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Andy Warhol: Beyond Fashion, Fame and Pop Art

Studio 54 regular Andy Warhol went out every night, promoting the self-styled fame with which we are now familiar. A new show at Tate Modern (sadly now closed until 1st June) reveals how the artist’s personal life influenced his work, highlighting an intellectual and spiritual depth not obviously associated with Pop Art. 

Here we get to meet Andy the mothered and mothering son; Andy the gay lover; Andy the victim of violent crime; Andy the wig wearer; Andy the closet fine artist - dealing with themes such as religion, death and destruction - and demonstrating an all-consuming curiosity for the people and things around him.  A poignant meditation on faith, mortality and immortality, Sixty Last Suppers (see featured image for this post), created following the death of his partner from an AIDS-related illness, and shortly before his own, is in fact a timeless portrayal of loss – perhaps even more emotive in the era of Covid-19?

Born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928, another thread in the exhibition charts the story of his family’s migration to the USA, from what is now part of Slovakia, and its effect upon his creative output. Warhol was one of the first artists to fuse fashion, art, film, media, music and celebrity in a vast body of work, ranging from early graphic design, self-portraits, photography, film, installations, large scale screen-printed canvases, diaries and magazines such as Interview, which pioneered the interviewing of stars by stars. 

As well as neon-painted celebrities, Warhol is also well known for his iconographic depictions of common objects, giving the name ‘Commonism’ (later termed Pop Art) to artists’ representations of everyday items. His Philosophy includes the famous quote: “America started the tradition whereby the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest… The President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke.” 

Warhol showed this 100 Campbell's Soup Cans painting (1962) in his first major exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, playing on the idea of value in art and the consumerism of post Second World War society. Shortly afterwards he stacked 100 White Brillo Boxes (1964) on top of each other as in a warehouse, and the production line of activity involved in painting the plywood boxes led to the naming of his studio, The Factory. 

Tate Modern’s exhibition extends to the gallery’s restaurants, where special menus offer Warhol related food and drinks, including ‘Tuna Fish Disaster’ and ‘Coca-Cola Jelly’. The shop also offers retro-inspired wares for the contemporary consumer, including Campbell’s soup can tote bags, skateboards and rucksacks. Or, if you prefer truly unique, sustainable clothing, there’s an original, one-off Campbell’s soup can inspired vintage Fiorucci sweatshirt available at ShopCurious. Do You? 

Andy Warhol was due to run at Tate Modern from 12th March until 6th September 2020, but the gallery is currently closed until 1st June.

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