Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Andy Warhol is a Black Hole/ Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting by Bradley Chriss


I am used to thinking: I fucking hate Andy Warhol. I don’t mean a casual dislike or a simple philosophical disagreement, I mean: I fucking hate Andy Warhol. I hate his personality, his work, his whole attitude, everything that I felt he represented. I hated “pop”, I hated his paintings, his films, his sculpture, his performance, everything. I felt like Andy and all of his activity was just a cheap ploy to make a buck. My perception of his work did not change a lot for me over time. In undergrad when I was learning how to be a purist/modernist, a single artist making sincere work and authorship, I thought his two-dimensional work was just silly, boring, pointless, good for the moment it was in, but bad for (A)rt as it evolved. I felt like it lacked any cross-generational self-sustaining quality, that Martin Johnson Heade had more laps in him than Warhol did. My ideas changed slowly about Andy. I graduated from undergrad with my lousy fucking B.F.A., got into a world where money was more and more important and really o.k. to get and make and use. So even though my core ideas about Andy never changed (still just a move to make a buck) I didn’t feel like it was a “cheap ploy” anymore, just a good one simply because he had more money than I had (have). But that’s no reason to like Andy’s work any more or less; other artists have been incredibly good at making money. I saw a Jasper Johns exhibit recently at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Target sponsored the event, and I began to think about how Target is getting involved in (A)rt and helping people in the lower and middle classes feel elegant and wealthier and more “in” with the upper class. I thought about how Target is a mediator between classes as a seller of a look and feeling of class. I then thought (approximately): Holy shit, Target is pulling a Warhol. I looked around the Johns show and all I could see was Warhol, everywhere.

I am now becoming accustomed to thinking: I am scared shitless of Andy Warhol.


"If you want to know about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it."

--Andy Warhol

“Andy Warhol’s cool, ironic pop masterwork “Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot)” of 1962 was the top lot of the evening. Larry Gagosian (on behalf of Los Angeles collector Eli Broad) beat out only one other buyer to acquire the work. Broad paid $11.77M to its consignor Irving Bloom who had acquired the painting in a trade with New York collectors Eugene and Barbara Schwartz in 1967. At just 20 by 16 inches, this hand painted oil on canvas from 1962 might be one of the most expensive per square inch Post-War works ever sold. Based on a black and white photograph by early Warhol collaborator Edward Wallowitch, this “distressed” version of the Campbell soup can anticipated the “disaster paintings” with their existential contemplation of the darker side of modern 20th century society.”- Brian Appel, artcritical.com July 2006

Let me be clear for a second, I have never studied Andy Warhol in a classroom. I never took a class on pop, or Warhol. My tastes (for better or worse) always landed me somewhere away from Warhol, somewhere with more guilt, somewhere weird where my hidden ex-protestant guilt for pleasure still resonated as a positive like somebody trapped in the German High Gothic. I have also had a tendency to believe myself too much. I would give myself a read on work or a body of work and stick to it for too long, I defined my art around “fuck you’s” to other art, in other words I always defined my work according to work existing around me instead of actually looking at my own work as critically or as vitally as others. Until three weeks ago Andy was a “fuck you”.


Life becomes an anomaly in Warhol, living things lose their claim to life, walk an edge, become vampires or zombies, things with a half-life. They sap their strength off of reality, feeding off of the real, only to show the real as weak, impermanent and doomed. Death becomes the norm as the dark matter seeps into the light. Warhol’s work to me is like Beckman’s Apocalypse (but in the round), the black paint becomes the sun/light/life, the dead take the place of the living, no wonder Beckman didn’t finish that thing, I would be scared shitless too. It is the half-life quality of Andy’s work that is a part of what makes him a poltergeist. When he died and his work still fed off of life, showing us the desire for life and the stupidity and weakness of it, Andy became a monster, hating and loving us, needing us for his work to continue, even though he was gone, buried in the void.

When I see shows of dead peoples work I tend to classify them in a “ghost” category. They are dead, no longer producing and this is what we have left of them, which is enough to put some work in a room and to attach their name to it, whether or not they would approve or disapprove. The “ghost” is the type of artist that works through their life and tries to achieve some goal while they’re living, surrendering all or most of their control over their work in death (presumably hoping that the work internally has self control). Andy Warhol is not a ghost. Andy Warhol is a Poltergeist. Andy, I believe, was very aware of his work after his death and wanted it to continue to evolve in a more controlled way. Interview magazine is still here, Basquiat is still hot shit, the Warhol foundation is perpetuating his goals, and he has his own museum/culture bunker. Andy is like Carnegie, in 100 years you’re still going to see new projects paid for with Andy’s money. Not only is he in the (C)anon, but he is still an active force in and around all types of art worlds.

But painting, sculpture and film and performance weren’t his only work. He was pretty good at making money.


