On Modern American Art: Selected Essays

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

WARHOL AS ART HISTORY 1989

Despite his maxim, Andy Warhol's own fame has far outlasted the fifteen minutes he allotted to everyone else. During the last quarter-century of his life, from 1962 to 1987, he had already been elevated to the timeless and spaceless realm of a modern mythology that he himself bo@both created and mirrored. And now that he is gone, the victim of a preposterously unnecessary mishap, the fictions of his persona and the facts of his art still loom large in some remote, but ever-present, pantheon of twentieth-century deities.

On the popular level alone, the evidence for his secular sainthood is everywhere. What other artist could have covered the entire front page of the New York Post not once, but twice? (On June 4, 1968, the day after he almost died; and on February 23, 1987, the day after he did die.) For how many others do we remember the exact moment and place we first received the jolting news of their untimely death, as if it were a personal trauma? (If we are old enough, for Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, and Elvis Presley--all, ironically, Warhol subjects.) Like Marilyn and Elvis, Andy, too, was referred to and recognized by his first name alone, a modem variation upon the affectionate, prayerful ways classical gods or Christian saints could be addressed, beings both close to our hearts and close to heaven. And in more earthly terms, who but Warhol could have inspired, just after his death, a limited edition of 2,500 counterfeit commemorative postage stamps, privately printed in Paris by Michel Hosszù, then affixed to letters sent all over our planet, and honored, albeit illegally, by countless postal clerks who apparently recognized the image of Warhol 1967 Self-Portrait and his name and dates inscribed below? 1 And in these days of glasnost, what better relic of Western modernity could be treasured by a willfully hip young Muscovite painter and rock musician than a can of Campbell's tomato soup with a mock Warhol signature? 2

Warhol's lofty role in our modern Olympus is recognized not only by the world at large but by his own artist-contemporaries, young and old, at home and abroad. Two examples of the many symbolic portraits of Warhol poignantly bracket the date of his death, The earlier one, painted in 1986, the last full year of Warhol's life, is by the Italian Neo-Neoclassicist Carlo Maria Mariani and represents him as a resurrected Davidian image of Napoleon as emperor (fig. 129). Bewigged, cloaked in ermine, decorated with imperial eagles, and holding a laurel-wreath crown, Warholgazes sternly down at us. Even within the context of Miriani's other allegorical portraits of artists, which include mythic re-creations of Francesco Clemente, Jasper Johns, and Julian Schnabel, Warhol is clearly the reigning deity, as the painting's golden tonality affirms. 3

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