Marilyn diptych (1962) by Andy Warhol at Tate Modern, London
The “Pope of Pop Art” at London’s cathedral of modern Art: full size Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate Modern.
The turbine hall, Tate Modern, London
Many of Andy Warhol’s major works that are instantly recognisable are on display here so it is interesting to see them at their original size. But as so much of his work is easily and exactly reproduced (because it is in essence screen printing), this is the main gain from seeing the originals, particularly his later works on a huge scale. It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale but clarity of his execution of these giant works.
We are shown one of Andy Warhol’s Mao series, made following President Nixon’s pioneering visit to China in 1972; small reproductions of those images were fashionable amongst students of my era.
Room 4 of this exhibition also throws new light, literally as its walls are covered in aluminium foil, as a recreation of “The Factory”, Andy Warhol’s studio in New York City; the room has an unusual feel being both light and without intrinsic colour, only the colour of the contents, but there is no explanation offered.
The benefit of seeing Andy Warhol’s works as a retrospective collection like this is to be able to sense the darkness that seems to me to creep in to his work after the assassination attempt at “The Factory” in 1968. The original gaiety of his early work has gone when he recovers from the shooting but he refines his style as he rebuilds. It’s still pop art, with all the ephemerality that implies, along with the clean graphic style that he had already established.
There’s another 10-foot canvas, “Ladies and Gentlemen”, one of his paintings of Wilhelmina Ross, this canvas from 1975 glows with warmth and light: Wilhelmina clearly brought joy and colour in to Andy’s life whilst he was living with the pain following the failed assassination. The painting also has a dark quadrant, a refinement of the idea we first see in the Marilyn diptych of 1962 of the public persona but private despair..
Andy Warhol’s images are readily accessible and therefore the best of them rapidly achieved iconic status, meaning that the stars of the time sought him out to confirm their identities in paint for posterity.
There isn’t much shown here about Andy Warhol’s relationships with other artists known to have been active in New York at that time, nothing about Timothy Leary or David Hockney; though as the exhibition includes the Tate-owned portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe by Andy Warhol, why not also feature at least one of Mapplethorpe’s portraits of Warhol?
The impression I came away with from this exhibition is of Andy Warhol as an artist who found his own styles and evolved them. He clearly wanted to be recognised above all as an Artist so he’d probably have wanted an exhibition here like this and would have been gratified at the extraordinarily high prices his pieces now command. He made an art form from the craft of screen printing and explored its strengths: repetition, bold outlines and colour. Andy Warhol died aged 58 in 1987.
Thanks to Oded for the invitation to view the exhibition together