Authorizing Warhol

Article excerpt

Authorizing Warhol Georg Frei and Neil Printz, eds. The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne, Volume 1: Paintings and Sculpture 1961-1963. New York: Phaidon Press, 2002. 512 pp., 824 color and b/w ills. $375.

In some ways it would be easy to dismiss the project offered in this, the first volume of the catalogue raisonne of the work of Andy Warhol. For one, how are we to accept a catalogue raisonne-the form that most exemplifies the assigning of coherent authorship to an artist's body of workfor an artist who, perhaps more than any other in the last century (aside from Marcel Duchamp), challenged conventional assumptions about authorship and originality? In addition, by separating paintings from other works such as drawings, prints, and photographs, the catalogue projects a traditional notion of medium onto Warhol's expansive practice-in spite of the fact that the artist's adoption of the silkscreen technique in the early 1960s in many ways blurred the distinctions between said mediums. Moreover, the project separates the ostensibly fine-art aspects of Warhol's practice from other areas of his career, such as his filmmaking, publishing ventures, and participation in the Factory scene. Critics have quite rightly asserted that these diverse aspects need to be brought together in any analysis if we are to resist the inevitable "museumification" of Warhol's work.1 Nevertheless, it would be hasty to dismiss the project for these reasons alone. For the catalogue offers an impressive amount of archival documentation and close analysis of individual works that give us substantial new insight into Warhol's art.

This first volume of the catalogue raisonne provides an exhaustively researched and carefully documented record of the paintings (and sculpture) that the artist produced between 1961 and 1963, the period of some of his most recognizable imagery-such as the Campbell's Soup Cans, the Marilyn and Elvis paintings, and the Disasters series. It begins with a short introduction that describes the evolution of the project, followed by several short texts that detail various technical aspects such as the titling and dating of individual works. The catalogue goes on to offer a roughly chronological accounting of Warhol's oeuvre, with works grouped under broader headings ("Projected Images," "First PhotoSilkscreened Paintings") as well as more specific subheadings ("Newspaper Advertisements," "Marilyn Paintings"). Interspersed among the entries on individual paintings one finds an extensive body of archival materials-including studio photographs, first-person descriptive accounts, and source materials-that provide a documentary context for the works. Various explanatory texts flesh out the information offered by these materials; for example, the catalogue contains an illuminating discussion of the technical aspects and evolution of Warhol's photo-silkscreen technique. But the insights provided here are not limited to technical issues; the catalogue also recategorizes works in such a way as to open the artist's paintings to new interpretive analyses. For instance, the catalogue raisonne identifies a group of "optical paintings" that Warhol produced in 1962, a body of work that to my knowledge has been left unexamined in the critical literature on the artist to date. In these paintings Warhol used the distinctive off-registration of his silkscreens, in conjunction with a color scheme of red and green, to produce an effect similar to that of the printed or filmed 3-D imagery that had become popular in the 1950s. As noted in the text, "When viewed with 3-D glasses, the lenses polarize the images, articulating them as two distinct planes." In fact, in at least one case Warhol supplied a pair of 3-D glasses with a painting. Since he produced the optical paintings within two years of the appearance of Clement Greenberg's influential essay "Modernist Painting," one could reasonably consider them as a savvy response to the notion of opticality that Greenberg saw as central to the development of modernist painting. …