Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal
Andy Warhol is not everyone’s cup of tea, but even if you think you don’t like the master of Pop Art, the show at the Mori Art Museum will probably convince you otherwise. “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” is the biggest retrospective of the artist’s work ever held in Japan, and even includes a convincing mock-up of his famous Factory, the New York studio from which he and his assistants churned out his “art products.”
The main criticism usually leveled at Warhol is that he was just a talentless copier with a wry sense of humor who simply reproduced images of everyday Americana in an artistic context and at a volume that could match the sharp rise in serious collectors in the US in the ’60s and ’70s.
There is some truth in this, and Warhol conveniently enough said things like, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
But because many of the images are culled from advertising and mass media, they have intrinsic appeal and strong aesthetic elements. They are also given a new twist by Warhol’s scaling-up and vibrant coloring. Also, the exhibition is detailed enough to tell Warhol’s story and evoke his character. It is this, ultimately, that sells the art and the show.
The exhibition succeeds in getting beneath the public persona to show us the man within, from the naïve, sensitive boy to the rather Zen-like older man, ever ready with a telling quip.
The young Andy Warhol comes across as an effete and precociously talented mama’s boy, but stereotypes don’t quite work in his case. In addition to being gay, he was also a relatively sincere Catholic—a combination that was perhaps guaranteed to give him a heightened sense of irony.
At the start of his career, he was full of creative energy and became a relatively successful designer and commercial illustrator. He also created work like the suggestively camp illustrations for In the Bottom of My Garden (circa 1956), but it was only when he stopped expressing himself directly that he achieved fame.
The exhibition is littered with his quotes, which provide an interesting commentary on the art. In one he complains that his originality was not always appreciated and that he therefore decided to be original by being as unoriginal as possible. This led to the work for which he is most famous—variously colored silkscreen reproductions of American iconography from Hollywood and advertising.
Key works in this respect were his Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and his silkscreen Marilyn prints, both here in profusion. In such work he buried his tremulous younger personality and expressed himself subliminally through the details: the color choices, the materials and the selection of images.
His focus on popular culture also gives Warhol’s art and photography the sheen of nostalgia. It reflects the eras in which he worked, and as you look at the personalities—their body language and fashions—you start to understand another Warhol quote: “Your own life while it’s happening to you never has any atmosphere until it’s a memory.”
Metropolis is giving away three pairs of tickets to the exhibition. For a chance to win, e-mail email@example.com with your your postal address with “15 Minutes Eternal” in the subject line and answer the question: “When did Andy Warhol first visit Japan?”
Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal
Until May 6, ¥500-1,500.
Mori Art Museum
Nearest Station: Roppongi