Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney Museum

Art Scene

Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney Museum

The exhibition, Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again at the Whitney Museum, marks the occasion of the first Warhol retrospective presented by a U.S. institution since 1989. One of the most recognized artists in contemporary culture, Warhol is as relevant today as he was during his rise to fame. In our current age of celebrity and ubiquitous obsession with branding, Warhol’s work offers an accessible point of entry for reflection on the role of consumption, imagery and media in daily life.

Installation view. Photo by Anders Jones.

Andy Warhol (1928–1987) was raised in Pittsburgh in an immigrant family and was the first in his family to go to college. His father died young, and his mother, who sold paper flowers door to door, was from Eastern Slovakia. Throughout Warhol’s life, he spoke his mother’s native language with her and seemed to occupy and embrace both an insider and outsider relationship to American culture as a first generation immigrant.

Installation view. Photo by Anders Jones.

In regard to Warhol’s entree into New York’s art scene, artist T.J. Wilcox comments in an exhibition-related video, “For Warhol in the late ‘50s, trying to enter into an art world that was full of tough dudes who were making big oil paintings, to be an out gay man was absolutely against the grain and went against every expectation of what an American male artist was supposed to be.”

Installation view. Photo by Anders Jones.

A walk through the multi-floor exhibition will undoubtedly leave viewers with a more nuanced understanding of the depths of “pop art,” the category often associated with Warhol. The surface aesthetics—bright colors and recognizable figures and objects —are put in perspective and the idea of pop art as a genre that deals with both privileged and underrepresented layers of American Culture through visual iconography becomes more apparent. For example, although Warhol is known for his widely sought after commissioned portraits of a variety of celebrities, he also created a series of portraits called, Ladies and Gentlemen (1975), which depicts New York City drag queens and trans women.

Installation view. Photo by Anders Jones.

Installations, experimental videos, and work from Warhol’s early career as an accomplished New York illustrator are on view among many other tangents in his career. Warhol’s prioritization of color as his most significant compositional element in many of his works is evident in variations on mixes of acrylic, silkscreen, ink and graphite used in his paintings; a red, white and blue Brillo box installation; and, black and white newspaper reproductions, among other works.

Installation view. Photo by Anders Jones.

Despite Warhol’s use of celebrity, objects of mass consumption, bright colors and downtown play in his practice, his works do not evoke a sense of frivolity. Instead, the textures and grandiosity of flat representations of figures and objects may stump viewers, moving them from a place of ease to a more perplexing questioning of who Warhol was and what his true intentions might have been.

Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again is on view at the Whitney Museum through March 31, 2019.