The Net Gallery was delighted to scan the new Andy Warhol exhibition at Halcyon Gallery. One of the first shows to open to the public post-lockdown – by appointment and with social distancing measures in place – the exhibition focuses on Warhol’s silkscreen work, bringing together some bold and iconic imagery. Running until 16 August, the exhibition means London is a hotbed for Warhol at present, with a major retrospective of the artist’s work also currently installed at Tate Modern. Closed throughout lockdown, it was recently announced that the Tate will itself reopen on 27 July, meaning Warhol fans will potentially be able to enjoy two great shows in one summer outing. We thought it was the perfect time to ask arts writer Zarina Rimbaud-Kadirbaks – aka Dutch Girl in London – to discuss Warhol’s seismic impact, and what visitors can expect from the two exhibitions.
The prophetic line closely associated with Andy Warhol – “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” – couldn’t be more relevant today. As one of the pioneers of the 1950s New York Pop Art movement, Warhol’s fame has far exceeded his allotted 15 minutes. Indeed, almost 70 years later, his timeless works remain to the point and ever pertinent.
Whilst mostly known for his iconic screenprints featuring Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and celebrity images, Warhol’s greatest feat might have been to make art accessible to mass audiences. Influencing contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Shepard Fairey, and Damien Hirst, Warhol popularised the mass production of art. Then again, perhaps his greatest work of art was himself. Even his trademark silver blonde wigs were part of his legendary image.
Echoing factory assembly lines – his studio was even fittingly called the Factory – Warhol developed the silkscreen printing process which enabled him to present the same image over and over again in uniform fashion. Famously using trivial everyday objects, Warhol’s works have arguably been labelled as superficial and devoid of meaning. Yet, almost mysteriously, it’s these surfaces that remain with us.
A fairly typical Warholism goes: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it”. It’s as if Warhol manipulated his audience into understanding that all taste revolves around a glossy, offset world, with a healthy dose of cynicism, and yet sparking with a ring of truth, sharp as a razor’s edge, but dull as day-to-day life.
Take the aforementioned Campbell’s soup cans, for example. Depicting the different varieties of this soup, the paintings and screenprints featuring them rather resemble a soupaholic’s shopping list than traditional still lives. Yet, while Warhol claimed he merely incorporated them in his work because he “liked the soup”, it’s clear there was a lot more to this, bubbling in the creative saucepan.
Most of all, Warhol’s works read as a social commentary, criticising American culture and consumerism. In this sense, he might well have been the Banksy of his time. Although he wasn’t as political as Banksy, both artists satirise their contemporary culture and effectively hold a mirror to society. More curiously, concealing himself behind the mythical representation of his wig-wearing and shallow persona, Warhol might have had even more in common with Banksy whose fame is largely fuelled by his mysterious identity.
Interestingly, the current Andy Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern attempts to strip away the myth from the man and re-interpret his oeuvre through his identity as a gay man born to a religious migrant family. It’s a chance to cruise through Warhol’s world in a series of rooms that capture the spirit and character of the times. At one moment, large helium balloons mingle in the air, the next you are hypnotised by repeated images of a deadly car crash.
We learn that Warhol began his career in advertising, drawn to the impartial nature of familiar brands such as soft drinks. “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too”, he once said. “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better one.”
Alongside this refreshing exploration of Warhol’s identity at Tate Modern, there’s an opportunity to explore another important body of work at Halcyon Gallery. Their new exhibition Andy Warhol, focusing on his silkscreened work, is open to view physically by appointment. Thanks to The Net Gallery, online visitors can also experience the show through an immersive virtual walkthrough as if they’re actually there. Using cutting-edge 3D technology, all artworks have been scanned and captured in an accurate digital representation of the gallery space, including all the wall texts. In line with Warhol’s practice of pushing the boundaries of art and technology, this is exactly the kind of technology he would have embraced to open up his art to the world.
Besides the well-known Marilyn (1967) screenprint, the show features several complete ‘portfolios’. Some of these portfolios consist of replications of a single image, such as Campbell’s Soup I (1968) and Joseph Beuys (1980), while the ten screenprints of Cowboys and Indians (1986) share the common theme of the fantasy of the American West.
In contrast to the often bold screenprints, the exhibition at Halcyon Gallery also features Warhol’s early, more naive and whimsical illustrations of the 1950s. These offer the viewer a more intimate encounter with the artist than the cool persona fronting his Pop art aesthetic of the 1960s. And in contrast with his focus on celebrities later in his career, here we revel in images of shoes, cats and flowers. Already exploring the limits and possibilities of endless repetition, these drawings were Warhol’s first steps towards removing the artist from art. And yet, how ironic that his signature brand has cemented Warhol as the most important artist in the canon of contemporary art.
From Marilyn Monroe to Liz Taylor, Coke to soup, Warhol’s work celebrated consumer culture as high art. Both of these shows are essential viewing and proof that, as Warhol himself said, “Art is what you can get away with.”
Andy Warhol exhibition dates
Halcyon Gallery: until 16 August 2020, by-appointment only. You can view the virtual walkthrough, scanned and produced by The Net Gallery, here.
Tate Modern: until 15 November 2020 (reopening from 27 July). For more information, visit: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/andy-warhol
Article by Zarina Rimbaud-Kadirbaks
The images shown from the Andy Warhol exhibition at Halcyon Gallery are taken form The Net Gallery’s scan footage, courtesy of The Net Gallery.