Self Obsession: “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art
The Brooklyn Museum of Art closed its Warhol exhibit this past Sunday but not before our own contributing writer, Jeff Price, could pass through the icon’s creations.
In regard to the 1968 attempt on his life by a woman whose script he had agreed to read (“Up Your Ass,” it was called), Andy Warhol is quoted as having said, “Before I was shot, I always thought I was more half-there than all-there… I always suspected I was watching TV rather than living life.”
Mainstream wisdom suggests that getting shot and surviving makes somebody all there: every precious minute, that kind of thing.
“Right when I was being shot,” Warhol continued, “And ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.”
This quotation occupies a wide-screen plasma type spot on the wall of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s exhibition, Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. Catty-corner to it is an actual wide-screen set replaying a free form interview from the first season of Andy Warhol’s TV. Speaking are Warhol and his friend, the painter Larry Rivers; among the topics they address are the abruptness of death, the pluses of making money, potentialities for plastic surgery, how each is currently faring in the shared bed department and whether or not the penis shrinks, as breasts do, when its bearer goes on a diet. (No, it doesn’t, Warhol asserts, because the penis is a muscle.)
The exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum offers study in the branding and purveyance of celebrity image, a testament to the fact that however long he’s been gone (can anyone remember?), Warhol was well ahead of, well, whatever it is you were thinking an artist does. In the magical land of Warholia, the fact that you have expectations of him at all is exactly the point of being an artist, one to whom attention is paid. As a fan, you are rewarded by how those expectations are played on, reconfigured. All that is asked in return is that more attention be paid. More than anyone else, Andy Warhol cemented the modern concept of an artist’s place being not so much to create great art as to be an artist. It was Warhol who gave birth to “famous for being famous” Paris Hilton.
A mama’s boy who leapt into his television box and never left, he apparently turned out okay in the end. By then, Warhol had redefined the celebrity magazine (faces in boxes with pretty colors á la his spin on Marilyn, Elvis, Campbell’s), cultivated a fine appreciation of the jump cut (authentic music videos from the early 80s are on hand: hey look it’s The Cars “Hello Again”!) and sounded the horn for reality TV, everybody’s fifteen minutes (say thank you, Snooki). High brow and commercial, interchangeable at last.
Seeing Warhol pose as a sort of proto-Waldo in picture after picture with his myriad friends—Stevie Wonder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Jerry Hall & Mick, Yoko & John—you might get a sense of fame providing surrogate family to its card-carrying members, a high school clique defying the predations of time. No doubt Warhol would have fit right in on Facebook. (That’s not even to mention the up close polaroids he snapped: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pee Wee Herman, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Carter?)
Revealed at his funeral was the fact that the native Pennsylvanian regularly attended church. (Oh… Jimmy Carter!) Artistically, at least, his ultimate departure was not unanticipated—in 1987 to complications following gall bladder surgery. In the gallery’s vestibule is a doubled image of Warhol with a skull on his head, William Tell-style; on the wall opposite, another called Self-Portrait ’78 (Strangulation): ten frames dashed with color of a black man’s hands closing around the artist’s neck. DaVinci’s fresco of “The Last Supper” inspired Warhol’s last major series of work.
Also to be found are a few of the late 70s paintings, coppery shimmers blotted with voids of green: Warhol and friends urinated on them.
It is one of those “Last Supper” canvases, though, that is the most impressive image on display, a 10 x 32 foot behemoth. Multiple ad-caricature sketches of Jesus are mashed up with brand iconography: the Wise Owl’s eye and a Harley Davidson eagle, a $6.99 sticker at center. Or is that… 666? Alongside one Jesus, you can see the words “The Big C.” Which brings to mind cancer. And, of course, Christ.
With respect to another series of prints, the Rorschachs, similarly majestic in proportion, the story goes that Warhol asked an assistant what his next project ought to be. Try for a moment to imagine what must have flickered through that assistant’s head: Is it me or you who is the artist?
C-Monster.net has a nice set of photographs covering the exhibition and has provided the detail image of The Last Supper: Christ 112 Times by Andy Warhol.
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