Galerie des Modernes

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Andy Warhol

Pop Art, Celebrities

(Pittsburgh, 1928 – New York, 1987)

Figurehead of American avant-garde, publicist close to art, then artist close to advertising, Andy Warhol join Pop Art, in which daily life appears in painting. During 1960’s, he became leader of this movement against abstraction.

Born into a family of Slovak immigrants, Andrew Warhola did his primary schooling in Pittsburgh, then joined in 1945 the Carnegie Institute of Technology founded for children from modest backgrounds. Graduated of Beaux-Arts in 1949, he settled in New York and began a carrier in advertising, which highlights his drawer and illustrator talents. Creator for theatre costumes, he chose for himself an androgyny look wearing a platinum wig and a name: Andy Warhol. The artist is also a businessman funding in 1957 his own society in order to manage advertising orders.

Considerate return to figuration in American art in the late 1950’s, Warhol executed his first paintings by borrowing the subjects to everyday imagery: comic books (Popeye, 1961) or labels for consumer products. He gave them a serial character, which became his artistic specificity. In addition to his Coca-Cola bottles, the most famous example is the Campbell’s Soup Cans (1961-1962, MoMA, New York). In 1962, Warhol participated with the American Roy Lichtenstein and the French Yves Klein to the exhibition New Realists in New York, marking Pop Art as movement. He loves show the tackiness and artificial side of the society, but never forget its violence that he grasps through catastrophes and executions on electric chair.

In 1961, an art dealer from Los Angeles, Irving Blum, went to Andy Warhol’s studios, that was not enough know – he confided – to “be taken seriously” by others avant-garde artists such as Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns. His Campbell’s soup cans fascinate Irving Blum, and he decided to dedicate an exhibition to Warhol the next year. Well-informed collector, he bought the entire series for an agreed prize of “ 1000 dollars payable in one year”. Irving Blum gave this series in 1995 at MoMA for 15 millions dollars. “A purchase by the most famous museum of United – States […] this is the greatest story of my life”.

As illustrator, Warhol already experienced serigraphy. He used this method of reporting mechanically on canvas photography reduced to its essential lines. Thus he elaborates series based on repetitive visual plastic effects he devotes to celebrities such as Liz Taylor (Ten Lizes, 1963, MNAM, Centre Georges Pompidou), Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn, 1964, MoMA), Jacqueline Kennedy (Jackie, 1964, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis) and Elvis Presley (Triple Elvis, 1964, Private Collection) – without forgetting to include himself by auto-portrait. He used serigraphy to “revisit” the myth of Mona Lisa (Mona Lisa, 1963, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and to make a study of flowers (Flowers, from 1965).

By many aspects, the art of Warhol is close to cinema (immediate realism and detachment), and Warhol actively worked for it from 1963. The originality of his film methods (personages improvising face to a fixe camera) and his inspiration themes (Sleep [1963], Warhol films a sleeping man during six hours, at the rate of a sequence of twenty minutes repeated eighteen times) affect considerably the cinematographic avant-garde. During the 1980’s, he was interested by clip video and funded a cable television channel.

Icon of people and untimely figure of marginality, Warhol opened in 1963 a studio in a disinfected factory, “The Factory” which became a trendy place of New York life. Warhol is the producer and mentor of the rock band The Velvet Underground that settled in this studio. Warhol also used it to make several experimental films. In 1968, he avoided an attempted murder that shot his partner and his impresario.

Warhol, who always had an obsession with death, wards off it realising many commissioned creations. Thus, he proves his desire to break with the traditional image of disinterested artist. He returns to serigraphy to paint, among others, the famous portraits of Mao Zedong (1972) and Mick Jagger (1975). Always attracted by symbol of American society (Dollar Sign, 1981), he joins Jean-Michel Basquiat to renew the expressionist figuration.

During his last years of work, Warhol, almost an official painter, applies his style to many  commissioned portraits , while continuing to explore other technics in his series Shadows, Oxidation, and his paintings copying Botticelli or Leonardo da Vinci's works.

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