‘Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again’
“The Whitney Museum of American Art has mounted a large, mostly buoyant survey of Warhol’s immense output, “Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again,” and it expands our understanding of the origins and evolution of his sensibility,” writes David Salle. “The exhibition presents the artist in full: he was not only, or even primarily, a painter but also, at various times, a filmmaker, magazine editor and publisher, author, illustrator, photographer, diarist, TV show host, stage designer, and political activist. The veteran curator Donna De Salvo has done a real service in examining heretofore neglected aspects of Warhol’s oeuvre: not just the films, but also his early drawings and witty erotica, the many commercial illustrations and book designs, the paintings made in collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the late forays into abstraction. The overall impression is that throughout his life Warhol was always an exceptionally hard worker who adapted as times changed, but one who largely confined himself to the surface of life. After 1968, he produced a steady stream of paintings on any number of themes and subjects, but didn’t deeply inhabit more than a few of them, the same as most artists. He preferred to keep the carousel moving at a steady clip.
It might be difficult, in this time of critical approbation and market adulation, to grasp just how devalued Warhol had become by the early 1980s, even among his own inner circle. In 1985, when the Saatchi Gallery opened with a small survey of 1960s paintings, Warhol’s business manager, the sartorially peerless Fred Hughes, confided to a friend that it was the first time he took Andy seriously as an artist. When Warhol died in 1987, an appreciation in The New York Times by John Russell struck a less than sanguine note: “Posterity may well decide that his times deserved him.” Parts of the art world had grown weary of the “Warholization” already underway, and some critics were pushing back. The art historian Barbara Rose had recently begun a review with this zinger: “Andy Warhol has sunk back into the commercial ooze from which he emerged.”
If he was the artist America deserved in 1987, it now seems that each era shall have the Warhol it deserves, and the version that emerges from the Whitney show is much more up front about queer culture’s contribution to the visual arts and to the evolution of our current sensibilities. In tandem with presenting queerness as a category of experience and identity in art, the Whitney show gives us an insight into the young Warhol: Andy with a sketchbook, Andy the fan, the fashion Andy, Andy the ardent youth dreaming a life of style and erotic possibilities.”
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