Thursday, November 8, 2012


An intensive examination of Andy Warhol’s career and influence, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years at The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibits a large collection of Warhol’s paintings, silkscreen prints and films, including some of his most well-known works such as the Big Campbell's Soup Can. The curators assembled his works into five thematic groups -  “Daily News”, “Portraiture”, “Queer Studies”, “Consuming Images”, and “No Boundaries”. In each of these sections Warhol’s works are juxtaposed with works on related themes by a wide range of other artists including Bruce Nauman, Gerhard Richter and Ai Weiwei.  

As the viewer moves through the galleries, two opposite attitudes on the consumerist American culture can be sensed - at first criticism, followed by a warm welcome. Through the depictions of banal subject matters found in newspapers and magazines, the “Daily News” section presents Warhol and his peer artists as critics of the superficiality and materialism embedded inside the capitalist society. Warhol’s painting, Before and After I, 1961, for example, delineates the face of a woman in two side-by-side silhouettes, with the one on the right showing the desired result of plastic surgery. In a few fluid and dripping black strokes, the artist jeers at the pursuit of artificial beauty while standing in awe of the magical effect of cosmetic procedure. With a more explicit sense of disapproval, Tom Sachs’ Chanel Chain Saw, 1996 , a chain saw made of Chanel shopping bags, attacks the worship of commodity by combining money, power and violence into one piece. The element of sarcasm continues in Warhol’s portraits of Monroe, Elvis Presley, Liz Taylor and Mao, on view in the “Portraiture” section. Warhol’s use of bold colors and large compositions, combined with the charming, and sometimes confident gazes of his characters, seems a joyful celebration of fame, wealth and power. The fact that many of the portraits were created after the deaths or during the fatal illnesses of these celebrities, however, generates a dark undercurrent which prevents their facial expressions from being taken seriously. 

Nevertheless, to consider Warhol as a critic of the evilness of capitalism carries with it the danger of neglecting his other identity as a prominent “business artist”. As the last two sections of the exhibition make clear, Warhol’s representation of popular culture and his collaboration with commercial sectors removed the boundaries between art and business, which would often fetter a traditional artist. Marilyn Monroe's Lips, 1962, a silkscreen of more than ten dozen images of identical lips, indicates how Warhol welcomed the idea of producing art as if manufacturing any other consumer good. And his composition of dollar signs, displayed in the same room of Takashi Murakami’s commercially successful Kaikai Kiki, reveals his desire to generate wealth by taking advantage of the capitalist society. This exhibition, intentionally or not, shows Warhol’s entanglement with the prevailing culture of his time, a dance between acclamation and condemnation, embrace and rejection, love and hate...


  1. The only thing I really have to criticize is the structure of the review and a few sentences. Some of the sentences are wordier than necessary. Some words are thrown around too loosely as well. What is a “neutral” portrait, for example?

    As for structure of the review, I think you can condense the “banality and protest” section with Warhols appropriation of capitalist production. To some extent, this form of production, although adopting the consumerist model, in itself could act as critique. This would help for the argument to be a more strategic rather than the seemingly sporadic listing of themes.

  2. This is a very thorough description of the show. I like that you structured your paper in a similar way that the show was presented- but I also agree that certain areas could be reduced. I was glad to see that you mentioned the chanel chainsaw in your discussion- it emphasizes that there are multiple artists' work exhibited in this show, not just Warhol's.

    I feel like the very last sentence could use some simplifying- maybe break it into two sentences and reconsider some of the wording. "profitable celebration"feels like an odd paring of words in that sentence.