What Is an Andy Warhol?

Andy Warhol

by Arthur C. Danto
Yale University Press, 162 pp., $24.00

Joe Simon-Whelan et al. v. the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., et al.

Joe Simon-Whelan, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs v. the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., the Estate of Andy Warhol, Vincent Fremont, Individually and as Successor Executor for the Estate of Andy Warhol, Vincent Fremont Enterprises, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, Inc., John Does 1a?20, Jane Does 1a?10, and Richard Roes 1a?10, Defendants, United States District Court, Southern District of New York
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The London art collector Anthony d’Offay’s copy of the catalogue raisonné of Andy Warhol’s work compiled by Rainer Crone (1970), the cover of which was signed by Warhol in 1986. The cover image, chosen by Crone and Warhol, is the copy of Warhol’s Red Self Portrait (1965) that he dedicated to its then owner, the art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, with the inscription ‘To Bruno B Andy Warhol 1969.’ The picture is now owned by d’Offay.

1.

In his entertaining memoir Younger Brother, Younger Son (1997), Colin Clark, a son of the art historian Kenneth Clark, recounts a story from his time working as a production assistant on the film The Prince and the Showgirl. To explain why Marilyn Monroe came across far more vividly on screen than her classically trained costar Laurence Olivier, Clark observed that, in front of the cameras, she knew how to speak a language an actor trained for the stage simply could not understand. To Olivier’s fury and frustration, the less the Hollywood goddess appeared to act, the more she lit up the screen. “Some years later,” Clark continues,

I experienced a similar situation when I took my father to the studio of the Pop artist Andy Warhol in New York. My father was an art historian of the old school, used to the canvasses of Rembrandt and Titian. He simply could not conceive that Andy’s silk-screened Brillo boxes were serious art.

Just as Monroe understood that you don’t have to act for the camera in the way the stage-trained Olivier defined acting, so Warhol realized that you don’t need to make art for an audience brought up on film and television in the way Kenneth Clark defined art. Actress and artist grasped that in the modern world, presentation counts for more than substance. The less you do, the greater may be the impact.

What defeated Kenneth Clark about Warhol’s paintings was not only their banal subject matter but also the means he used to make them. Before it is anything else, Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe is a silk screen, a simple reproductive technique in which the artist or craftsman stencils a design onto an acetate plate and then fits the plate into a meshed screen. When ink or paint is forced through the mesh, the design is transferred onto fabric or paper.1

Late in 1962 Warhol started to transfer silk-screen images onto canvas to make paintings. Other American artists, notably Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, were already painting images they found in comic strips and on billboards. It was not, therefore, Warhol’s subject matter that constituted the significant breakthrough in his early work but his decision to make fine art using a technique primarily associated with printmaking and with cheap commercial products such as T-shirts and greeting cards. Warhol’s friend Henry Geldzahler, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of…


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