Critics’ Picks

Self-Defense, 1985–86.

Los Angeles

Andy Warhol

Kohn Gallery
1227 North Highland Avenue
September 9–October 14

Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes” of 1980 and 1981 invoke the early commercial success of the artist’s mid-‘50s hand-drawn shoe ads while hinting at the celebrity, sex, and money that had flavored his subsequent life and practice. In 1985 and 1986, Warhol again presented a shoe motif, not as a symbol of his talent for recycling, but rather as a heavy and anxious form. This selection of his black-and-white ad paintings, a series of silk screens made two years prior to his death, is full paranoia. An overt example is Untitled (Puma Invader), 1985–86, a loose outline of the brand-name athletic shoe surrounded by scrawled marketing copy, such as the underlined word BOYS and the first three letters of what could be the word LEATHER. Allowing that Warhol’s images of products often took on human personae, the “invader” here could embody any number of Andy’s aggressors—an obsessive would-be assassin, the IRS, AIDS. This apprehension reappears in Self Defense, 1985–86, a silk screen mirroring an advertisement stipulating “protect yourself / Y from / Rape” and “Mugging / Robbery / Hoodlums.” Not entirely fatalistic, these paintings also speak subtly to moments in Warhol’s career. Beatle Boots, 1985–86, and Beatle Boots (Negative), 1986, two silk-screened ads for the modish shoe, not only typify Warhol’s propensity for doubling or “exploiting” popular icons but also remind us of his film practice; the distinct phrases BLACK SMOOTH LEATHER UPPERS and CUBAN HEEL call to mind such films as Vinyl and The Life of Juanita Castro (both 1965) and the drugs (the “uppers”) fueling them. Despite the serious tone, these late works remain true to Andy’s life philosophy, especially his conviction that one should always wear the “right” shoes, whether for labor, sports, war, or fame.