The Gagosian had showed some Andy Warhol’s this past winter in New York on 21st and 24th Streets. I saw the show, it was fucking huge. The paintings were huge, the room they were in was huge, the gallery is huge, and the void of feeling I got, or didn’t get from the work was just as huge. I wrote it off, the void was too much, too disenfranchising. At places like the Gagosian, they don’t put the price tags next to the work, which means that the price of one piece in that show was enough to buy all the houses on the street I grew up on. This used to not be the case for Andy’s work. But, now it is the case, and now the work is all of a sudden different. Why? Andy’s work seems to emptying out faster and faster, the greater the dollar amount the less the work becomes about the subject it first appeared to discuss (but this may have always been the case). His work is only gaining in value at a rapid rate, the more his work gains value the more of a monument he becomes to himself, perpetuating the (C)ool from beyond the grave. I am now aware that one possibility of fulfilling (C)ool would be to own an Andy that costs more than my old neighborhood. But, I can still buy a t-shirt or poster or whatever at the online store, or at his museum. (C)ool is still accessible.

Warhol was a mediator, a mediator between all classes. He made (A)rt that everybody wanted. He constructed (C)ool and sold it to everybody. If you didn’t like his work, tough shit, he made it so that your work “ wasn’t like Warhol” not “ Warhol’s work isn’t like mine.” It is hard to tell what class Andy Warhol was a part of. He was all classes at different times in his life, but he tried to even himself out for everybody at all times too. Andy knew that the middle and lower class wanted to feel better, to feel good. They wanted to feel like the upper class, they wanted the sensations of pleasure that the rich had (and we still do). You wanted some Warhol, you could probably get it, even if it was a knock off it didn’t matter, at least you had the style, a resonance of the (C)ool. They wanted the feeling of drinking a Coke like/with Elizabeth Taylor permanently embedded in their lives. How anybody could get this feeling was the same access point, commodity. Andy was the guy who owned/owns commodity in (A)rt, hell even art. All a/(A)rt has to say yes or no to commodity, hence yes or no to Andy.


The living always seem to recognize their life by recognizing the dead. This recognition puts the living into the positive space, because the dead do not belong to our world any longer. It seems like people believe that the dead always position themselves against the living. The living, however, have to position themselves against a poltergeist. The poltergeist is a force, a thing to reckon against, it is not just an apparition, a poltergeist will try to manipulate the world which they no longer are a part of, try to reverse the role permanently. This typically does not seem to happen to often in art, it happens in governments, corporations, religions, but not art all that much, maybe with ideas, broad concepts, but individual artists, no way. What dead artist forces me to position myself against them? DaVinci? No. Titian? No. Duchamp? No. Warhol? YES. Why? Because Andy is the first artist to completely tie his a/(A)rt into every primary aspect of a culture. He is the first to take all aspects of access and catharsis in a capitalist, consumer middle class culture and use it and appropriate it. Andy and our culture became the same thing, they fused, he turned himself into a physical manifestation of the culture of American life, and it spoke through him like God should speak through a pope. When Andy died, so did our culture, like a sun collapsing on itself, but the death of the light does not mean the end of things, we just turned into something else, something recognizable (?).

Andy/America/Art became a black hole, because when he died everything was sucked into that void with him, inverting itself and presenting life as a position against the dead, no longer the dead being forced to position themselves to the living. Andy turned art and artists, capital a (A)rt or no, into a representation, a reflection in the mirror no longer needing the body to exist. We still recognize ourselves, but the recognition is a trick, a sleight of hand, what we, what I have become, I am not so sure. I am sure that

Andy swallowed all of the art and (A)rt in America (who knows where else?) and turned it all into a single void, a black hole, a void that has so many names and only one face.

Copyright: Andy Warhol museum

Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965

At the National Gallery, Washington D.C.

I’m from Ohio. I have spent most of my life in Ohio, poor and unable to travel. So my experience with Jasper Johns has been lived entirely through reproduction. I was exhilarated/excited/interested(?) to see this major survey of Johns work at the National here in Washington. The first weekend of the show being open I hopped on the green line down to the National. I find my way to the show, which is located in the east wing, and wham, I’m staring at a room full of Target.

Wow, this is the kind of show you almost only hear about in Ohio (sometimes a show of the scale will show up in Cleveland sometimes Toledo but not nearly enough). All of the early hits from 1955 to 1965 exemplifying everything I’ve learned about John’s from the text books: Doubled meanings, primary colors, targets, transcendence, tonal mastery, mechanical, sculptural, ephemeral, over all a tremendous challenge to Greenbergian notions of painting. His encaustic surfaces are delicate, meditated, colored body parts becoming a code that disappears once it is seen. Arms stretching from nowhere(somewhere?) past geometrical spheres reaching into an ether that hasn’t (hadn’t) been seen in art for centuries. Holy studio machines built onto canvas indicating long gone activity, but always pressing our imagination into wondering what the action was like for him, but also for us. Johns blurs the lines of how the viewer is accustomed to seeing themselves in relation to paintings. Should we shoot the target, should I move the ruler? The moment I imagine the action I have already shot the target and moved the ruler, a secret transgression holding strong in the imagination like a pubescent crush.

