Poster Boy ; It's 20 Years since Andy Warhol Died, and This Summer a Host of New Exhibitions Celebrate Art's Great Showman. but as John Walsh Explains, Some of His Most Enduring Works Were Also His Most Disposable
Walsh, John, The Independent (London, England)
This autumn, you won't be able to move in Scotland for Andy memorabilia. Wherever you look, silkscreened images of Marilyn, Elvis, Liz, Jackie and Muhammad Ali will glow with their eerie vermillion wash. Snapshot photographs of friends at his Factory in E47th St will be revered like Rembrandts. Images of natural disasters and electric chairs will repel the squeamish just as they did back in the 1960s.
It's 20 years ago since Warhol died (on 22 February 1987) from complications resulting from a gall bladder injury, and the most accessible yet most opaque artist of the 20th century has been the subject of numerous tributes. David Bowie, the Velvet Underground, Tom Wolfe, David Bailey, Nicky Haslam and assorted luminaries remembered him on Radio 2. His "philosophy", From A to B and Back Again, was reprinted by Penguin. Retrospectives of his paintings, movies, sculptures, "disaster prints", self-portraits and collaborations broke out in galleries from the Czech Republic to Seoul by way of Winnepeg, Kalamazoo and Tate Modern.
Now the carnival is turning to Scotland. Andy Warhol: A Celebration of Life - and Death, the largest show of his work ever seen north of the border, will open on 4 August at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. At the same time, a consideration of his films (including Sleep, six silent hours of a man filmed sleeping) will draw the crowds at Edinburgh College of Art, while the great man's posters will be hung in Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. Oh, as Andy used to say, wow.
The posters, made during and after his lifetime to promote exhibitions and films, are intriguing for many reasons. Unlike his created work, which constantly confronts the spectator with the question, "How is this art?", the posters need to negotiate the tricky middle ground between marketing the art and pulling in the suspicious, hostile, attention-deficit-suffering public walking by. Warhol's answer was to emphasise the plastic, painterly quality of his work, rather than the content: hence his choice of the most abstract image of Monroe, like a computerised heat-map, to use on the poster, or his picture of Mao, about to be engulfed in red as his country was engulfed by The Little Red Book.
The posters have all been bought on behalf of Tate Modern and the National Gallery of Scotland by Anthony D'Offay, the Soho gallery owner. "If you walk into a room of his posters, it's like walking into a snapshot of his life," D'Offay enthuses. …