Be Careful What You Warhol For


“Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” is on exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through Dec. 31, 2012. Many critics consider the dawn of Andy Warhol to be the death of art.  The premise of this exhibit rebuts that belief—Warhol revived art, just as it was about to die.  Andy Warhol equated modern life to art to draw a reaction.  Regardless of the argument, Warhol undeniably changed the definition of art.

“Art is what you can get away with,” he said.

Recognizing the great divide between the high society art world and the people, Warhol picked a common denominator between them all and called it art: the coke bottle.  Suddenly, the bottom of the food chain displays the same art as the top of the food chain in their homes.  Andy Warhol was an artist, and he created human connection through art.  What the people own is art.

This change sparked the movement toward consumerism as a new kind of self-expression. Andreas Gursky’s Prada I (1996), on display in the exhibit, took this a step further.  What the people want is art.

Hans Haake’s Helmsboro Country, also on display at the Met, is a large sculpture of a cigarette pack.  Coffee, cigarettes, newspapers—these are all things we enjoy in our leisure time.  Now the aesthetic experience equals indulgence, and it leaves us feeling guilty.  Similarly, we have always aesthetically indulged in the nude, but pornography strips away the aesthetics and convicts us of being titillated.

Warhol brings our repressed desires to the surface.  He pushes homosexuality in his film, Lonesome Cowboys--a silent film glorifying the male form as cowboys wrestle in the utmost innocence.  Brokeback Mountain explicitly explores the desires to which Warhol’s film only alludes.

In a sense, we like indulging in the visual representation of smoking more than we enjoy smoking.  We like thinking about sex more than we like having sex.  Warhol pointed this out: “Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets.”

Warhol shows us what we want, but he makes us wonder why we ever wanted it.  His Screen Tests, made in 1964, simply a film series of icons looking in a camera, is compelling as it resembles sifting through profile picture albums, over and over again.

The exhibit points out our new obsession with ourselves.  MTV’s The Real World connects us with ourselves.   We love watching people just like us, because we are in love with ourselves.

Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait (1966) and his prints of Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe provide that beauty revolves around the self.  We find ourselves attractive, and what we wish we had--political power and fame--we look at.  Then we seek to make ourselves mirror that.  What the people wish for is art.

And so we see the Warhol effect everywhere.  But did he want to be a pioneer or a scapegoat?  Did he want the people to buy his art?  If "art is what you can get away with," did he think he would get away with all this?   We filter ourselves to look like Marilyn and Jackie, with only one question in mind:  do people buy this?

Why do we Instagram?  Why do we change our profile pictures?  So people will look at them.  We become the aesthetic experience.  The people are art.

Andy Warhol is an artist.  Whatever Andy Warhol touches turns to art.  Andy Warhol is art.

I follow Andy Warhol.  I am what I Instagram.  I am my skinny set of legs.  I am my lipstick.  I am my Ray-Bans.  I am my cigarette.  I am the blurry light on the city street.  I am the rain on my window.  I am the moon I look at.  I am whoever is looking at me.  Would Andy Warhol buy this?