PRINT March 1985


IT IS 1962. ANDY WARHOL'S Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and Troy Donahue paintings, his Marlons and Elvises, are exhausting those themes. Now Marilyn Monroe is dead and Warhol has a new subject. A Factory denizen remembers: “When I first knew Andy they were working on the Marilyn Monroes. [Gerard] Malanga and Billy Name did most of the work. Cutting things. Placing the screens. Andy would walk along the rows and ask, 'What color do you think would be nice?'” (Isabel Eberstadt, quoted in Jean Stein, Edie: An American Biography, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

Three years later a murder takes place on a kitchen table. People sit and stand and talk at the scene of the crime. Sometimes they pose for their pictures. Some of their talk follows scripts handed to them on camera. This is a scene from Andy Warhol’s movie Kitchen.

According to the scriptwriter, Ronald Tavel: “I worked on getting rid of characters. Andy had said, ‘Get rid of plot.’ Of course, Samuel Beckett had done that in the ’50s, but he had retained his characters. So I thought what I could introduce was to get rid of character. That’s why the characters’ names in Kitchen are interchangeable. Everyone has the same name, so nobody knows who anyone is.”

1967. Alan Midgette, who does not resemble Andy Warhol, sprays his hair silver. Now he resembles Warhol in one—and only one—respect. Impersonating Warhol at a number of lecture engagements, Midgette imitates one and only one of Warhol’s mannerisms: monosyllabic responses to questions from the audience. Warhol says the impersonation was Midgette’s idea. Midgette says it was Warhol’s. The ruse succeeds for a time, then it fails and some lecture fees have to be returned.

1978. Having worked from photographs for nearly two decades, Warhol abandons them for the “Oxidation” series. These unremarkable fields of color appear as Warhol urinates on bronze- and copper-coated canvases. Along with Warhol’s photo-screen images of Nazi architecture, they serve as his contribution to Documenta 7, in 1982.

1984. Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francesco Clemente collaborate on a series of works. Basquiat’s style survives the collaborative process. So does Clemente’s. Yet Andy’s silkscreening permits him to “Warholize” the imagery of the other two, as he recently did with paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. As he had done in 1962 with a publicity photo of Marilyn Monroe.

What has been going on here for the last 23 years? Warhol’s book POPism supplies a familiar answer with a remark about the lecture-tour scam: “We’d been playing switch-the-superstar . . . for years, telling people that Viva was Ultra and Edie was me and I was Gerard. . . . Sometimes people would get mixed up all by themselves . . . and we just wouldn’t bother to correct them, it was too much fun to let them go on getting it all wrong—it seemed like a joke to us” (Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: the Warhol ’60s, New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980). By more or less the same token, all the characters in Kitchen are more or less the same character—anyway, they answer to the same name. In a hectic, extended present where labels count for a lot, these characters must share the only label available: Andy Warhol.

Alan Midgette was caught. To Warhol it didn’t matter if Gerard Malanga or Brigid Polk or Rene Ricard had painted some of his paintings but a few years later some European collectors got upset at the possibility that Warhol’s signature might not mean what artists’ signatures have been supposed to mean since the time of the Renaissance. Warhol decided the “identity games” had to stop. Of course they didn’t. They continued. With the “Oxidation” series Warhol mixed the image of the artist at work with the image of anyone pursuing a bodily process. Last year’s Warhol-Basquiat-Clemente collaborations gave Andy his chance to revamp the “identity games” of the ’60s Factory according to the rules of this decade’s big-time international art market.

