A retrospective of the works of Andy Warhol opens Saturday (May 25) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The American pop artist is being celebrated for his influence on the art world.
Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. The illustrator-turned-artist is almost as famous today, and is probably better respected, than he was at the time of his death 15 years ago.
Warhol soared to fame in the early 1960s by presenting ordinary objects, like a Campbell's Soup can, in novel ways. Heiner Bastian organized the exhibition, first shown as the New National Gallery in Berlin and later at the Tate Modern in London.
He notes the artist used commonplace images, often repeated in sequences with varied colors and shading. "He did something that was much more different than any of his contemporaries," he says. "I think with Andy Warhol, the so-called artist's metaphysics (traditional art theories) comes to an end. His source material is just life, and he tries to bridge the duality between life and art. He doesn't invent; his paintings have no light. They have no pictorial space. Everything we see, we have seen before, in some magazines, in journals, in newspapers."
The Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MOCA, is presenting some 250 paintings, drawings and sculptures by the artist. Andy Warhol's films will also be screened at three Los Angeles locations in conjunction with the exhibit. Film critic Bruce Hainley is guest curator for the screenings, which show the artist's unconventional approach to film-making. "We start with the static objects or subjects, a man sleeping or the Empire State Building, the camera watching this object or this person for, in the case of the Empire State Building, eight hours, in the case of the man asleep, four-and-a-half hours," he says. "But I think what people will see, if they participate and give themselves over to the films, is that like the objects themselves, they can be entered on many different levels."
Mr. Hainley says some of Warhol's films even have plots and story lines, and explore Hollywood movie genres from Westerns to melodramas.
This is the first major Warhol retrospective to come to Los Angeles in 30 years. But the artist had ties with the city, which was home to the Hollywood celebrities that he idolized. Warhol's silk-screened portraits of many are in the exhibition, from Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley.
Many Warhol illustrations were brightly colored and cheerful. But curator Heiner Bastian notes the artist was fascinated with images of disaster. His themes include an electric chair and car crash. "In his work, there is a tragic moment," he says. "He painted the portrait of Marilyn Monroe at the beginning of his career in August of 1962, and since then, there was all this death of disaster. And that followed him in the path of his work until the end of his life."
Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, and Warhol had a brush with death himself in 1968, when a disturbed female acquaintance shot and seriously wounded him. He recovered to resume his work and died at age 58 in 1987, following complications from routine surgery.
The Los Angeles exhibition presents a potpourri of classic 20th century images, from China's Chairman Mao Zedong to Jackie Kennedy. And there are many pictures of Warhol, whose self-portrait was a 1960s icon.
The exhibit organizers say Andy Warhol's importance transcends his role as a celebrity artist. Curator Heiner Bastian says he shattered old distinctions in the art world. "I think it's the most radical way a painter showed us life in the last century," he says.
Film critic Bruce Hainley says Warhol showed us life from a new perspective. He says the artist also taught us that art need not be pretentious. "I think one of the reasons that Warhol remains such an interesting figure, particularly in the films but also in the art, which is more known by people, is that he ruptures what we think of as these easy distinctions between art and what people might think of as fun," he says. "And I think he brings them together in a really great way."
Andy Warhol spent most of his career in New York, but Los Angeles is the only U.S. location for the Warhol retrospective. MOCA director Jeremy Strick says in view of Warhol's ties here, it is an appropriate venue. His first solo exhibition, of 32 Campbell's Soup cans, was at the city's legendary Ferus Gallery in 1962.
The Warhol Retrospective is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art through August 18.