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arts

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Warhol, Andy (as artist) (1928-1987)  

Andy Warhol is best remembered as the avatar of Pop Art. A child of the advertising age, he began his career as a commercial illustrator in the late 1950s. Even his first major appearance as an artist in 1961 was commercial: five paintings as backdrop in a display window at New York's Bonwit Teller department store.

Born Andrew Warhola, Jr. on August 6, 1928 into a working-class family in Forest City, Pennsylvania, Warhol attended art school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. He moved to New York in 1949, where he changed his named to Andy Warhol and made friendships with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

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Warhol's work needs to be seen as part of the contentious pluralism in the arts that characterized the early 1960s, as artists joined the assault on conventional pieties and prejudices.

In 1966 Time magazine warned the public that Pop Art threatened "normal" masculinity because it insisted on reducing art to the "trivial," by which Time meant camp. As Susan Sontag had reported in her seminal 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp,'" camp embraced extravagance, effeminacy, and an obsession with surface appearances.

Indeed, the gayness that Warhol projected in both his art and his public persona contrasted sharply with the macho posturing that had dominated the art world in the 1950s. But such openness carried a price.

When Warhol asked why his idols, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, avoided him, a mutual friend, filmmaker Emil de Antonio, answered, "Okay, Andy, if you really want to hear it straight, I'll lay it out for you. You're too swish, and that upsets them." In defiance, Warhol emphasized his effeminacy even more.

Like Johns and Rauschenberg, Warhol was influenced by the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, manifested particularly in the recycling of imagery that both celebrates and subverts modern mass culture.

Warhol's silk-screened repetitions of such mundane objects as soup cans and Brillo boxes, and similarly mass-produced icons such as film stars, made them chic. His appropriations comment, coolly and ironically, on the collapse of the distinction between high and popular art, and on modern obsessions with consumer goods and media-manipulated celebrity.

From childhood Warhol embraced the myth of stardom. His attraction to the young and famous motivated some of his first silkscreen paintings, which were based on images of Troy Donahue and Elvis Presley and date from 1962. Warhol's identification with these celebrities is two-fold, both as objects of desire and as role models.

But he also screened images of death and disasters taken from the tabloids. When the theme of tragedy coincided with his fascination with stardom, Warhol found the subjects of his best-known groups of celebrity portraits: Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

In his "gold Marilyn" series, initiated shortly after her suicide in August 1962, Warhol contrived the effect of a gilded Byzantine icon, but substituted for the Virgin Mary an image whose face is suffused with eroticism. It stunningly evokes the need to love and to be loved.

With his increasing success, Warhol became a celebrity himself. Hailed as "court painter to the 70s," he amassed a fortune. Critics debate whether his later silkscreen portraits celebrate or satirize the worlds of money, glamour, and style that he himself increasingly inhabited. Warhol's characteristic attitude remained deadpan; he insisted that his work had no meaning.

Despite his persona of decadent artist, Warhol clung to what might seem, in the context of the jet-set glamour of his public image, an archaic piety. He maintained a quiet, surreptitious devotion to the Catholic Church.

He was never political, and more a voyeuristic dandy than an engaged homosexual. Nevertheless he supported the careers of gay artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He died on February 22, 1987, soon after gall bladder surgery. His will established a foundation to help young artists.

Today Warhol has entered the canon of significant American artists, his importance signaled by the fact that Pittsburgh has named a museum in his honor and retrospectives of his career attract large crowds. As Robert Summers points out, however, even supposedly comprehensive exhibits distort his achievement by white-washing him as "asexual" and divesting his work of its content and connections.

Peter J. Holliday

     

 
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Andy Warhol (left) and Tennesse Williams (right) talking on the S.S. France in 1967.
  
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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, 1900-1969

Prior to Stonewall, most gay artists were closeted, but they were inventive in creating codes for those in the know; after 1945 some adventurous artists developed independent networks for the distribution of works of gay art.

arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, American gay male art underwent a radical transformation as artists came out and began to treat gay themes openly and directly.

literature >> Overview:  Camp

Combining elements of incongruity, theatricality, and exaggeration, camp is a form of humor that helps homosexuals cope with a hostile environment.

arts >> Overview:  Censorship in the Arts

Many gay and lesbian artists who have defied the legal and social prohibitions against explicit or sympathetic depictions of homosexuality have seen their art censored or suppressed.

arts >> Overview:  Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art, which designates new currents in art since 1970, is identified with postmodernism; during this period an art addressing gay and lesbian identity emerged.

arts >> Overview:  Pop Art

An early 1960s school of painting and sculpture that utilized the subjects, techniques, or stylistic conventions of popular culture, Pop Art expressed a camp sensibility.

arts >> Overview:  Set and Costume Design

Set and costume design for stage and film are fields that have attracted a large number of talented gay men and lesbians.

arts >> Duchamp, Marcel

One of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Marcel Duchamp desired to break down all linguistic, sexual, and social restraints.

arts >> Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)

The first international fashion superstar, Halston dressed and befriended some of America's most glamorous women.

arts >> Haring, Keith

In his all-too-brief lifetime, gay American artist Keith Haring produced simple yet sophisticated images that reached a worldwide audience and transcended differences of race, nationality, gender, age, and sexual orientation.

arts >> Indiana, Robert

Robert Indiana, best known as the creator of the LOVE series of paintings and sculptures, is an openly gay American artist who has incorporated autobiographical and gay themes within his work.

arts >> Johns, Jasper

Known for his iconic yet cryptic paintings, acclaimed American artist Jasper Johns is a key figure in the transition from Modernism to Post-Modernism.

arts >> Rauschenberg, Robert

One of the most prolific and innovative artists of the late twentieth century, Robert Rauschenberg was at the core of a group of interdisciplinary artists who revolutionized American art.

arts >> Robinson, Jack

Photographer Jack Robinson came to prominence as a result of the stunning fashion and celebrity photographs he shot for magazines in the 1960s, but he also created significant images that document the gay subculture of New Orleans in the 1950s.

literature >> Sontag, Susan

Although she treated her own lesbianism as a strictly private matter, Susan Sontag wrote perceptively on gay male figures and issues.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker)

Although Andy Warhol is generally remembered either for a single film--Sleep (1963)--or for works that he did not actually direct, his contribution to gay cinema is incalculable.


    Bibliography
   

Bockris, Victor. The Life and Death of Andy Warhol. New York: Bantam, 1989.

Crone, Rainer. Andy Warhol. New York: Praeger, 1970.

McShine, Kynaston, ed. Andy Warhol: A Retrospective. New York: Musem of Modern Art, 1989.

Rosenblum, Robert. "Andy Warhol: Court Painter to the 70s." Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s. David Whitney, ed. New York: Random House, 1979. 8-21.

Silver, Kenneth. "Modes of Disclosure: The Construction of Gay Identity and the Rise of Pop." Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition, 1955-62. Russell Ferguson, ed. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art; New York: Rizzoli International, 1992. 179-203.

Sontag, Susan. "Notes on 'Camp.'" Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1964. 275-92.

Summers, Robert. "Taking the Swish out of Warhol." www.advocate.com (June 24, 2002): http://www.advocate.com/html/stories/867/867_warhol.asp

Warhol, Andy, and Pat Hackett. POPism. The Warhol '60s. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Holliday, Peter J.  
    Entry Title: Warhol, Andy (as artist)  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 17, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/warhol_a_artist.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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