On The Factory Floor

12.09.13

Warhol's Non-Art Masterpieces

If Andy's greatest creation is himself, where does that leave the thousands of objects he made?

Warhol’s polaroids of Uncle Sam and the poster-girl Cheryl Tiegs (I had such a crush on her…) that he used to make two classic silkscreens. They are now on view in the show called “Image Machine: Andy Warhol and Photography”, at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, near Boston. Curators were brave to take on this topic, because there’s hardly a single work by Warhol that doesn’t involve photography, usually quite directly, and because there are so many tens of thousands of photos that survive from his studio. How to choose what’s worth including and what isn’t? Here’s another problem: You could argue – I will argue, in my Warhol bio – that from quite early on, Warhol matters less for the objects he made than for the persona and business he created, which are his real work of art. But if that’s the case, what’s the status of objects like these two polaroids? Are they art objects? Studies for art objects? Documentation of the making of art? Pure commodities, or steps on the way to other commodities? Or, as I imagine, commodifiable props that Warhol used in constructing his meta-art – part of whose goal was to get us confused about what was his art and what wasn’t.

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