Friday, November 30, 2012

REGARDING WARHOL at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“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

The audience is then asked to consider an array of reality-based film works.  Upon initial investigation, it would seem a far stretch to pair “Empire,” a 1964 film by Warhol that consists of eight hours of footage of the Empire State Building over the period of one night, with MTV’s show, “The Real World.”  In “Empire,” the audience is asked to simply watch the time pass, and while this may not be the reason that contemporary society indulges in reality television, it is certainly an underlying current.  In a show like “The Real World” viewers are entertained by the everyday antics of seven people who allow the world to watch them as they pass the time.  

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.


  1. The attention to feeling of the space ishard to describe, but well put. You do an interesting job to bring that same ethos into describing the individual works or patterns (flowers etc.). This is important because curating and “Warhol-spectacle” hurt the show. I think that the spunk you put into the review goes beyond your control and does not aid your analysis in the end. We all have our opinions of Andy Warhol narcissism, but those claims don’t aid the content you are trying to communicate in the review. The ending paragraphs seem to beat a dead Andy with a stick.

  2. You do a good job of addressing some of the overarching themes of the exhibition and conveying the mix of materials on display. However, I think your argument lacks assertiveness and could benefit from some stronger claims. The repetition of "maybe" in the final sentences is an example of this, as is the phrase "some have speculated" in your discussion of the floral room. You have strong ideas, so stand behind them with your language. There are so many concepts in this show, you have to make sure your critical voice shines through.

  3. I think your review has a good perspective on the entire show. I appreciate that you didn't get too bogged down in describing the space and the various themes addressed- it's just too much for one review. Honing in on a few comparisons was a good approach but I agree with Diana that your argument could be more assertive. Your critical stance is well founded but your wording undermines that. I am confused by the second-to-last paragraph and what you're saying about "Empire" and narcissism. I'm not sure I follow how that led to the narcissism of reality TV, I think other works in the show make that connection more effectively.