Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, is The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster show of the season. The exhibition immediately grabs the audience’s attention through title alone; invoking Warhol’s name is enough to draw in large crowds. In addition to forty or so Warhol pieces, an astonishing amount of work by other artists is displayed as well. Approximately one hundred works by Warhol’s contemporaries and those within his realm of influence are present. This begs the question: how many major artists can the Met cram into one exhibit? The attempt to organize this chaos was a valiant effort, but ultimately an unsuccessful one.
The exhibition is categorized into five parts: "Daily News: From Banality to Disaster," "Portraiture: Celebrity and Power," "Queer Studies: Shifting Identities," "Consuming Images: Appropriation, Abstraction, and Seriality," and "No Boundaries: Business, Collaboration, and Spectacle." As the titles suggest, this is a large and complicated exhibition. In the beginning, it appears to be well organized, but as the show progressed, pieces were crowded together. The show lacks continuity; it jumps back and forth between styles, artists, and chronology. It seems like an attempt to fit all contemporary art of the period into one exhibit at the same time. The works are fit into each category loosely, making it appear to be equal parts cohesive and confused.
Despite the frantic quality, the exhibition is still an enjoyable walk through contemporary art history, showcasing familiar and well-loved works. The first room features Warhol’s infamous soup cans and coke bottles, surrounded by the work of various artists, including Jeff Koons. The link between the two artists is clear; both are making statements about mass production, American consumerism, and the definition of what constitutes art. An example is Koons’ encased and pristine Hoover vacuums; preserved in clear Plexiglas, they are elevated to a level of preciousness. The fluorescent glow of the lighting seduces the viewer into admiring the material objects as sacred ones. While these ideas are no longer fresh to audiences, they can still be appreciated in an art historical context.
In the next segment, on portraiture, viewers find what they came for when they see Warhol’s Marilyns, Jackies, and Elvises. The silkscreened legends are vibrantly colored yet tragic, showcasing the effects of fame and the disconnect from reality. Scattered among Warhol’s silkscreens are works by portraiture powerhouses Chuck Close and Cindy Sherman. Chuck Close’s Phil commands attention with its monumental scale and magnified features. The photorealistic work provokes a dialogue about the relationship between photography and painting; both are reproductive methods that translate reality in their own way. Gerhard Richter, another featured artist, cites photography as a major influence in his paintings. Helga Matura is one work showcasing his signature style: monochromatic paintings in the aesthetic of blurry photographs.
The next rooms flow into one another, and wandering aimlessly throughout the exhibition brings the viewer through themes of gender issues, repetition and reproduction, and commercial decoration. It is hard to find the dividing line between subjects when the rooms are packed as full as they are. The overall effect feels like travelling through time; almost every major artist of the five decades is represented. It is too much to process at once, but one thing is clear: even though Warhol is named as the dominant force influencing all artists around him, the independent power of the “other” artists cannot be ignored. The audience comes looking for Warhol, but they leave finding a deeper appreciation for many other artists of the time.