Andrej Warhola alias Andy Warhol was born in 1928, in Pittsburgh, the son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia. In 1945, he began his studies of Design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh. After graduating in 1949, he moved to New York where he changed his name to Andy Warhol. In New York, he worked as a free-lance graphic artist and as an illustrator for journals and magazines such as Life, Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar. He received several design awards for his work. From 1953 to 1955, he worked as a stage designer for a chamber theater with Dennis Vaughn as director. After returning from a journey around the world, he did his first paintings with Pop motifs, Coca Cola bottles, and comic figures in 1960. In 1962, first paintings with dollar bills and soup cans followed, along with first depictions of stars and the catastrophe series.
As opposed to Claes Oldenburg or Roy Lichtenstein, Warhol integrated his Pop Art into the commercial environment that he takes up in his motifs. And he pursued this strategy from the very beginning of his career. His work is characterized by the images of the world of advertising and popular culture, by Hollywood stars, comic and cartoon motifs such as Mickey Mouse or Superman – all done in the loud colors of advertising. First with drawings, then with silkscreens in editions, Warhol turned to objects of everyday use, to products and images from the mass media. His techniques and artistic methods: the close-up, strong contrasts of form and color, schematic simplification of form, or the serial character of motif and picture, create visible links to the earlier genre of advertisement.
»Do it yourself,« the motto Warhol also used as a title for his pictures (Do It Yourself (Beach), 1962) may suggest Warhol’s pictorial strategy for »everybody,« the modeling of some of his works on coloring books. It may also refer to Mona Lisa, 30 are better than one, a postcard from 1963 in 30 copies. Here, Warhol ironically took up a central theme of his work: the tension between original and reproduction, the reproducibility and mediality of art – themes he also dealt with in his pictures of accidents (Plane crash, 1962). Warhol followed a similar path with his pictures of stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, that were soon received as Pop Art icons. Moreover, there were the pictures of the Campbell’s Soup Cans, sometimes done as series, which he first showed at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Done as panel pictures in at least 86 variants, they foreground the everyday world of commodities and products. Warhol denied the concept of artistic production, suggesting that art which mutates into commodities produces itself, making the artist obsolete. »Machines have fewer problems, I would like to be a machine« is Warhol’s dictum drawing on Marcel Duchamp. The Pop artist thus declared his own exit from art.
In 1963, Walhol moved into his famed second studio, the »Factory« in Manhattan. It became a meeting point and an experimental stage for the New York art and music scene. Here, Warhol created his legendary Brillo Boxes with which he extended his focus on products and commodities into the realm of the object. With a film camera and a Polaroid camera, Warhol systematically captured the visitors and documented what went on in the studio. Numerous videos and film works were created as well as feature films done with his assistant Gerard Malanga and with photographer Billy Name. These works that were compared to Ready-mades because of their citations of reality, again significantly expanded Warhol’s spectrum of artistic expression and provided important impulses for a whole series of pictorial and cinematic as well as media art approaches: The static camera gaze of the often uncut videos (Sleep, 1963; Eat, 1964; Empire, 1964) is directed at persons and objects and seems to anticipate the perspective of today’s webcams. Yet voyeuristic moments in productions such as Blow Job from 1964, or The Chelsea Girls, 1967, as well as absurd plots and dialogues in the collaborative film works done with script writer Ronal Tavel, also characterize this phase of Warhol’s work. Lightshows, some of them done for the band »Velvet Underground,« multimedia shows (Exploding Plastic Inevitable, 1966), the editorship of his journal Inter/VIEW (1969), or his work as theater writer (Pork, 1971) are further facets of Warhol’s diverse artistic projects at the time.
When Warhol was heavily injured in an attack in 1968, his work as a director came to a sudden end. He now increasingly turned towards the panel picture again, accepted commissions for portraits (Peter Ludwig, 1980; Hubert Burda, 1983), worked as society photographer; and did reportages. With commissions also from the car industry (BMW M1 Art Car, 1979), as a guest in advertising and TV productions, with his own »Andy Warhol Television,« with the creation of record covers (among them covers for Diana Ross, »Silk Electric«, 1982; Aretha Franklin, »Aretha«, 1986) or his own journal, Warhol again emphasized the links with advertisement. His self-marketing and the marketing of his works in the 1970s and 1980s were exceptionally successful. Art critics sometimes saw this as a trivialization or a flattening of Warhol’s formerly critical dealings with popular culture and his use of the media and related it to Warhol’s withdrawal from the art scene.
In the 1980s, Warhol’s artistic collaboration with members of a younger generation of artistis, such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francisco Clemente, was partially owed to the encouragement of gallerist Bruno Bischofsberger, who had strategically planned the joined presentation of the artists. Yet with these collaborations, a kind of figurative painting emerged that reconnected with earlier directions in Warhol’s work and kept challenging artistic claims to originality. It again synthesized artistic techniques, personal specificities, and mutual commentaries and was at the same time based on a collaborative production process. In the 1980s, about 100 such collaborative works emerged (Ten Punching Bags, 1985 — 86), using company logos, newspaper texts, and advertising motifs, commenting them in alternating order.
Through exhibitions, Warhol’s works were brought to an enormously broad audience: Gallery exhibitions started in New York in the 1950s and 1960s (Bodley Gallery, Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend), and since the mid-1960s, Warhol’s works have been shown in international museum exhibitions. In 1968, they were exhibited at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, in 1971, at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1980, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. With intermissions, Warhol participated in the Venice Biennale between 1968 and 1995, and was part of the Documenta in 1968, 1977, and 1982. Recently, Warhol’s works were shown at the Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf and at the Kumstmuseum St. Gallen (both in 2004), and at the Albertina, Vienna (2007).
Andy Warhol died in 1987, in New York.
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The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné 1948 — 1987, hg. v. G. Frei u. N. Printz, London 2002
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Andy Warhol. Cars. Die letzten Bilder: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Bern, hg. v. W. Spies, Stuttgart 1990