Andy Warhol, Immortal

20 August 2013
Written by Sacha Kenny
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With time on her hands, Sacha Kenny checks out the Andy Warhol exhibition, Immortal, at Te Papa and discovers more than expected about the "King of Pop Art" 


I recently found myself with a couple hours to spare in Wellington city and, having paid my dues at art school, I decided to check out the Andy Warhol (1928–87) exhibition, Immortal, at Te Papa.

I have to admit I’m not his biggest fan - a lot of his pop art work (Campbells Soup etc) I just don’t get.  In fact to quote musician, author and fellow hipster of the time, Patti SmithI felt little for the can and didn’t like the soup”. However, I now have to own up to being embarrassingly ignorant of Warhol’s artistic career.  From his early work in advertising/graphic design, to the height of his career as the "King of Pop Art", more than 150 pieces of Warhol’s work have been laid bare within the walls of Te Papa and I was surprisingly impressed.

Most of us know Warhol for his pop-art screen prints, soup cans, Marilyns and so on. This exhibition gives you all that (minus the Campbells soup cans) and more.  But it was his early work, which I had not seen before, that I found incredible. Simple pencil sketches from the 1950s that, most with just a few lines, say so much about Warhol’s creative skill and demonstrate what an incredible draughtsman he was. 

Pencil drawings or outlines of people, Warhol's early images display his fascination with human form and the beginnings of his obsession with the ‘cult of celebrity’ that he would later become famous for. It was Andy Warhol who coined the phrase “15 minutes of fame” when he said “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes". 

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His life could be seen as a series of juxtapositions worthy of his own art - flamboyant yet introvert, openly homosexual yet privately religious, extremely successful yet intensely insecure. In the 1970s Warhol studio 'The Factory' became a magnet not only for models, actors and celebrities but New York’s underclass of drug addicts, drag queens and misfits. The Factory also became his artistic sanctuary where he created many of his most famous works.

As this exhibition displays, he was a true multi-media artist: line drawings, screen prints, film, installations – Warhol tried it all and succeeded.  It is evident that he also understood the power of social media and networking as creative tools well before they became the norm of today's society. As an extract from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts website describes:

A skilled social networker, Warhol parlayed his fame, one connection at a time, to the status of a globally recognised brand. Decades before widespread reliance on portable media devices, he documented his daily activities and interactions on his travelling audio tape recorder and beloved Minox 35EL camera. Predating the hyper-personal outlets now provided online, Warhol captured life’s every minute detail in all its messy, ordinary glamour and broadcast it through his work, to a wide and receptive audience.

Warhol would now be one of those people I'd invite to dine at a table of my dream top 10 guests. I’d ask him about his early work, his life in the mix of New York’s drug scene of the 60s and 70s, his obsession with celebrity, his relationship with muse Edie Sedgwick (that’s another story altogether) and what he ultimately thought it all meant.

Andy Warhol, Immortal
Te Papa Museum
1 June to August 24, 2013

{Watch the following video for a fascinating insight into Warhol and his studio ‘The Factory’.}





0 #1 ross Wadey 2013-08-24 21:47
thanks, feel re-inspired. Wahol, been my hero along with Dahly..

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