Warhol for the Masses

Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Can, 1964


Andy Warhol. When someone mentions this name, the images that come to mind are the infamous pop art silkscreen prints of Campbell Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. Mass produced images of Pop art are for everyone. But is that all that there is to Warhol?

Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal aims to educate visitors about the works of the artist, allowing us to move beyond the Soup and Marilyns, getting in touch with the other works. This exhibition features over 260 paintings, drawings, sculptures, films and videos divided into four periods of Warhol’s creative life. A good one-stop shop to get to know more about Warhol, and indulge in some Pop art. I went hoping to see a side of Warhol that was different from what I’d seen before, to go deeper.

The exhibition starts with a video of an interview with Warhol from 1965 about the popularity of Pop Art. Interestingly, Warhol’s one-word answers showed a different side of him than one would imagine. Being drenched in fame and the fabulous life, he was still very uncomfortable in front of the camera. Andy’s pretty much one of us and therefore more accessible. This video was accompanied by a quote of his, “Oh, art is too hard”. Warhol wanted to create art that was not “hard”. Something that wasn’t difficult to understand, something that was accessible to everyone. After all, Pop art is for everyone.

The Pop Art movement kick started in the 1960s and The Factory served as a place for making art pieces, hanging out with his friends and hosting parties. It was the ‘It’ place of New York City, the centre of it all. Warhol changed the whole concept of what was art and what it wasn’t. Art can be ordinary, art can be easily understood and most importantly, art shouldn’t be “hard” to make or view

I was excited about seeing the Campbell Soup Series, his most famous works. I held much excitement in seeing these, but the paintings didn’t strike me as anything different from the print versions. Perhaps it was the constant bombardment of these images that resulted in something less than excitement when seeing them in flesh. Is that the backlash of Pop Art’s popularity? It’s mass produced and consumed everywhere I go, a T-shirt printed with the Campbell Soup can, a tote bag with Marilyn’s face, or even iPhone covers with the Banana (from the cover of the first Velvet Underground album). But being placed in a room with the real thing, it didn’t feel any different from seeing it on a T-shirt, a bag or a phone. Maybe it’s a case of looking at something long enough that it loses all it’s meaning in the end. Perhaps that was what Warhol wanted? To be mass consumed. To be accessible to everyone. To make art that was famous and everywhere.

The exhibition was titled after that famous quote of his, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”. That prophecy came true, when we see the prevalence of reality TV now, where anyone on these shows can be famous, even though they might not be talented. The Kardashians do not have any talent. They are just famous for being famous from the reality TV show, and for their glamorous lifestyle.

Warhol had a strange relationship with fame. He wasn’t impressed with famous people, perhaps because he was in the fame circle. They were his friends, acquaintances and it was simply easy to meet any of them. He never saw a big deal in these people. If everyone could be famous then why should anyone be obsessed with the famous? He felt that people should have products to know exactly what they’re worth. This is an interesting view. Warhol himself was so famous. He was well known everywhere, for his quirky personality, and most importantly for his work. Was there a contradiction then? Between the way he led his life and his philosophy?

The section of the show on the Factory Years contained many of his paintings of the famous people. The Jackie Series, his self-portraits in various styles of dress, wigs and poses, Marilyn and Elizabeth Taylor. Warhol’s view on beauty was somewhat unconventional. To him, everybody’s sense of beauty is different. Different things can look beautiful, depending on the lighting, the environment, the feel. They were famous and he painted them. Cementing their fame in his art and making them more famous. It made them fame eternal, like him.

In the 1970s, Warhol moved out of the silver factory. He did commissioned portraits that were the main source of his income. He started the time capsule, to store items that have passed through his hands which is on display in the show. He had magazines, books, everything from that period. It serves as a reflection of Warhol’s private space, something that we often do not see from his artwork. This space contained a lot of self-portraits of Warhol. He had different looks in each one, and this reflected his philosophy on beauty. That it was superficial. These self-portraits don’t show his inner personality. This was hidden from public view. He was distant, despite some many images of himself.

The section called Last Supper showed many works of Warhol that are different from the rest, in terms of the subjects. There’s a series of Joy Paintings that he did for children. It further cements the fact that Warhol wanted to make art that was for everyone, even for kids. The organizers of this exhibition have also incorporated that view into planning this exhibition, and picked out several art pieces suitable for children and done little explanations of them. Also, several paintings had a small separate board for the blind, inclusive of braille writings and embossed version of the painting. Pop Art is really for everyone.

Warhol lived a life that was glamorous, but there was a dark side. He had close contacts with celebrities who indulged in drugs, suicide, unconventional sexuality, and that wasn’t reflected in the exhibition. How Warhol dealt with all that, being accepted into society as a gay man, or the criticism he got, were also not reflected. The exhibition transformed him into a celebrity artist, the ‘King of Pop Art’, and only brushed the surface of the darker side. It was packaged to be show that was friendly to everyone from all walks of life, although ironically located close to the casino.

The exhibition lacked insight into Warhol’s personal inner space, though there were quotes by him placed strategically throughout the exhibition. I went away wondering what Warhol’s life was truly like. It wasn’t all that was portrayed in the exhibition and there was more to it. This exhibition was about selling Warhol, and creating more fans and consumers. Pop Art for everyone.