~ Andy Warhol
"Self-Portrait," 1986. Andy Warhol
Did Andy Warhol really say that? Who knows. He was both the most public and the most enigmatic of artists. He thrived on fame but remained cloaked behind his own impassive exterior and the adjutants who gave him ideas, produced his work and often spoke for him.
In New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, Andy Warhol was inescapable. I first heard about the Factory from a high school friend who'd been there. By the time I was an art student, I'd met many Warhol acolytes — one was in several of my classes, in fact. Later, when I was working in the music business, Warhol was at every press party and event, the original man who would attend the opening of an envelope. And yet, who was he? I confess that while I enjoyed some of his work, I had a hard time separating the man from his art. It disturbed me that he surrounded himself with self-destructive people, and for many years I couldn't get past that.
Many of my doubts and reservations faded last week when my friend Dawn and I went to the Brooklyn Museum to see Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. Dawn is another veteran of New York City's music and art scenes, and another person who developed an appreciation of Warhol fairly recently. Her conversion took place at Dia : Beacon's mammoth Warhol retrospective a few years ago, and she has gradually convinced me to see him differently.
The Brooklyn show focuses on work produced from the late 1970s until Warhol's death in 1987. It was a time when the artist reworked old themes and found new ones. He began a series of collaborations with other artists — notably, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente — and the experience seemed to change his world. He began putting brush to canvas again. In paintings like this one, you can almost feel his heartbeat quicken.
"Origin of Cotton," 1984. Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente
One of Warhol's last projects was a commission to recreate/re-imagine Leonardo's da Vinci's "The Last Supper" for a new Italian art gallery. He painted many versions. Some combined pop cultural images with the subject while others stayed closer to the original. Click here to see the diversity of his interpretations. The painting below, which occupies an entire wall in the Brooklyn show, is among those that most closely resemble the original, but as is so often the case with Warhol, the image repeats.
"The Last Supper," 1986. Andy Warhol
In its notes about the show, the Brooklyn Museum has a rather poignant quote from Warhol about this series: “I painted them all by hand — I myself; so now I’ve become a Sunday painter. . . . That’s why the project took so long. But I worked with a passion.” He seems a bit surprised by himself. I imagine he would have had more surprises — for himself and for us — if he had lived longer.
Andy Warhol: The Last Decade will be open until September 12, 2010. If you have the chance, go. And while you're there, drop by the fourth floor to see Kiki Smith's beautiful drawings in her show, Sojourn, also closing on September 12.
"I'm afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning."
~ Andy Warhol