• Erika Argiolas


A great retrospective that accompanies a new look at the life and extraordinary works of the Pop Art Superstar.

Marilyn Diptych, 1962. Acrilico su tela. Fotografia © Erika Argiolas

It has now been a while since the closing of the largest retrospective ever made in twenty years at the Tate Modern Museum in London entirely dedicated to #Andy #Warhol. Closed a few days earlier than the scheduled date, following the new directives by the British Government with the introduction of the 2nd national lockdown due to Coronavirus.

Even struggling a bit, I managed to visit it and it was really worth it!

The exhibition was created by the London museum in collaboration with the Museum Ludwig, Cologne with the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and the Denver Art Museum and exhibited over 100 works divided into 12 rooms, with the aim of retracing the entire Warhol's career, not focusing solely on his position as a pre-eminent pop artist, but rather with a desire to admire - through his works - the influences his family history, deep convictions and gay identity have had on his vision of the world and art.

It should also be remembered that everything takes on a greater resonance by inserting his artistic production in an America of the 50s / 60s, that of the great social, political and technological change. With the desire to examine the deep meanings of his subjects, the various experiments in the media used and the way in which he cultivated his image as a public figure throughout his entire history.

Popularly radical and radically popular

Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh on August 6, 1928, the third child of Andrej and Julia Warhola, a family of Slovakian immigrants of Catholic-Byzantine religion. The miner's father died when he was just thirteen, but managed to leave a large sum to be directed - according to his will - on one of his three children, in order to guarantee a school education: this choice will then fall on Warhol.

From an early age the boy suffered from neurological and schizophrenic problems, which forced him - at the age of eight - at home for several months, during which however, he spent time with his mother who kept him busy with books to read and coloring figures that will fill your imagination. Barely at the age of twenty years old, once graduated in Advertising Art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, he decided to move to New York, a city where he will distinguish himself as an illustrator and designer for numerous leading magazines such as #Vogue and #Glamour. It is here that he decides to change his name by deleting the "a" from his surname.

A young gay man, raised in United States of America where sex between men was illegal, he decided to embrace the #queer community of designers, poets, dancers and artists.

Andy Warhol, Statua della Libertà, 1986, Acrilico e screenprint su tela. © Erika Argiolas

In the early 1950s he presented a series of pencil and ink drawings of young men, but this unfortunately did not lead to his entry into the world of art; at that time the #expressionism #abstract art movement dominated the American landscape and for such a new personality, the bearer of new expressive methods, perhaps it was still too early.

Warhol was considered too banal, as some had commented "too swish", too connected to the commercial world of advertising illustration to be taken seriously as a contender.

Unidentified Male, inchiostro su carta, 1956. © Erika Argiolas

But Warhol was not a simple advertiser, on the contrary, a true artist and his drawings tell us that he really knew how to draw, immortalizing on paper loads of lips, thin lines, faces and lazy eyes. Testimony of this ability, the self-produced book #GoldBook of 1957, in which we find young and sensual men and fantastic Cyrillic writings produced by his mother.

From the start of his career, Warhol made use of his most intimate and personal relationships with people to create new ways of looking at the world. His first artistic production film was #Sleep, made after several nights of work in the summer of 1963 with a 16 mm camera. The footage shows 22 close-ups of the poet John Giorno - who for a period of his life was his lover - while he sleeps naked.

Warhol was very fascinated by his friends' ability to stay awake for days, even after heavy drug use, and he wondered if in such a life condition sooner or later sleep would become obsolete.

Andy Warhol, Sleep, 1963, 16 mm film, bianco e nero, silent. © Erika Argiolas

He shot hundreds of reels for Sleep, each lasting a few minutes. At the time he decided to edit them together with Sarah Dalton, met at a party after spending an afternoon wandering through the galleries of New York with her brother David. Dalton recalls that Warhol asked her to edit the film, asking her to eliminate the pieces in which John moved too much, demanding a film without the slightest movement. Dalton protested that she had no idea how to edit such a movie, but Warhol pulled out an old slow motion and a video, to show her how she should've do it. The final version repeats many of Giorno's sleep scenes and lasts more than five hours, projected in slow-motion to give a dreamlike feel.

So, by documenting this action, Warhol created a dramatic narrative, turning the film into something that could be perceived as a painting hanging on the wall.

John Giorno said that through this work Warhol managed to circumvent the homophobia of the art world of that period, transforming the film Sleep into an abstract painting: the body of a sleeping man who turns into a field of light and shadow.

What is initially presented in the exhibition is a part of Warhol which is not often talked about and which we are not really used to, but which contains all the charm of an artist constantly influenced and inspired by the external impulses characteristic of the life and society he was experiencing.

