Gagosian New York Exhibition Explores An Icon
“She was unquestionably gorgeous. I can think of no other word to describe a combination of plentitude, frugality, abundance, tightness. She was lavish. She was a dark unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much” –Richard Burton
Gagosian Gallery New York has opened an exhibition of portraits by Andy Warhol of the late Elizabeth Taylor. Frequently hailed as the greatest movie star of all time, Taylor was a friend of Warhol’s in the 1970s and 1980s. The personification of charisma whose highly public life charged with drama, tragedy, and romance,
this iconic muse was a perfect vehicle for Warhol’s vivid silkscreen portraiture derived from press clippings, publicity shots, and film stills.
From her early years as a child star with MGM, Taylor became one of the world’s most famous actresses, recognized first for her acting ability, her glamorous lifestyle, her beauty, her husbands, her jewels, and her violet eyes — and later as a courageous and tireless social activist. Warhol made over fifty portraits of her
in all her incarnations– from the ethereally beautiful child-actress (National Velvet, 1963) to the commanding, voluptuous screen goddess (Blue Liz as Cleopatra, 1962).
In single portraits such as Silver Liz [Ferus Type], (1963) and Liz #6 [Early Colored Liz] (1963) Taylor appears isolated on a monochrome field, a Russian icon reinterpreted for the altar of celebrity. Flawlessly coiffed jet hair frames her startling face; her full red lips “bleed” beyond their outline onto the canvas; her skin glows in flagrant shades of pink while her legendary eyes gain a new level of theatricality from the vivid turquoise that highlights her brow. In other works, Warhol’s palette moves from the lurid apple green of Liz [Early Colored Liz] (1963) to the gleaming sterling of Silver Liz [Studio Type] (1963). Brought together for the first time, each portrait captures and amplifies the intensity, the extravagance, the carnality, and the resilience that were the unique hallmarks of Elizabeth Taylor’s notorious and beloved character. Warhol’s choice of source material and his daring palette produced images that have lost none of their explosive power in the decades that separate the present from the moment of their making.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is widely regarded as a defining figure not only of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s but of an entire cultural era. He worked prodigiously across a vast range of media, including painting,photography, print-making, drawing, sculpture, film (sixty experimental films between 1963 and 1968), photography, print-making, drawing, sculpture, film (sixty experimental films between 1963 and 1968), television (“Andy Warhol’s TV,” 1982 and “Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes,” 1986), publishing (Interview magazine and various books), happenings, and performances. He also endorsed products, appeared in advertisements and made business deals, giving new currency to the philosophical and practical interplay between art as a reflection upon society and art as a product of society.
Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola August 6, 1928. Born to Slovak immigrants, he was reared in a working class suburb of Pittsburgh. From an early age, Warhol showed an interest in photography and drawing, attending free classes at Carnegie Institute. The only member of his family to attend college, he entered the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1945, where he majored in pictorial design. Upon graduation, Warhol moved to New York with fellow student Philip Pearlstein. He found steady work as a commercial artist working as an illustrator for several magazines including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New Yorker. He also did advertising and window displays for retail stores such as Bonwit Teller and I. Miller. Prophetically, his first assignment was for Glamour magazine for an article titled “Success is a Job in New York.”
Throughout the nineteen fifties, Warhol enjoyed a successful career as a commercial artist, winning several commendations from the Art Director’s Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts. During this period, he shortened his name to “Warhol.” In 1952, the artist had his first solo exhibition at the Hugo Gallery, exhibiting Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote. Subsequently, Warhol’s work was exhibited in several venues throughout the fifties including his first group show at The Museum of Modern Art in 1955. In 1953 the artist produced his first illustrated book, A is an Alphabet and Love is a Pink Cake, which he gave to his clients and associates. With a burgeoning career as an illustrator, he formed Andy Warhol Enterprises in 1957.
1960 marked a turning point in Warhol’s prolific career. He painted his first works based on comics and advertisements, enlarging and transferring the source images onto his canvases with an opaque projector. In 1961, Warhol showed his paintings, Advertisement, Little King, Superman, Before and After, and Superman, Before and After, and Saturday’s Popeye in a window display of Bonwit Teller department store. Appropriating images from popular culture, Warhol created many paintings that remain icons of 20th-century art including the Campbell’s Soup Can, Marilyn and Elvis series. In 1962, the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles exhibited his Campbell’s Soup Cans and in New York, the Stable gallery showed the Baseball, Coca-Cola, Do It Yourself and Dance Diagram paintings among others. In 1963 Warhol established a studio at 231 East 47th Street which became known as the “Factory.”
In addition to painting and creating box sculptures such as Brillo Box and Heinz Box, Warhol began working in other mediums including record producing (The Velvet Underground), magazine publishing (Interview) and filmmaking. His avant-garde films such as Chelsea Girls, Blow Job and Empire have become classics of the underground genre. In 1968, Valerie Solanis, a periodic factory visitor, and sole member of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) walked into the Factory and shot Warhol. The attack was near fatal.
In the 1970’s, Warhol renewed his focus on painting and worked extensively on a commissioned basis both for corporations and for individuals whose portrait he painted. Works created in this decade include Skulls, Hammer and Sickles, Torsos, Maos and Shadows. Warhol also published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again). Firmly established as a major 20th-century artist and international celebrity, Warhol was given a major retrospective of his work at the Pasadena Art Museum which traveled to museums around the world. In the late seventies Warhol began dictating an oral diary to his colleague Pat Hackett, which became the basis for the best-selling Andy Warhol Diaries. He also frequented Studio 54 along with other members of the international jet-set saying, “I have a social disease. I have to go out every night.”
The artist began the 1980’s with the publication of POPism: The Warhol ’60s. He also began work on Andy Warhol’s TV, a series of half hour of video programs patterned after Interview magazine. In 1985, “Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes” appeared on MTV, half hour programs featuring celebrities, artists, musicians, and designers, with Warhol as the host. The paintings he created during this time included Dollar Signs, Guns and Last Suppers. He also produced several paintings in collaboration with other artists including Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente.
Following routine gall bladder surgery, Andy Warhol died of complications during his recovery on February 2, 1987. After his burial in Pittsburgh, his friends and associates organized a memorial mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 1 that was attended by more than 2,000 people.
The Exhibition runs Friday, September 16 – Saturday, October 22, 2011