“Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an extensive look at Andy Warhol's influence on art and popular culture over the last fifty years. The exhibition is organized around five overarching themes in Warhol's work: banality, celebrity, sexuality, appropriation, and business. Each of these themes could have easily been a show of its own, but instead the audience is treated to a jam-packed historical and thematic survey of some of the most influential artworks from the second half of the twentieth century. "Overwhelming" doesn't even begin to describe the vast scope that the Met is trying to cover, but sometimes a grand overview can be worth contemplating.
|Left: Andy Warhol, Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962); right: Ai Weiwei, Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo (2010)|
Beginning with banality and seriality, Warhol’s Green Coca-Cola Bottles from 1962 displays his fascination with consumer culture, taking something as commonplace as a soda bottle and repeating it many times so as to raise its status to that of an item worthy of worship. Juxtaposed with Ai Weiwei’s Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo from 2010, the status symbol of Coca-Cola is clear. What Warhol accomplishes with seriality, Ai Weiwei accomplishes by painting the logo onto a 5,000 year old treasure, ruining this ancient work of art while raising the symbol of Coca-Cola to one worthy of imprinting itself on 5,000 years of culture.
Visual continuity between symbols is taken a little too far at times, as can be seen in the first room of the “No Boundaries: Business, Collaboration, and Spectacle” section of the exhibition. Two versions of Warhol’s 1964 Flowers hang among works such as Jeff Koons’ Wall Relief with Bird from 1991, a large, hyper-realistic floral sculpture, and Takashi Murakami’s more recent flowered wallpaper. While the room itself is a joyful assault of color, the grouping of these “flower” works cheapens the original intent behind Warhol’s Flowers, which some have speculated to be about life and death. The stark black backgrounds of Warhol’s Flowers harken back to the momento mori of Dutch vanitas and still-life paintings, meant to remind viewers of their morality. Murakami’s psychedelic and joyful wall paper with its thousands of smiling flowers, on the other hand, uses the cute and colorful anime-inspired motifs to comment on Japanese popular culture and fetishism. While there are clear similarities between the exploitation of popular culture in the art of Warhol, Koons, and Murakami, the all too obvious aesthetic uniformity of this flower room takes away from the social commentary of these works.
|Andy Warhol, Flowers (1964)|
|Installation shot including Jeff Koons, Wall Relief with Bird (1991) and Takashi Murakami's flowered wallpaper|
|Andy Warhol, "Empire" (1964)|
The overwhelming variety of work makes it seem as if the Met has taken an entire floor of a Contemporary Art museum and jammed it into five gallery rooms. But, if the curators have made one thing clear, it is that Warhol was an influential artist and celebrity, even if coming to that conclusion means demeaning the artistic merit of his work. The Met has shown that it is time for us to consider other artists in the same context as we do Warhol, in a spotlight of consumer-driven celebrity glory.