Identities blur in Warhol’s vicinity. Rather, he blurs them—in a spirit of fun or pallid contempt. It is difficult to distinguish between his high spirits and his nastiness. When he exerts his oddly passive power, he reflects a queasiness we’ve all felt at one time or another, a suspicion that contemporary life is by nature slippery. This is the importance of Andy Warhol. He engages the dilemmas of modernity—divided selves, a fragmented culture, institutions like “art” and “society” devised ad hoc to produce the image, not the believable fact. Modern times make it more and more impossible to know for certain who one is, and other people show a maddening tendency to take on the quality of phatasms—or that is what ambitious art and literature have claimed for nearly two centuries. Warhol’s images reveal the vicious, Hobbesian power plays to which certain portions of our selves incline us. And, with a clarity no one else commands, he points to the vulgarity of the state into which our culture has fallen. There are sublime vistas in T. S. Eliot’s Wasteland. In Warhol’s there are none, nor any soothing evocations of history or tradition. There is only a trite, shallow, bitter now, insidiously manipulated with intent to expose every nuance of its triteness, its superficiality, its galling emptiness. Warhol’s vision of modernity permits nothing so imposing as a ruin, only rubble.

Possessing no confident vision of heaven or earth, we must live in a realm of crumbled artifice. The hold of the picturesque still persuades us to take pleasure in the spectacle of collapse. Ruins evoke moods, even moodiness. There’s no way to know about Warhol’s mood, whether he arranges the “Flowers” of his wasteland with despair or foppishness or convincing horror. About our moods: on one day it will please us to find a certain emotional tone in his art, on another day another. Though we enjoy such states of feeling, it is a mistake to expect from them much permanence or power. A different kind of wasteland delicately sketched offers more and less than the occasion for a vision of hopeless dread. It offers delicate, melancholy pleasures—see the way Jasper Johns lets isolated images stand for him metonymically, as part to whole, fragmenting his persona in ways that do not add up, that refuse to form a coherent person, much as John Ashbery’s slippery pronouns refuse to sort themselves into legible references to clearly defined individuals. These effects are bleak, but their refinement provides solace. I’m susceptible to Johnsian and Ashberyesque moods, but I tire of their elegance. Refined moderns get at the elusiveness but not the queasiness of the modern self—the quality evoked when Warhol saunters along a row of unfinished canvases as his assistants make his decisions for him; when he arranges every detail of a movie to bring out the hip gaucherie of the participants; when he entangles his identity in a dumb stunt involving silver-sprayed hair; when he pisses on a canvas; when he sucks after young successful artists like Basquiat and Clemente.

It’s easy to be disgusted by Warhol, by an entire lifetime of deathgrip hipness. Then I change my mind—rather, my feelings change and again my mood matches what I imagine to be his. I take his expression of feelings as an image of the world. This mutability points to a problem: that most of our claims are dubious because we make them on behalf of a mood. Moods change. Value an artwork for the feeling it engenders or reinforces, and ones judgment teeters always on the verge of collapse.

The institutions of the art world deploy a rhetoric designed to prevent just that sort of letdown. When we want to elude the clutches of our own emotions, the media and the museums are there to distract. They shift the talk about art to a plane of public issues—matters of reputation and quality. X is great, Y is uncompromising, so admire their work. Crude as it is, this is the message offered by most museum installations, museum catalogues, and historical survey texts: a series of flatfooted, uncritical assertions. Much art criticism is little more critical than that: this trait of X’s art is good, that bad; X derives from Y, who is great, so X is great; X is politically acceptable or not, hence X’s art is admirable or negligible; or X is hot this season. If we let a writer distract our attention with talk of Warhol’s way with the picture plane, his variation on a tactic from Johns or Robert Rauschenberg, his working-class origins or his long-distance chic, we needn’t acknowledge what matters most: plunging with Warhol into the shallows of his melancholy, we accept his image of his world as the truth about the world. We accept it, I mean, until Warhol loses his grip on our feelings and our mood shifts.

