Andy Warhol died 32 years ago. But his work seems as fresh and of-the-moment as ever. A master appropriator for whom nothing was too insignificant to put on a pedestal, a man whose work ranged from the painterly to the merely poster-like, a cultural agitator who made countless folks ask, “But is it art?,” he gets an appropriately comprehensive examination in “Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again,” on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, October 2-January 26.
Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art (and curated by Donna De Salvo, Christie Mitchell, and Mark Loiacono), the exhibition sweeps from Warhol’s early days as an illustrator to his last efforts. The latter includes a large silk-screen cribbed from Leonardo’s “Last Supper” (overlaid with a camouflage pattern) that reminds one that Warhol — who never shunned eroticism and who’s been characterized as a manipulator (think Edie Sedgwick) — was also a good Catholic boy from Pittsburgh.One of the various threads that ties this show together is the idea that Warhol — famous for his “15 minutes of fame” comment — prefigured the look-at-me culture we inhabit today. A man who always seemed to have a camera around his neck, and a filmmaker who took the marginally talented and made us look at them, Warhol was adept at framing almost anything and anybody. “His interest in self representation and the replication of imagery anticipates our current obsessions,” suggests Thea Liberty Nichols, interim exhibition manager of modern and contemporary art at the Art Institute. “He was always recording. The switch was never off.”
The panoply of portraits that opens the show underscores Warhol’s deep fascination for celebrities. Liza Minelli, Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali — they’re all here. But so, too, are folks who, while known quantities in New York, certainly were not famous, such as the city’s portly cultural affairs commissioner, Henry Geldzahler. So recognizable was the artist’s brightly hued portrait technique, that getting the Warhol treatment conferred star status on any sitter.
Back in the day, you didn’t need to be a gallerygoer to be aware of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can, or his “Marilyn.” His sensibility was central to the zeitgeist. While a handful of current artists — Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama — has achieved international renown across multiple platforms, no one comes close to Warhol. And when Burger King uses archival footage of him chowing down on a Whopper for its Super Bowl spot — as it did this year — it’s doubtful anyone ever will.
‘Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again’
Oct. 2-Jan. 26, requires $7 special exhibition ticket
The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan, artic.edu
Andy Warhol. Green Coca-Cola Bottles, 1962. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Superman, 1961. Private collection. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc. / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Superman © and ™ DC Comics, courtesy DC Comics. All rights reserved. Shot Orange Marilyn, 1964. Private collection. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963. The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.