Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Warhol was just putting us on

Read an article on grunge.com today about Andy Warhol.

’ "Andy Warhol's Oxidation paintings, perhaps more than any other series in his oeuvre, embody a striking paradox: they are at once aesthetically rich and gleefully transgressive," reads the description of The Oxidations on the website of upscale auction house Christie's. According to the site, one of the paintings, which features a coppery background interrupted by green splotches, sold for nearly $1.9 million back in 2008....Its surface offers up sensual delight in its coppery iridescence, and its composition is enlivened by elegant splashes that radiate outward with visceral energy," ‘

Warhol and one of his assistants urinated on a copper-coated canvas to produce what some call his “piss paintings.” Artwork which, according to Christies, which sells absurdly expensive art pieces, are “aesthetically rich” and “offers up sensual delight.” Of course to command the prices Christies does, they have to convince buyers that the works at auction are worth the dollars spent. Art galleries, by contrast, do seem to make some effort towards identifying and supporting new talent. The auction houses, handling works by established artists, exist to extract the maximum revenue from each sale. And they prove that the value of any object is whatever people are willing to pay for it.

Lest we forget, Sotheby’s, the other outrageously expensive auction house, got over a million dollars for a Banksy painting that shredded itself immediately after being sold. So what’s the point? I think the point is that both Warhol and Banksy recognized that the people who buy stuff, especially arty stuff, at places like Christie’s and Sotheby’s have more money than brains. Or maybe they’re laundering ill-gotten gains from selling drugs or guns or trafficked people. Whatever the source of their money, Christie’s and Sotheby’s customers will pay big bucks for just about anything.

Warhol undoubtedly learned about the relationship between art and commerce as a commercial illustrator, his earliest professional experience. And it could not have escaped his notice that there are lots and lots of talented, skilled artists around, especially in New York City; he was just one among many. The lesson that I surmise he learned is that very few artists can ever maintain recognition of their work over the long haul; the influencers of the art scene are fickle and their followers are shallow. So Warhol switched from making art to attaining fame and fortune by encouraging people to convince themselves that anything that came from The Factory, his industrial-chic studio, was wonderful because why else would all the glitterati be hanging out there?

It’s important to remember that Warhol was a “real” artist – I mean, he could draw and everything. In fact, his drawings were quite nice: Unseen Warhol drawings. His early work was quite respectable Matisse-influenced-trending-toward-expressionism painting. Warhola early art. But even in 1947 his work was often tongue-in-cheek: Two Dogs Kissing?! And in 1959, he collaborated with Suzie Frankfurt to publish Wild Raspberries, a set of lithographs of fantasy “recipes,” such as Greta Garbo Omelette, Baked Hawaii, and Roast Iguana Andulusian. The last one doesn’t have a recipe since “this reptile is not met with on the American market...suffice it to say they are prepared like the burmese lizard.” Wild Raspberries on Pinterest. I wish I could afford to buy a copy of the collection – it goes for 10 to 15 grand at Christies – because never have I seen such a perfect sendup of the pretensions of rich foodies. Somebody needs to send one of these to Gwyneth Paltrow.

And from this beginning grew the Campbell’s soup can paintings and the derivative silk screen prints of other people’s work, e.g. photos of famous beauties like Taylor and Monroe along with rhinoceroses and elephants. He stopped bothering to create anything original, because nobody really cares anyway. The perfect banality of these works holds a mirror to the taste, or lack thereof, of those who buy art as an investment. It doesn’t matter what the picture is, or if it moves the viewer, it’s just another commodity. I think Warhol realized this and based his later career on the quintessentially American assumption that there’s a sucker born every minute.

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