Moving on, I arrive into the room in which I find the work that made him famous as a Pop Artist - a term he particularly hated - we meet 168 pairs of lips and 50 portraits of #Marilyn, a woman who falls from a building 35 times, five dead bodies repeated 17 times in black and white, 10 #Brillo boxes in a corner and next to it hanging on the wall 100 cans of #Campbell soup, 112 bottles of #CocaCola and #Marlon #Brando. Although Warhol was an excellent illustrator, his desire to be taken seriously as an artist during that time grew out of all proportion. And so, inspired by the new wave of art he witnessed in New York galleries, in 1960 he began producing hand-painted paintings that had the particularity of combining advertising images and expressive painting. This soon gave way to a graphic style now known as #Pop #Art. Warhol grew up eating ketchup watered down with soup salt and his works depicted consumer products such as the famous Campbell soup, the very ones that were rooted in his experience of an emerging culture of aspirations, with the intent of creating a dream of economic progress. and social.

Warhol is an expert on repetition, the one that empties itself of meaning, as insistent duplications in the manufacturing process. Bringing with it self-exaltation but at the same time self-denial.

Andy Warhol, 100 Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962. © Erika Argiolas

So in 1962 he decided to speed up the image replication process by adopting an innovative commercial production technique: #screen #painting. Thus he began to use photographs taken from newspapers and magazines, often depicting serious or even tragic scenes. This technique made it possible to reproduce photographs on canvas multiple times. And while the printing process removed the artist's touch, Warhol often ensured that his images were over - or under - inked in the creation process. Creating effects that could completely change the images.

A subsequent room is then dedicated to a very important moment in Warhol's fame, built through The #Factory, an experimental art studio and a social space where he welcomed many collaborators with whom he produced more than 500 films between 1963 and 1967. Production was done ignoring traditional methods of film production and often the films produced were unscripted.

My tour continues, until I reach one of the rooms dedicated to his work #Silver #Clouds. Incredible to realize how this managed to make everyone remain stunned with their noses upwards in order to admire it. After all, these are simple silver balloons inflated with helium. How will they ever be special? One would ask - without any blame on my part.

In 1965, at the height of his fame as an artist, Warhol announced that he wanted to retire from the world of painting in order to devote himself completely to the production of films.

Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds, 1965-7. © Erika Argiolas

And of course he did it in the most extravagant way that could be conceived. He staged his farewell in a New York art gallery the following year, setting up an entire room with just fluorescent pink cow wallpaper (#Cow #Wallpaper is installed in the Tate's cafe on the 3rd floor and also at the Tate Kitchen on the 6th floor), while in another room he inserted metallic silver balloons filled with helium and floating in the surrounding space. The work created with the help of the engineer Billy Kluver was described by Warhol as floating paintings. In fact, the intention was to upset conventional thinking on sculpture, especially the dominance that #minimalist art was having in the New York art scene at that time. It was a real contrast, on one hand minimalism based on order, mathematical precision and industrial materials, on the other hand Warhol's work which emphasized fluidity, movement and public participation.

Moving on, I arrive inside a gallery entirely created by the Andy Warhol Museum and dedicated to the #Exploding #Plastic #Inevitable (EPI), an event that included musical performances by the Velvet Underground and Nico, screenings of Warhol films, dances and shows by #Factory regulars, especially Mary Woronov and Gerard Malanga. Then we arrive at the corridor dedicated to the period of high production through new media which Warhol was particularly fascinated by. Thus we find magazines, posters, books and record covers created by him. A large framed photo, however, strikes my attention, it is the one taken by photographer #Richard #Avedon: he immortalized the entire bust of Warhol marked by sutures following the surgery carried out urgently after he was #shot by the writer Valerie Solanas at the #Factory, who accused him of stealing her ideas after the loss of Up Your Ass a manuscript written by her and given to the artist some time before.

Richard Avedon - Andy Warhol, artist, New York, 20 Agosto 1969. © Erika Argiolas

The event caused innumerable traumas to the artist, affecting his physical and mental health: he interrupted the "open-door" policy of the Factory, had feeding problems and was also forced to wear a post-surgical corset, gradually becoming nervous and irritated around people he didn't know. This led Andy to temporarily leave the production world, so much so that he gave most of the directorial responsibilities to Paul Morrissey, his collaborator since the days of The Chelsea Girls. Also in this period Warhol also began a serious personal relationship with Jed Johnson with whom he began a coexistence that lasted 20 years.

It was in the 1970s that large-scale painting resumed, through the now famous #screen #printing technique, this time accompanied by much more expressive style paintings and depicting new subjects. In fact, #Mao dates from this period, made in 1972, partially in response to the visit of the President of the United States of America Richard Nixon to #China that same year. Warhol transformed the official portrait of Mao, leader of Chinese Communism, into an object of serial production.

Mao, 1972, acrilico e screenprint su tela. © Erika Argiolas

The show ends with a monitor, Andy, offscreen talking to his mother singing together. In another video Andy transforms himself into Marilyn and a late series of paintings immortalizes the trans Latin American artists of local bars.

The exhibition offers an emotion that is worth experiencing at least twice.

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