A more familiar tag than art-as-mood-machine would be art-as-expression, a phrase on a signpost pointing to a hopeless quagmire. At the outset of modernity, Rousseau and Diderot found a topic new to Western culture: the private feelings engendered by paintings, plays, and novels. Ever since, the idea of art-as-expression has led writers on long, desperate chases through the enchanted forests of their own subjectivity. Attention to public issues of form, history, politics, and fashion is supposed to guide us out into the rational light of an objective day. But talk about moods persists. The claim to objectivity, the official tone, of so much critical and curatorial writing serves to justify its own quick forays into the realm of the subjective. Take, for example, John Coplans’ “Andy Warhol: The Art” in his book on Warhol from 1970.

This essay is basically a standard run-through of Warhol’s forms and his New York School geneology. Then, near the end, Coplans makes these remarks on Warhol’s “Flower” series, 1964:

What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings (especially the very large ones) is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol’s art—the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer’s gaze. . . . No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one’s gaze, as if haunted by death.

The formal geneology traced in “Andy Warhol: The Art” does nothing to support a sudden shift to talk of flowers haunted by death. It’s as though the writer feels entitled by his dutiful efforts at “analysis” to indulge himself in a chronologically ordered and remarkably banal, followed by a melodramatic flourish, with no link between these two mismatched sections: that is the structure of Coplans’ essay. If you look closely you will find that many writers employ a similar structure, time after time: much slogging of an “analytic” kind to convince the reader of the topic’s seriousness; then, at the end, a quick display of the emotions underlying the effort, to reveal the mood the writer shares—or would like to share—with the artist. Sooner or later, that desire will not be so pressing. The mood will have changed.

The institutions of the art world encourage a model sensibility preoccupied by the “objective” discussion of large, public issues of form, geneology, ideology, and fashion, but capable of plunging now and then into an isolated fantasy of emotional communion with some officially approved artist. So long as we engage the great themes of modern culture under the aegis of art-world institutions, modern art will never be any more than the subject of art writing and the occasion for private moods. Our experience of art will be impoverished in this way so long as we permit the institutions of the art world, from museums to magazines, to define us as the sort of selves who are satisfied by such experience. I’m plagued by the sense that Warhol has a larger meaning not visible from within the world of art. To get at this, I feel I must bring to bear another way of being, some other range of experience. I have to put a different sort of self into play. It needn’t be a particularly wise or generous self. Its chief qualifications would be an indifference to the standard “analysis” of art-world issues and a disinclination to feel the desperate feelings expressed by the desperate people in Warhol’s life, including Warhol.

Let’s go back to the murder scene from Kitchen and ask again what is going on. If we discuss “identity games,” alienation, aleatory structure, and all the standard themes, we’ll end up where we started. Nowhere. So let’s not talk that way. Let’s take a blunter approach.

There are some people in front of the camera. It looks as though they don’t know what they’re doing—not, at any rate, by ordinary movie standards. These people aren’t actors. Yet they don’t look lost. They have flair. They flirt with the camera, they posture, they maneuver at one another’s expense. They do know what they’re doing. Each tries to get as much of the camera’s attention as he or she possibly can.

This is a scene of competition. It’s raw, and the stakes are low. What could it mean to steal a scene here? What would it get you? Yet the competition builds. An art-world self, a sensibility adjusted to critical and curatorial standards, would understand the hysteria of that competition for the eye of Warhol’s camera, but wouldn’t know what to make of the competition itself—all that undisguised self-interest. It evokes the 17th century’s grimmer visions of a state of nature: “The estate of men in this natural liberty,” as Thomas Hobbes wrote, “is the estate of war.” Only a self attuned to such thinking could bear to acknowledge the warlike competition in Warhol’s Kitchen, and only such a self could see its effect.

