The Other Andy

Article excerpt

Byline: Blake Gopnik

Forget Campbell's Soup and Marilyn-the Warhol that matters is the freak who sold out to TV. Today's artists love him.

The most important figure in contemporary art may be a guy named Andy Warhol. Not the Andy Warhol who gave us Campbell's soup cans and Marilyns. That Warhol died in 1987 and now counts only as an Old Master of pop art. The other Andy Warhol is the one who appeared on The Love Boat and made paintings by peeing, whose movies could be absolutely static but whose sold-out life was as buzzy as could be. That Warhol died in '87, too, but his influence lives on as though he never left the scene.

Fifty years ago this autumn, Warhol made his switch from commercial illustrator to fine artist. Since then, he's had the same all-consuming influence that Picasso had on the half-century before. Except that where Picasso shattered what art looked like, Warhol transformed what it could be.

"To my mind, Warhol's everywhere -- there are a zillion people who resonate with his example in some way," says curator and writer Jack Bankowsky. In 2009 he helped organize a big exhibition called Pop Life that paired Warhol with Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and his other heirs--and that billed the Love Boat appearance as one of Warhol's more notable works. Warhol, Bankowsky wrote in his essay for the show, crafted a "next step after art" in which "social climbing, shopping, cruising, and collecting are bound up in a roving social sculpture held together by art--which is to say business."

This Warhol set an example for all the artists who now do more than paint and sculpt--who appear in the tabloids and on TV, who design for Louis Vuitton and star in luxury ads, whose price tags matter as much as the diamond skulls they get stuck to. "[Warhol's] trick is that he somehow brought all that stuff under the sign of art," says Bankowsky. "We've gotten to the point where that larger Warhol is catching up to the pop Warhol."

Over the weekend in Washington, this "larger" Warhol went on display at the National Gallery, in an extensive exhibition of pieces the artist built around the tabloid press. Titled Warhol: Headlines, the show includes works in video and film that still shape those art forms today. Across the Mall at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, curators just launched the first display of all 102 of the Shadow Paintings, which Warhol finished in 1979. They all show one version or another of the same unintelligible image--a bit of shadow in a studio corner--but silkscreened in a huge range of colors. …