It has been exactly a year since the ‘Transmitting Andy Warhol’ exhibition at Tate Liverpool. The exhibition incorporated all aspects of Warhol’s work, from screen prints, album covers, magazine cuttings and perhaps most interestingly his films.
The exhibition begins in familiar yet fabulous territory with his legendary silk screen prints from The Factory. The first work we see is ‘Flowers’, an exploration of colour in a structured yet fairly abstract form and composition. This leads to another interesting work called ‘Painting By Numbers’ which features just that, Warhol’s mockery of the art world through a childlike representation of painting. This works wonderfully with a painting displaying dance steps, which is placed on the floor. This almost creates a theme of learn how to dance, learn how to paint. It also references the perceived simplicity of Warhol’s work.
Across from this is the ‘Marilyn Diptych’ displaying the demise of her physical and mental stability in her later years. this is shown through parts of the screen print being blurred or greyed out. Warhol’s obsession with celebrities and celebrity culture can be seen in much of his work, including his screen prints of Elizabeth Taylor. Warhol was fascinated by brands and he saw celebrities as brands themselves. For example, to go and see a film with Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, would be buying into their brand.
Consumerism is center to Andy Warhol’s work, at Tate Liverpool a selection of his iconic Campbell’s Soup Can prints are on display. These reference consumerism in way that art is becoming part of consumerism itself, with art by certain artists (including Warhol) becoming desirable and fashionable as a brand with little regard for the actual artwork itself. Therefore, comparing it to a soup can. Warhol’s mechanic factory style approach to making art takes this further by literally creating works like the Brillo Box sculptures. When asked about his Coca-Cola pop art works, he said “the man on the street drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke”. He saw the brands as a universal connection between everyone, and by drinking Coca-Cola you are becoming a slight bit closer to Elizabeth Taylor.
It is easy to forget the work Warhol created for the music industry including the album cover for The Rolling Stones 1971 Sticky Fingers album. Not to mention the banana artwork for the Warhol produced Velvet Underground’s first album. By creating album artwork he really did make art popular, everyone could own a Warhol.
Warhol was a carefully controlled brand himself, often contrary and contrived he created an image for himself. This is shown in the later part of the exhibition, where Polaroid self-portraits are shown. Many of which were taken after he was shot in 1971.
Although his screen prints are considered quite mainstream in today’s world (even though they were not at the time), his films could still easily be thought of as avant-garde today. For example, his eight hour long film of one of his friends sleeping is still strange and somewhat unsettling. a film featured in the exhibition is ‘Empire’. shortly created after the Empire State Building started being lit up at night, it just features an almost still shot of the building. This once again shows his rebellion by using moving image to focus on a still object.
A section of the exhibition directly focuses on the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a live performance project created by Warhol in the late sixties. It comprised of his band The Velvet Underground, german singer Nico along with performances from Warhol’s actors and ‘factory superstars’, a lightshow and projections. Unfortunately, no footage of the performances actually exists, so the Tate recreates the environment by using clips from Warhol’s films ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico: A Symphony Of Sound’, ‘Vinyl’ and screentests from the time. This creates an excellent representation and makes the entire exhibition. The soundtrack of a rare live Velvet Underground recording takes the audience back to 1968. The lightshow and projections had also been included. Screentests are Warhol’s living portraits, he created one for almost everyone who entered The Factory, so it is great to see so many of them in one exhibition.
Warhol is an artist with an influence that can be seen everywhere, in design, advertising and in contemporary art through the Brit art movement, in particular Damien Hirst. The Tate makes a fantastic job of collecting selected works from his career and displaying them in a way that really shows the viewer the versatility of Andy Warhol.
Image: Montage by Merge Contemporary Art using ‘Marilyn’ (1967) and ‘Self-Portrait’ (1986) by Andy Warhol/Andy Warhol Foundation/Tate