Last Monday was a holiday, so I was surprised when my housekeeper showed up for her bi-weekly gig. Usually when she arrives, I take off for my regular Monday bridge game at the local senior center. But with her holiday appearance, I had to think of something else. I remembered it was the last day of the National Gallery of Art’s exhibit, Warhol:Headlines, so I decided to go down and take a look and see if I could find an answer to the question I’ve always had about Andy Warhol:
Why on earth is he considered a great artist?
So I spent well over an hour at the exhibit and even invested $5 to rent the audio guide so I could listen to curators explaining the works.
The exhibit focused on Warhol’s career-long use of news-related material, ranging from newspaper headlines to photography and films. It even included some of the hundreds of cardboard boxes in which he stored newspaper clippings. In its introduction to the exhibit, the NGA explains:
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is among the foremost American artists of the last century. Alongside Pablo Picasso, he is also considered one of the most important 20th-century artists in the world.
Really? Right up there with Picasso? This is the sort of critical acclaim that befuddles me.
The headline exhibit mirrored the subjects covered in Warhol’s other “art” works, (sorry, I couldn’t resist the quotation marks) — celebrity, death, disaster, and current events. Here’s one of the featured headline works:
Critics usually divide Warhol’s work into two parts – the work done before and after his shooting in 1968. In the 1980s, Warhol decided to “enhance” (sorry) his work by collaborating with younger (and attractive) graffiti artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here’s a Warhol-Haring piece that shows graffiti superimposed on Warhol’s work:
The graffiti adds a certain je ne sais quoi, doesn’t it?
As you no doubt sense without my saying it, the exhibiit did not answer my question.
When I got home, I did a little Warhol googling. I always get a kick out of the commentaries on art by critic Robert Hughes. So I got a good laugh out of Hughes’ comments about Warhol in this video clip.
In comments I found elsewhere, Hughes admits to liking Warhol’s early works and gives him credit for being savvy, and an instrument of social change. But he believes Warhol became “exceedingly trivial” and that Warhol and the art market exploited one another for mutual gain, with people ending up paying thousands for something Warhol scribbled on a cocktail napkin because the art market unapologetically fetishized Warhol’s work.
Now that’s an appraisal more to my liking than putting Warhol up there with Picaso.