Just because the crush is pubescent, does not mean we should ignore the monumentality of the crush.

Goddamn, what is that chill? This show pamphlet seems awful heavy and cold, clammy almost. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. There’s a goddamn ghost in the room? How did that ghost get here? That is no ghost, that is a goddamn poltergeist. A poltergeist laughing, and hurting us, poking fun at the living and we can’t even see it, but it is here(there). How the fuck did Warhol get in the room?

“This exhibition is proudly sponsored by Target as part of its commitment to arts and education.” -The National Gallery Web Page.

What is Target doing here? What is Warhol doing here? Why does Target want to put on this show? It looks good I guess, it’s pretty funny, the play on Target, I guess? There’s more to this though. Target has recently been buying artists images and putting them on towels. Rob Pruitt and Kehinde Wiley are just two examples of artist who have agreed to put their work on Targets towels. Target has also been hiring famous fashion designers to make lines for the “every man” for a few years now. Why is Target making this foray into the ivory tower that is high art, why make a move into the canons of now and then?

Warhol just had a show at the Gagosian this past fall. Of course Warhol did not have the show because he is dead, however he did have the show because he is a poltergeist. Warhol had a direct tie with the everyday, the pop, people wanted to look Warhol, buy Warhol looking things, endless posters of Marilyn. Warhol being so closely tied with capital, makes the resale of his work not a posthumous condition like the high fetching prices of a Van Gogh, no the work is permanently tied to its perceived value, the cross generational revival and sale of Warhol’s work becomes more the subject than all the last suppers and Elvis’s and Marilyn’s Warhol could ever manufacture.

So what? What does this have to do with Jasper Johns and Target?

Target is employing a strategy that was invented by Warhol, make art accessible, immediate, and cool and then make some loot. Like Warhol, Target is selling a concept of coolness to the middle class, and even me the lower class. Target did not sponsor this event out of a moral need to educate people, they’re not helping anybody except the museum by doing this, and themselves I suppose. Popular culture sellers (whoever and whatever it/they is/are?) have noticed that one need not constantly invent new things to increase profit. One must simply wait ten or fifteen years and reintroduce something that was already popular. Introduce the old as if it was new. This is most common in kids toys and television shows: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Batman and on and on. Target is using more subtlety with the adults then with the kids, but the strategy is the same. Target is going to make art cool again, make art accessible, affordable and popular. Target is taking art out of the ivory tower and putting it on a towel.

The coolness and access that Target is selling is only a ruse though, just a cheap catharsis. Warhol’s work is only gaining in value, the insurance to have the John’s exhibit must have been astronomical. The art market is not slowing down, it only seems to grow and grow. The cost of work is not declining. So for a person like myself to be able to own a chunk of Wiley on a towel will provide me with a moment of joy, the joy of pretending to be of a class I have no access to, and only dream about. There is something noble about taking art out its ivory tower, and giving it to people in a way they can afford.

But, Warhol, Warhol is laughing, that goddamn poltergeist making/revealing(?) a joke out of one of the few ways most Americans know how to make themselves feel better. Warhol is taking my catharsis and appropriating it, even after his death. His work is constantly pointing to an increasing void of meaningful subject in a consumer lead culture. Warhol has become a black hole crushing all attempts by any mediator to bring art down from the upper crust into the lower. Warhol is pointing out and laughing, because he claimed ownership of that game, showing us the futility of our lower class catharsis, the rich still have rich stuff, and the poor, still have the poor stuff, as great a void as the last supper in silk screen, a growing banality spreading like a disease, like a quiet cultural epidemic.

The problem becomes this: Once I read that Target paid for this show on the back of my free pamphlet, Target becomes the mediator for me in a free museum, bringing Jasper down from the Upper Crust to me down in the Lower Crust, and as Target mediates Johns work to me, Warhol takes over, blanketing the show, showing me how much of a fool I am for wanting to enjoy this, that real enjoyment of this work would only come from a direct ownership of the objects.

Warhol’s poltergeist is laughing from just beyond where I can see it, but I know it’s there, killing any goddamn joy some poor jerk from Ohio can get seeing his first big Jasper Johns show.

p.s. Jasper, you should have said no, I would have waited for you.


tomislav said...


Anonymous said...

calm down child

Anonymous said...

Dude, I look forward to buy your paintings at Target!!
Long life to the King!

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Anonymous said...

Glad there is someone who hates him. I DISLIKE him, as well!


Anonymous who said calm down child

Zip up!