A Dollar a Drella

Drella, Andy, Warhol, however you know him, is a great friend of mine.  After writing a thesis on him he would either have to be a great friend or a terrible enemy, you can’t spend a whole year focused on someone without it going one way or the other.  I set out studying him knowing that this was the case, and being pretty sure that I would still love him by the end of it.

Like any good romance it wasn’t love at first sight.  At first I thought him dull, pretentious, and all too obvious.  Which he still is of course, but I learnt that that in fact is his strength. Through the banality of his work, it’s immediacy and power he was a highly influential figure in the move from Modern to Contemporary Art.  He asked the question, “what is art” and answered it the only way he knew how, via his work, “it’s what I say it is.”  But despite the fact that this could been considered conceited this is ultimately true. And this watershed moment opened up art to the diversity and multiplicity we see today.

But I’m not here to rant about why I love Warhol so much, I am here to discuss a recent exhibition at the Jewish Museum, Warhol: Jewish Geniuses. Unfortunately part of Warhol’s mission to change the way we view art forever included a move from creating “art for arts sake” to creating “art for business sake”.  This is where my love for Warhol comes up with a problem.  Yes I agree that art can be business, very VERY big business in fact.  But does that mean the art he was making at that time was actually “good” art.  Now I have to put that in quotation marks because good art is always highly subjective but for me much of Warhol’s later works, give or take a few exceptions to the rule, were just business art, made purely for profit, not for Warhol or for any higher meaning than simply having yourself Warholed for all your friends to see.  Warhol’s Factory was a factory for a reason, he was literally churning out portraits which he had little more to do with then maybe choosing the colours and taking the original polaroid.  This could be argued to be “good” art because it challenges our high and mighty ideals about art, but as works themselves I do not find them worth more than a glance of my attention.  And remember I am saying this about one of my favourite artists.

So despite knowing how I feel about these works I still decided it would be worth my while to head out the St Kilda to visit my old friend in his new exhibition, after all it’s rare to see so many Warhol’s gathered in one place in Australia.  When this set of 10 screenprints were first shown in New York, the critics could not help but slam them.  They were called cold an unrevealing, something that would have been cause for offense had the rest of Warhol’s work not shown the same treatment of it’s subjects.  I tend to agree with this sentiment.  These works have none of the courage of Warhol’s earlier work, here he is in his comfort zone, going through the motions of business.  However this is not to say that you should not bother going to this exhibition, it is still very interesting both as a symbol of art as business, but also because of the last room which includes a series of very interesting video footage, both of Warhol and the Factory, and interesting interviews about the original critical response to the series, and interesting information about the geniuses portrayed.

So for $10, a dollar a screenprnt, this exhibition is worth the trip, but the genius here is not the work itself, rather it is Warhol’s ability to turn art into money, and the genius of those portrayed in themselves, but I feel like we didn’t need Warhol to point that one out to us.   

Andy Warhol’s Jewish Geniuses

Jewish Museum of Australia

Exhibition extended until 26 May 2015

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