Warhol Headlines Exhibition at National Gallery

The Andy Warhol who sold out to TV gets a tribute at Washington’s National Gallery. View images.

AP Photos

AP Photos

The Andy Warhol who sold out to TV gets a tribute at Washington’s National Gallery. View images.

Christie's / AP Photos

Andy Warhol's 1986 Self Portrait was among the last of his paintings to be exhibited while he was alive. The painting sold at auction at Christie’s in New York in May of this year for $27.5 million. Warhol has become the most important, influential artist of the last 50 years, but his cheerful pop art has come to matter less than his more angst-ridden, difficult works, often done late in life and after he almost succumbed to an assassination attempt.

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Andy Warhol's late portrait of Michael Jackson. In his own day, Warhol was condemned for selling out, by doing empty celebrity portraits. Now, however, Warhol’s sell-out is seen as one of his most important artistic acts. It became an art form in its own right, commenting on our culture’s commercial values and its fascination with celebrity for its own sake. 

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Images of Campbell's soup cans were wrapped around the columns of the National Gallery of Scotland to mark a 2007 Warhol exhibition, marking the 20th anniversary of the artist's death. Such a commercial use of Warhol’s imagery now seems entirely in keeping with its central conceits. It’s the people who treat a Warhol—any Warhol—as a precious, unique work of genius who are misunderstanding the artist.

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Andy Warhol behind the camera during filming in New York in December 1967. Warhol’s radical films—such as his entirely static portraits or his eight-hour movie of an unmoving Empire State building—now count as some of his most original and interesting work. 

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The Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures reception at The Museum of Modern Art was held last December. MoMA, in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Andy Warhol Foundation, has been instrumental in showing, preserving, and cataloging Warhol’s work on film—which now ranks alongside paintings by Picasso or sculpture by Rodin.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Warhol’s transition from commercial illustrator to fine artist. Among other shows in his honor is one called “Warhol: Headlines at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It looks at Warhol’s relationship to the news.

Damian Dovarganes / AP Photos

A visitor tours the public opening of the Andy Warhol Retrospective exhibit in 2002. In the decade since, works such as Warhol’s Skulls have begun to seem especially relevant and influential. Would Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull have existed without a precedent in Warhol?

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Warhol, as seen in 1969. Warhol’s presence as a pop-culture figure may turn out to be more important than the objects he made. Other artists have followed suit in asserting their presence in the culture at large. 

Damian Dovarganes / AP Photos

Anyone who sees Warhol as a cheery pop artist isn’t really looking at his work. His Gun paintings, for instance, are more forbidding than celebratory. (One is seen here on display in the Warhol retrospective held in 2002 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.)

Jose Luis Villegas / Corbis

Over the last few years, there has been a new interest in Warhol’s work as a photographer, as seen in this 1977 Polaroid of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has been donating Warhol photos to university art galleries across the nation.

Sothebys-EPA-Lanov

Warhol's Sixteen Jackies, from 1964, as seen when it went up for auction at Sotheby’s earlier this year. People sometimes forget that Jackie was in mourning when this art work was made, so it shouldn’t register as boppy pop art.