What Andy Saw: Warhol Wasn't Just the Godfather of Pop. He Was a Clairvoyant Whose Ideas on Celebrity, Cinema and Even Supersizing Made Him the Most Influential Artist since Picasso

By Plagens, Peter | Newsweek, July 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

What Andy Saw: Warhol Wasn't Just the Godfather of Pop. He Was a Clairvoyant Whose Ideas on Celebrity, Cinema and Even Supersizing Made Him the Most Influential Artist since Picasso


Plagens, Peter, Newsweek


Byline: Peter Plagens

Great artists make the familiar seem astonishing. Really great artists turn around and make the astonishing seem familiar again. In the big, 250-work retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (up through Aug. 18), Andy Warhol does both--and then some. His paintings of electric chairs and gangsters, and replica-sculptures of Brillo boxes, remind you what an astute eye Warhol had for exactly what in our stockpile of popular-culture artifacts might be truly iconic. His harsh, acidic silk-screen images of tragic Marilyn Monroe and grieving Jackie Kennedy exude a strange reassuring quality, perhaps from having graced the covers of half the coffee-table books on contemporary art published during the past 40 years. And Warhol's sly but perfected sense of scale, color and modulated crudity of image-making lets you understand just how, at the beginning of the 1960s, pop art's ironic immediacy managed to overthrow abstract expressionism's melodramatic paint-flinging for the top spot in the American art world. The exhibition demonstrates why--and this is probably an understatement--Warhol is the most influential artist the world has known since Picasso. What the Beatles were to pop music, Warhol has been to modern art.

But Warhol's enormous body of work--paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, photographs and films--resonates far beyond the confines of art. Today, his deadpan prescience about celebrity, cinema, supersizing and even sleazy sex seems to turn up everywhere. In fact, Warhol's takes on pop culture have leached out over the years and so pervaded the cultural soil that you almost don't notice them anymore. His passive-aggressive esthetic in the Marilyn portraits is at once celebratory and heartless--just like the endless grinding of the wheels of fame today on the E! network. The gruesome but somehow distanced car-crash "Disaster" paintings keep popping up, four decades after they were made, on our TV sets in the form of "Cops" and "Wildest Police Chases." "Any kind of wickedness or anything that is punky or raw goes back to Andy," says fashion designer Betsey Johnson, who was a Warhol-scene insider back in the 1960s. "Andy was the daddy of us all."

Warhol didn't invent pop art--Roy Lichtenstein was already showing comic-strip paintings at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1961--but he wanted in on it. Casting about for a suitably mundane subject (Warhol was a former commercial artist and believed the makings of art could be found anywhere), he hit upon Campbell's soup cans and showed all 32 flavors in his first gallery solo as a pop artist in--where else?--L.A. in 1962. The critics hated them, but that didn't stop Andy. The same year he discovered the advantages of silk-screening photographic images onto canvas. The medium allowed him to crank out paintings in droves--Warhol remarked that he wanted to be a machine--and to indulge in a cheap, indifferent medium that perfectly matched his attitude toward his subject matter. It's no accident that Warhol fixated on Marilyn and Jackie just after their lives turned tragic. He had a love-hate relationship with celebrity. Warhol was amused by how famous people are, after a while, famous simply by being famous, and that we become more genuinely interested in their lives when misfortune makes them more human. But Warhol--who was raised poor in Pittsburgh and was a picked-on sickly kid in school--resented celebrities' good fortune, too. His callously ready-made red-lip shapes and grotesque eye-shadow patterns on Marilyn testify to that. Warhol's serigraphed heroines don't tell you much about their souls, only about their utility as fungible tabloid icons. In that way, he was a perfect barometer for our scandal-sheet culture, where the minute actors or singers run afoul of the law (or their spouses), their notoriety skyrockets.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What Andy Saw: Warhol Wasn't Just the Godfather of Pop. He Was a Clairvoyant Whose Ideas on Celebrity, Cinema and Even Supersizing Made Him the Most Influential Artist since Picasso
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.