that is progressive and good or bad and ridiculous, is entirely for each self to ponder in his/her own time. Rightly, and tediously, this brings to the fore the question of ‘art’ itself, and Warhol is a perfect vehicle with which to briefly broach this, I think.
There is no doubt his imagery is striking, and his craft exudes from all of his pieces.
There is a bizarre mixture of the themes of death, idolatry and capitalism rife throughout the exhibition, and although the themes are largely confined to various rooms, they make for an unwanted smorgasbord of pessimism. Is his work beautiful?; the way we might consider Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel beautiful?. I do not think so, primarily because of the value of Warhol’s ideas; he is not trying to evoke a sense of sterile beauty ensconced within a meta-narrative seen in Renaissance paintings but something entirely different. It is the individualism of his experiences and society’s transformation that I think are rife throughout the exhibition, and just as potent today as they were relevant thirty or even forty years ago. His ‘Skulls’, I think is a prime example of his thoughts about death, his brief sojourn there but also engages with the themes of originality and authenticity. With just a few tweaks to the colour palette, what is authentic and original suddenly becomes more complex than attributing an artist as the progenitor as any given painting or photo, or indeed, ascribing originality to it.
The ‘christ’ painting I thought was particularly playful and ironic, in light of his general art and what is now considered art.
Walter Benjamin wrote that the removal of ritual and the advent of mechanical reproduction of art led to a wholesale change in art and society as a whole, that ritual underlay much of what we might consider art for the majority of human history, and that technological advances since the advent of photography have destroyed the ritual aspect of art only to be replaced by the political. I disagree with him, but his insight into art is valuable, and there is no doubt that with the changing nature of art since modernity, the political courses throughout art, especially here, in Warhol’s art in the exhibition. His imagery deftly points towards the capitalistic nature of ‘Americana’, and of society and its descent into capitalism with all its ideological glories. But fundamentally, and this point vexes me, it seems pop-art and Warhol can only be understood in the ideological construct of the day (which permeates even now). Whether this is what Warhol intended, that he ‘owns’ the nature of his work and can only be understood in the context of his existence, I do not know, but the response his work elicits is framed by a particular narrative.
I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, and I do think Warhol’s pre-eminence in art is deserved, even though I am not particularly a fan of this type of art. Nevertheless, this exhibition is the best exhibition I have been to in a while. It is on at the Whitworth Art Gallery till the 16th April.