Tate Modern’s Andy Warhol, an intimate exploration into the illustrious artist’s career, offers something new to the casual Andy Warhol enthusiast. Although originally scheduled for 12th March until 6th September, the Coronavirus pandemic has extended to exhibition for the public until 15th November, consequently offering a lengthened opportunity to catch this display of Warhol’s work. The gallery has reopened this exhibition with safety in mind, only allowing those with timed tickets and masks to enter, while equipping the gallery with hand sanitiser and strictly-managed visitor numbers.
Andy Warhol is a fascinating examination of pop art, consumerism and counterculture, all of which resonate with contemporary audiences today. Although certain pieces of Warhol’s are so well-known to the point that they are inherently associated with the 1960s, such as 100 Campbell’s Soup Cans or Marilyn Diptych, viewing these pieces in 2020 is all the more stirring. As one observes Marylin’s face slowly deteriorate through Warhol’s repetitive use of silk-screening, one cannot help but be reminded of the present-day celebrity’s constant and, by extension, dehumanising exposure through social media. The soup cans conversely remain vibrant and distinguishable in their repetitions; we are constantly exposed to domineering and efficient marketing tactics so as to accelerate consumerism. Little did Warhol know that these themes, while ushered in throughout the 1950s and 1960s, are augmented today.
However, the exhibition does not solely rely on Warhol’s high-profile paintings but instead also displays his lesser-known work. Thirteen Most Wanted Men, for example, presents screen-printed mug shots which were originally exhibited as a single mural. Soon after its installation the mural was asked to be removed, due to its ‘promotion of criminality’. A Woman’s Suicide is also featured, where Warhol screen-printed a news photo capturing a young woman plummeting to her death. Both pieces evidently employ repetitive imagery to emphasise the presence and influence of the media in our society. Specifically, one becomes aware of the inherently voyeuristic aspect of media coverage and its tendency to focus upon the negative or tragic.
Although Warhol’s recognition of society’s transgressions is palpable in his work, the Tate Modern acknowledges critiques of Warhol’s work throughout the exhibition as well. The gay son of working-class immigrants, he was raised in an environment where he was a pariah of sorts. He eventually ascended to the centre of the New York social scene and consequently depicted queer culture as an artist while offering a space of inclusivity. Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series is an example of this, as it is composed of portraits of black and Latinx trans women and drag queens. Nonetheless, the exhibition questions the ethics of such a series; Warhol felt he had the prerogative of depicting a community he was not a part of and would not have been discriminated against in the same manner. Pink Race Riot (Red Race Riot) is another example of this as it presents police brutality and racial oppression though Warhol, a white man, would not have personally experienced Black suffering. In spite of these criticisms, the lack of representation of such subjects in the art world is still recognised in Andy Warhol. The discrimination faced by trans people and people of colour was therefore exposed to wider audiences than had been previously aware of such issues.
Ultimately, Andy Warhol is an enlightening, investigative exhibition which highlights the complexities of this legendary artist. As we currently live through a time of monumental technological and political change, considering Warhol’s radical work several decades after its composition affirms its enduring quality.
With grateful thanks to Theresa Lillis for this review. If you would like to write for Artmag.co.uk, contact us.
See also Artmag’s review of National Gallery of Scotland’s ‘I want to be a Machine‘, 2019.