A glorious feast for the senses from the celebrated pop artist
This article is from 2007.
Andy Warhol is 20th century America. It is impossible to decide which came first. Did he create that nation’s brash, shiny, sexy yet sickening materialism, or is he a product of it? The exhibition of his work at the National Gallery makes it impossible to decide. Two floors are expertly crammed full, with room after room of his most iconic images: stars, dollar signs, Coke bottles and Brillo boxes.
In one gallery we find the gloriously gaudy visages of Hopper, Schnabel, Capote, Judy, Aretha and Dolly – enormous stars who only require one name. Warhol was obsessed by the idea of the ‘superstar’: everyday men and women lifted high above the rest of us by the adoring masses. Figures that inevitably, tragically are ripped to pieces and thrown away like the polaroids and press shots he used as subject matter.
Elsewhere, hung over his famous ugly cow-patterned wallpaper, are whole canvases covered in multi-coloured battle camouflage patterns, advertisements for paratrooper boots and enormous prints of guns. Death looms large in this exhibition: there are walls covered in 2m-high skulls, images of death and disaster on a grand scale, gangster funerals and movie stills of dead people turned into ‘gallery machines’.
There’s a large number of his early rarely seen drawings and designs advertising shoes and handbags on show, images demonstrating that his obsession with consumerism reaches right back to the mid-50s. His ink drawings of beautiful ephebic boys from this period, licking their lips and staring out at the viewer, are constructed out of confident, sinuous lines that reveal his mastery as a draftsman. The sparseness and lack of superfluous details that marks his later silkscreen prints is here, from the very beginning of his career.
This is an excellent retrospective of Warhol’s work, a celebration of life and death that takes your breath away.
National Gallery of Scotland, 624 6200, until 7 Oct, Mon–Wed & Fri–Sun 10am–5pm; Thu 10am–7pm, £8 (£6).