That self belongs to the marketplace, not the critical and emotional uplands of the art world, and the effect it sees is an economic phenomenon: inflation—a figurative, metaphorical inflation. to show precisely what I mean by this image, it’s necessary to point to some ordinary facts. Money buys goods; more money buys more goods; but not if the buyers’ money increases faster than the sellers’ goods. In that event (whether actual or only perceived), prices go up—we have inflation. Sellers treat the new situation as one of scarcity. There is more money or an illusion of more money or at least a greater willingness to spend money; nonetheless, sellers claim there is the same amount of goods; so, in a manner of speaking, those goods have grown scarce. This fictional scarcity generates a fictional increase in the value of the goods. We all accept these fictions. Prices go up, and we find that more money does not buy more. In the event of inflation, more money buys the same amount, or less. And our money, too, grows more fictional.

That is what happens in the marketplace. Something else happens there, too: actual shortages of goods drive up prices, but I have chosen to emphasize fictional shortages. My concern here is with fictions, images, imaginary entities (like social personas). A few economists argue that the postwar structure of Western economies ensures chronic inflation. We live in an inflationary economy and in an inflationary culture, too.

The actors in Warhol’s Kitchen know that his camera can supply only so much star—or superstar—quality. The camera is rolling, that magical status must be won now. So the demand for it builds, as each actor tries to win, to blot out the presence of the others. This is an inflationary situation: increased demand, with no additional supply. In the ordinary marketplace, inflation devalues the money we spend. As Warhol’s actors compete for the strictly limited approval of his cinematic gaze, every bit of the energy they expend suffers a loss of value. Realizing that there is not enough of the desired commodity, the Warholian attention that confers star status, they turn desperate. In their frenzy, which only the most outrageous affectation can ever pretend to conceal, their inward beings suffer the ravages of inflation. But why should that be? Wasn’t unbounded plenitude part of the idea of Warholian filmmaking? It’s easy to see that the Factory produced devalued selves, but harder to see this as the result of inflation—of hyped demand and artificial scarcity—when the camera hardly ever stopped turning. So the actors must expend more and more of themselves, just to stay even. Some fail and disappear from his movies, the Factory, the Warhol scene. Some persist. Inflation always permits a few survivors.

Warhol devalues himself when he signs so many Marilyns he can’t remember which ones he made himself; when he combines the processes of art-making and excretion for the “Oxidation” series; when he lets a part of himself, his silver-sprayed hair, be transferred to Alan Midgette’s head, where it serves, not as the metonymical emblem of the whole, Andy Warhol, but as the sufficient presence of Andy Warhol himself on the lecture circuit—part becomes whole, rather than simply pointing to it.

We suspect that two Andy Warhols are much worse than one, but it is not clear why until we look at the nature of time in Warhol’s world. His images propose an absorptive present, a tense that draws to itself and erases much of the past and even more of the future. In his universe, there is little other than now. When Alan Midgette was Andy, there was no other Andy—or only a ghostly, secondary Andy somewhere out of the public eye. The now of the fake Andy’s public appearance was the only one that counted. The past and the future of the real Andy, the one identifiable as Andy Warhol by his fingerprints, didn’t count. Nor did the present of the real Andy that ran parallel to the present of the fake Andy in the lecture hall. The words “fake” and “real” lost their force under pressure from the engulfing Warholian present. When the only Andy that counts is the Alan Midgette Andy, then the scarcity of Andy Warhol is indeed acute. And the effort expended by a member of the lecture audience trying to make contact with Andy Warhol suffers a sharp depletion of value.

Warhol’s present is so efficiently absorptive that it inspires him to urinate and make art at the same time. Here the moment contains a multiplication, not of Andys but of Andy’s activities. Once again, this multiplication produces scarcity, not plenty: there isn’t much art in the “Oxidation” canvases. To look for it there is to devalue your energies. Likewise with the proliferation of Marilyns. A few are good—especially Gold Marilyn Monroe, of 1962. Most of them are just reminders of the good ones, so the more you look the less you see. The plenitude of objects generates a scarcity, a paucity, a thinness of experience. In the actual market, the plenitude of Marilyns has not had an inflationary effect. Far from it. There, demand often is weak, and Warhol’s auction prices have not kept up with, say, Roy Lichtenstein’s. Warhol doesn’t think about such things. He is the inflation artist, locked into the present. That’s why Warhol’s camera created a do-or-die atmosphere every time it rolled. That it would roll again didn’t matter—did nothing, in other words, to relieve the scarcity of Warhol’s attention now.

