Andy Warhol is arguably one of the most iconic artists of his time. Mention his name and soup cans, Coke bottles, Mao and Marilyn immediately come to mind. By making the production of art inseparable from its marketing, Warhol helped transform popular culture into an art movement. Yet, because his work is so accessible and recognizable, its complexity and sophistication often elude.
To bring that complexity into focus, the Neuberger Museum of Art
has organized Andy Warhol: Subject and Seriality, a new exhibition, in which Warhols method of repeating images of his subjects in various and multiple ways concurrently and across time, and in diverse media is explored. Included are the artists prints, photographs, and multiples, created between the 1960s and 1980s, that come from the Neuberger Museum of Arts own collection and those of four other Hudson Valley museums, and various galleries and foundations. The exhibition is the last of a collaborative effort known as Warhol x 5 in which the five museums each examined unique aspects of the artists iconic approach to his subject matter.
In Subject and Seriality, the works, many of which have not been seen publicly before, demonstrate Warhols methodology and experimentation, leading one to consider the evolution of his thought. The exhibition features over 40 works that include images of Jacqueline Kennedy,; Marilyn Monroe; Janet Villella (Warhols close friend and a ballerina with the New York City Ballet); and artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein. The works are interesting as there are slight variations from print to print, and there can be differences between seriality and variation, even within the same print.
As Warhol experimented across media throughout his career, explains Ms. Shilkoff, he activated the inherent properties of each medium to reconsider subjects through formal means. This synthesis of media and subject, these reiterations and cycles of subjects over years, show Warhol presenting a subject that becomes an object of memory, the mediation of memory, rendering his familiar work far more immediate and revolutionary.
The show features a work from the Neuberger Museums collection, Portraits of the Artists from Ten from Leo Castelli, a portfolio of prints and multiples of artists in the Castelli stable. Castelli, an influential gallerist in the second half of the twentieth century, was instrumental in fostering the acceptance of Pop art. The portfolio was created on the tenth anniversary of the Castelli Gallery. The exhibition also highlights portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy before and after JFKs assassination, drawn from the collections of the Neuberger, the Loeb and the Dorsky. A print portrait of Janet Villella is being shown next to the preparatory Polaroids that Warhol took, illustrating his technique and selective depiction of subjects.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1928, Warhol drew incessantly as a child, and was admitted to the Carnegie Museums prestigious young artists program, learning to sketch amid the exhibitions, and then to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1945, where his formal training in composition and color encompassed techniques in drawing, painting, graphic design and printmaking. This training exposed Warhol to Pittsburghs surprisingly avant-garde art scene, from the Carnegie Museums encyclopedic collection, to their International Exhibitions survey of contemporary and outsider art, to the Outlines Gallery, featuring work by Josef Albers, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham among others. Deciding to move to New York City following graduation, Warhol pursued a career in commercial illustration, gaining success in that competitive field over the course of ten years.
His determination, however, to become an artist led him to establish his own studio as a place of production and experimentation. Foundational to this transition was his training, professional experience and hands-on materialization of a concept. Years of deadline-driven repetition, revision and reconsideration of an original concept allowed Warhol to synthesize new ideas through the act of reiteration and serial production. After embarking on series of painted Campbells soup cans and hand-stamped Coke bottles, Warhol adopted the more mechanical print process of photographic silkscreen in 1962, for its balance between expeditious, consistent production and agile actualization of ideas.
John Coplans, Artforum founder, critic and artist, noted that redundancy is central to serial imagery in Warhols work. Serial forms also differ from the traditional concept of theme and variation
.In serial imagery, uniqueness is not the issue; the structure and composition are sufficiently inert so that all the paintings, even though they can be differentiated, appear to be similar. Basically, it is a question of a shift in emphasis. Theme and variation are concerned with uniqueness and serial imagery is not. Serial forms are visually boring; there is very often a low threshold of change from painting to painting. But each painting is replete in itself and it can exist very fully alone.
Andy Warhol: Subject and Seriality is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, and curated by Jacqueline Shilkoff, Curator of New Media and Director of Digital Initiatives.