October 10, 2011

An Audacious Installation of Warholian Proportions

A friend of mine has a comical and visceral hatred for Andy Warhol's work, and dismisses the notion that it is "art."  Throughout the years I’ve known him, whenever the discussion turns to art and inevitably Warhol, he launches into a rant that’s at once funny, thoughtful, perfectly valid, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of collectors, curators, and critics. 

I hold a slightly less extreme view of Warhol.  While I hardly find anything about it worthy of praise in terms of technique, I appreciate it as insightful and sometimes biting social commentary – consumerism, technology, monotony of modern life, and the worship of crass and vapid tabloid and celebrity culture.  Two decades after Warhol’s death, his art – if you want to call it that – is uncannily prescient. 

As I viewed the Hirshhorn’s Andy Warhol: Shadows exhibit, two thoughts went through my head.  First, my friend’s head would explode if he saw this grandiose and audacious exhibit of 102 variations of the same abstract design that was based on a photograph of a shadow in Warhol’s office – basically it looks like the shadow of a desk lamp. Second, my friend’s head would probably explode a second time for good measure if he read the small text panel at the beginning of the exhibit.  Referring to this gigantic installation, Warhol had commented, “Someone asked me if I thought they were art and I said no. You see, the opening party had a disco. I guess that makes them disco décor.” 

Even Warhol agreed with my friend!   

Maybe the joke's on all of us.  While curators, collectors, and consumers – or is that “fans,” given our Warholian fixation with celebrities – eat up all things Warhol as High Art, the man himself seemed to admit (perhaps teasingly and facetiously, but who knows for sure?) that his work was superficial and vapid. 

Perhaps therein lies his brilliance and art. 

Andy Warhol: Shadow, now through January 15, 2012, Hirshhorn Museum, DC (...I don't recommend this exhibit to my friend...)

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