Warhol's Self-Portrait as a Toilet
This dark self-portrait that Andy Warhol made in 1967 belongs to the Detroit Institute of Arts, and is now on loan to the Metropolitan Museum’s show about the pop artist’s influence. The mysterious image gets at something important about Warhol that I didn’t quite hit on in my Newsweek review: Every object he made, and almost every action he took, was in some sense about him – but not because they reveal anything about the man himself or about his creative persona. They are about Warhol because Warhol was in some sense a living, self-made readymade, in the mode of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. (Warhol once traded some of his own portraits for a later version of Duchamp’s piece.) Warhol’s work is, almost by fiat, whatever strange things and acts he presents to his public. What Warhol gives us is magnificently imponderable, as normal things (such as urinals) are in the world. There’s no winkling out intention or meaning; Warhol’s stuff, like natural stuff, is simply there, in its ineluctable strangeness and removal from us. It is fully, completely deadpan. A Warhol has the inherent peculiarity of a rock that happens to look like a toad; it never has the contrived oddity of a melting clock. If an umbrella and a sewing machine really were to come together on an operating table, without anyone there to arrange the meeting, you’d be faced with something truly Warholian.
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