With galleries and museums finally opening up in post lockdown life, I secured my ticket for the Tate Modern’s Warhol exhibition in a hot minute. Possibly one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, there are fewer names bigger in art history than Andy Warhol. This major exhibition explores Andy’s life and art in twelve rooms; from his roots as Andy Warhola, to one of his final works ‘The Last Supper.’
With iconic artworks on display including the Coca Cola, never before seen artworks and the Marilyn Monroe creations; this exhibition is an incredible retrospective of an artist that saw the world through different eyes.
The silver-lined walls of The Factory, muses, the Velvet Underground; all the icons from the pinnacle New York 60s art scene were there. The recreation of Andy’s famous experimental art studio was like being immersed in Manhattan at one of the most exciting times for art (in my humble opinion).
Room 3 was the ‘Pop Room’ and, as this is one of my favourite art movements, it is where I spent most of my time. At the start of the 1960s, Andy began creating pictures that were a combination of advertising imagery with painting. The graphic style that emerged from this, became universally known as ‘Pop Art.’
In this room was one of my favourite artworks of all time, the ‘Marilyn Diptych.’ For me, this was the highlight of the exhibition. I never thought that I would see this piece in person and was taken aback when I found myself standing in front of it. Having only seen it in reproduced prints before, nothing could have prepared me for the enormous scale of the artwork and being able to see all of the texture and technique up close.
‘Marilyn Diptych’ produced in 1962, is a painting of two halves. The left side boasts a bright and vibrant image that is repeated many times over; whilst the right side shows the same image in a black and white format that gradually loses its presence as it becomes fainter across the print. The image of Marilyn embodied themes that were central to Pop Art; death, celebrity and pop culture. The fading effect of the black and white Marilyn images evoke the passing away of the actress whilst the juxtaposition of the bold, colourful images contrasted with the black and white are symbolic of life and death. Similarly, Warhol represents Marilyn’s celebrity status through the repetitive image of her thus demonstrating her constant presence in the media.
Warhol’s selection of Marilyn shows how accurate his image choice was. More than fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe is still regarded as an icon and relevant to modern day pop culture as a symbol of style, fame and celebrity.
Another artwork in this room, was the ‘Red Race Riot.’ This was another incredible moment for me to see an artwork by Andy in person that I had studied in my degree.
‘Red Race Riot’ is a screen print that consists of a series of images of police and Alsatian dogs that are repeated several times across a red canvas. The work is reminiscent of Warhol’s view of being a machine in that a mechanical method has been used in order to produce the piece. Similarly, the repetition of the images also refers back to Warhol’s machine concept as they have been produced over and over again just as a machine would perform the same action again and again. The types of image that has been selected for Red Race Riot depict brutality and the selection of this kind of image echoes Warhol’s idea that if a shocking image is repeatedly viewed eventually there is no impact on the viewer. The image is repeated several times in Red Race Riot as though Warhol is numbing the viewer’s reaction to that particular image and gives the work a lack of emotion and feeling – like a machine.
The commercial aspect of screen printing and the same image replicated over and over again, referenced the new age of mass production. Even the name of Andy’s art studio ‘The Factory,’ the site of these new silk screen artworks created by screen printing, alluded to the manufacturing industry.
Also featured in this retrospective was a recreation of Andy’s art studio ‘The Factory.’ The creative space was so famous it carries as much weight as Studio 51. The room dedicated to capturing The Factory, was covered in silver and contained photographs and films of the muses and group of people that spent their time in The Factory, most famous of all, Edie Sedgwick. Andy’s films featured his ‘superstars’ and were unscripted videos of human behaviour for the viewer to observe – they were left to their own devices. These show how ahead of his time that Andy was; from an early form of reality TV, portraits of trans women, even his silver hair have a strong presence in our present day culture.
The Warhol exhibition takes you on a journey through Andy’s life and art and includes his personal artefacts and only serves as a testament to his extraordinary take on the world and contemporary culture. Through his fresh view on the new age of consumerism, the cult of celebrity and mass production, Andy Warhol changed the face of modern art with his new style.
Warhol is on at the Tate Modern now and has been extended until 15th November 2020 due to the coronavirus lockdown from March to July.