âAndyâs going to feed a lot of artists for a long time,â predicted Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler in 1973. Nearly four decades later, Geldzahler âs prophecy is truer than ever, with increasingly many careers built on ideas Warhol pioneered. A new exhibition at the Met, called Regarding Warhol, samples the work of sixty artists most obviously indebted to him, including Jeff Koons, David Hockney and Cindy Sherman. But Warhol has not only fed a lot of artists in the fifty years since he emerged as prince of Pop. His ideas have resonated in television and advertising and nearly every other area of popular culture. And that may be his most important legacy, given that his work bulldozed the traditional artistic boundaries of gallery and museum. As he famously wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, âbusiness art is the step that comes after art.â
How can Warholâs art feed creativity beyond the art world? In tribute to Regarding Warhol, and in the spirit of unapologetic aesthetic embezzlement, here are five lessons to be consumed.
1) Crossbreed. One of the most recognizable American products is a can of Campbellâs Soup. Some of the most recognizable American artworks are Warholâs Campbellâs Soup Cans. This is no coincidence, nor was it an accident that his first exhibition of Campbellâs Soup Can paintings â at the Ferus Gallery in 1962 â effectively launched his career in Pop art. At the time, a gallery down the block put dozens of Campbellâs Soup cans in the window under a sign derisively offering three for sixty cents, but Warholâs unlikely cross-branding benefited everyone. His trademark Pop aesthetic became so powerful that his paintings are hitting $80 million at auction, and Campbellâs is now selling a Warhol-labeled version of their soups at Target.
2) Appropriate. In 1964, a woman named Patricia Caulfield sued Andy Warhol for copyright infringement after he swiped a photograph of hibiscus flowers sheâd published in Modern Photography, a perfectly banal picture that he enlarged and recolored for his Flowers paintings. By no means was that his only theft, nor was he trying to hide his sources. (His portrait of Jackie Kennedy in particular retained the low-res quality of the newspaper from which he clipped it.) Yet it would be a mistake to think of him as an intellectual property kleptomaniac. The trick in his work was to render the banal monumental. Even when it involves stealing, appropriation can be more creative than creation.
3) Delegate. Before there was crowdsourcing, there was Warholâs Factory. And even before the Factory, there was Andy Warhol himself, wheedling ideas out of friends. According to some accounts, in 1961 he asked the gallerist Muriel Latow for suggestions about what he should make. She proposed that he paint money, or âsomething you see everyday that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbellâs Soup.â He paid her fifty dollars for her thoughts. At the Factory, Warhol delegated everything from the production of paintings to the signing of his name. He also let assistants impersonate him in interviews, answering questions in any way they chose, outsourcing his persona. The result is one of the most heterogeneous bodies of work (and least reliable biographies) in the history of art. Was Warhol the author? Does it matter?
4) Obfuscate. For the 1972 presidential race, Warhol produced an edition of silkscreen prints featuring an image of Richard Nixon in Day-Glo colors. Evidently it was an endorsement of Nixonâs opponent â the prints were donated to a McGovern fundraiser with the line âVote McGovernâ scribbled beneath it â yet the meaning is what you make of it. Thatâs all the more true with his paintings and prints of Mao, produced using the same technique, a method he first perfected in his portraits of Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Warholâs bright colors and flat surface accentuate celebrity to the exclusion of character. Aesthetically his Mao and Marilyn are virtually interchangeable. What sets them apart is up to the viewer. In other words, Warhol was not only crowdsourcing making. He also crowdsourced meaning.
5) Repeat. Thirty Are Better Than One. Thatâs the name Warhol gave to his version of the Mona Lisa, silk-screened thirty times on the same canvas. Likewise, he used many of his own images â if they can be called his own â over and over again. His ambition, he often said, was to be a machine. (âMachines have less problems.â) Of course he wasnât one, and regularly returning to old work â imperfectly â resulted in endless variety. Copying repeatedly produces boundless originality.