Andy Warhol – Tate Modern

11th August 2020

“ART IS WHAT YOU GET AWAY WITH” Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was the son of immigrants who became an American icon. A shy gay man who became the hub of New York’s social scene. An artist who embraced consumerism, celebrity and the counter culture – and changed modern art in the process.

He was born in 1928 as Andrew Warhola to working-class parents from present day Slovakia. In 1949 he moved from Pittsburgh to New York. Initially working as a commercial illustrator, his skill at transforming the imagery of American culture soon found its realisation in his ground-breaking pop art.

This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. Twenty-five works from his Ladies and Gentlemenseries – portraits of black and Latinx drag queens and trans women – are shown for the first time in 30 years.

Popularly radical and radically popular, Warhol was an artist who reimagined what art could be in an age of immense social, political and technological change.​

Tate Modern tate.org.uk

Introduction

I have always felt the buzz that surrounds the name Andy Warhol. I have friends who do not like the celebrity side of Warhol or even his works. I on the other hand believe that the celebrity life style is an integral part of that which made Warhol’s history, gave him ideas and opportunities to explore which shaped the art world from then onwards.

The exhibition was constructed of twelve rooms. The Tate according to the above video were primarily concerned with Andy Warhol as an artist without the hype and looked at three specific themes which were Warhol as an immigrant, his sexual identity and death and religion. I however just didn’t see these three themes as being focused in on, especially as they say in their video that they didn’t include the ‘hype’ but they did. One room was specifically about the Silver Factory and showed photographs of the time as well as the work. Also the vast array of work covered more than these themes and did look at the infamous work such as the Marilyn pictures.

In fact the introduction within the free exhibition pamphlet on the first page states:

… This exhibition examines Warhol’s subject matter, his experiments with different media., and the way he cultivated his public identity. It draws attention to Warhol’s personal story, and how this affected his view of the world and the art he created.

Tate Modern – free pamphlet guide

The twelve rooms and their titles also show how vast the selection of work was chosen.

  1. Andrew Warhola
  2. Sleep
  3. Pop
  4. The Factory
  5. Silver Clouds
  6. Exploding Plastic Inevtable
  7. The Shooting
  8. Back to Work
  9. Ladies and Gentlemen
  10. Eposures
  11. Mortal Coil
  12. The Last Supper

3rd September 2020

Andy Warhol’s wigs were very interesting to see first hand especially as they are an iconic part of his history and his image. In a way for me, it was a little like getting up close to Warhol, simply because he had worn them on his head and they had been part of him.

3rd October 2020

Classics and Books

Although the exhibition included the well known classics such as the Brillo boxes and the Marilyn Monroe screen prints both of which can be seen below it also included work never before seen in the UK, as well as twenty-five works from his Ladies and Gentlemen series which have been shown for the first time in thirty years. I was as equally ecstatic to see the classics as I was his rarer work but I especially found it interesting to see the magazine ‘Interview’ which Warhol founded, books and also album covers present within the exhibition.

Ladies and Gentleman

The work shown in Room 9 was from the Ladies and Gentlemen series 1975, work that is very relevant today. The portraits show anonymous Black and Latino drag queens and trans women from New York a subject that even today is still overlooked in art.

Sixty last Suppers and Hammer and Sickle

It was the last room for me that I was particularly fond of primarily because you enter a dark room that reminded me at first as religious wall paper with the repeated last supper imagery running through it.

‘Sixty Last Suppers’ is a 10-metre wide canvas. I particularly enjoyed examining the work up close looking for differences within the repeated image. Differences such as ink blobs and smudges and uneven textures and images lines that were askew.

Walking along the work and then viewing it from the back of the room was similar to how I felt when I first attended a small evening prayer group at my local church where the lights are turned off except those by the alter in which we prayed. The dark exhibition room added to the atmosphere of the work and the powerful themes such as betrayal, crucifixion, death and afterlife were enhanced as was the roughness of the print which became raw to look at.

As I did with the ‘Sixty Last Suppers’ above, I looked for texture within the ‘Hammer and Sickle’ work which can be seen below.

Conclusion

As always I became very stimulated when I walked around the exhibition. The buzz that I was feeling made me want to go back home and unpack my art mediums such as my lino printing and drawing equipment.

The experience although exciting because of the content was also quite hard to navigate. This was the first exhibition that I had attended which required the rules set out for social distancing.

We began this new experience with masks on and safety queuing. Hand gels were beside the entrance as were two stewards but as I stepped near the masked ‘ticket checker’ to show him the tickets on my phone he dramatically stepped back as though I had the plague and my instant reaction was annoyance.

The tickets were timed entry this was to keep the public numbers low as you walked around the exhibition. This actually didn’t work out at all especially in the first few rooms. People were taking their time to read the wall information and to view the work and rightly so but this meant that the times people were to enter the exhibition changed as they had to be held back until those already in the exhibition had moved onto the next room.

My second annoyance was with another steward. As I was taking photographs, just as I had since the opening year 2000, a steward abruptly walked over and told me I was only allowed to take photographs without members of the public in them. Looking around at everyone else with their cameras and smart phones out I was perplexed at what to say.

I explained that I knew the rules for example not photographing members of staff without permission and not to take photographs that had security cameras in them. As for the general public being in a photograph, I explained if someone asked me to I would delete them from my camera. I then received a five minute lecture while others continued to shoot around me. In fact if you look and read other peoples blogs every single person has photographs with members of the public in them.

Putting the singling out down to her having PMT I continued as I usually would taking photographs with the general public in them. Nobody complained not even the other stewards in fact there were other photographers there with professional cameras and some were quite boisterous in their demeanour.

The one down side to the restrictions in the exhibition was with the interactive ‘Silver Clouds’ which were found in Room 5. Unfortunately the public were not allowed to touch them and they were kept at ceiling level more akin to real clouds.

The clouds that Warhol described as ‘paintings that float’ were above us, motionless.

At the end of the exhibition I was exhausted from the sheer amount of enthusiasm I had been displaying and the amount of information I was trying to take in.

Not only did I manage to see many, many of Warhol’s work but I also got to see the way the works are displayed. This is something I have been doing since enrolling on the OCA Foundations in Photography course. By looking at the methods of presenting both three-dimensional and two-dimensional work I am beginning to visualise how to present my own creations aesthetically.

I am also quite interested in how much of Warhol’s work came in book or magazine format an area which I have just started to explore myself by making my own books and having specific websites make them for me. I was also looking forwards to enrolling on the BA (Hons) in Photography as they had a book design course as part of the degree pathway but that unfortunately has been taken out this year.

There has been much I have learnt from visiting this exhibition whether it is more details connected with the life of Warhol and his work or how one can present their work for exhibition.

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