“This country is so great,” Warhol said in 1983. “It’s the only one where you can really sell your talent. Which is kind of wonderful. And it’s great for young kids because, if they’re really talented, they can get rich overnight” (quoted in Carter Ratcliff, Warhol, New York: Abbeville Press, 1983). Remarks like these inspire an easy outrage leading to the conclusion that Warhol substitutes an economic for an esthetic model of the self. That is too simple a view. Warhol confounds these two varieties of selfhood, two ways of being that modern culture has tried to keep separated from the outset.

At first glance there is no resemblance between the individuality our culture supplies us for our art-world experience, whether as artist or viewer, and the bestial self Hobbes ascribed to humans in a state of nature—those violent, fearful creatures whose competitive drives must be regulated by an absolute sovereign if there is to be anything resembling civil society. The esthetic self we deploy in the art world looks much more attractive and appears to have things much easier. On the plane of esthetic experience we tend to recognize no scarcities. “A chacun son infini,” said Villiers de L'Isle-Adam—to each his own infinity. The esthetic self thrives on a plenitude generated out of its own interior; hence the means of fulfilling ones desires are inexhaustible so long as the self exists. Faced with scarcity, the economic self must be selfish.

About the nature of these selves I’ve introduced into my comments: they are not to be confused with what we might call, for want of a better phrase, one’s authentic being. The marketplace self, the art-world self—these and their variants are social constructs assembled according to cues offered by the institutions with which we have to deal. Thus an art-world self mediates one’s experience in realms defined by art-world institutions, a marketplace self goes into action in economic settings, and so on. Save in extreme cases, these adopted selves are not completely alien to our authentic selves, just thinner in texture—impoverished by their adjustment to specialized purposes. Each of us commands a variety of social selves, and we show a remarkable aptitude for displaying the right one on the right occasion. We all know what inflation is. Still, when we turn to Warhol or to any other artist, we leave our competitive, economic, Hobbesian selves behind. Not that we forget such matters as the price tags on paintings. But we set aside our knowledge of market mechanisms, believing them irrelevant to the meanings of art. This belief is in error. Market mechanisms, actual and metaphorical, are essential to the meaning of art; not only to art-as-commodity but to art-as-art (as Ad Reinhardt called art that enjoys an imaginary freedom from contact with ordinary life). Art-as-art responds to the need for untainted, transcendent experience. As the nature of this demand changes, so do the images artists offer as “pure.” Furthermore, our market selves and our art-world selves, those social personas we take to be utterly dissimilar, are twins.

A modern artist or critic is no less competitive—and no less isolated—than a survivor in the wilderness of Hobbes’ natural state. When Emerson or Schopenhauer claims the world as his will, he intends to annihilate all other claims. Economists and political theorists devised a variety of fictions to assure themselves that market competition would not be disastrous, that harmony could be achieved and society find peace. Similar fictions promise a unity of purpose on the plane of high art. But no peace reigns there, only the contention of wills, each seeking to command the infinite in a now that encompasses all time.

Whatever the particular qualities of their inwardness, the public selves of the artists called major generally fit into a schematized pattern: willful, competitive, given to claims of omnipotence, persistently striving to concentrate that infinite power in an infinitely absorptive present. To put it more accurately, we read the works of art we judge memorable as emblems of selves like that. This pattern of selfhood allows—or, given the trait of competitiveness, demands—a great variety. No one would mistake Malevich or his art for de Chirico or his. But we often make the mistake of assuming that their divergent styles make them fundamentally different. That error committed, it is almost impossible to see how the public selves of artists resemble that socially defined type called the economic individual. Perhaps their clearest similarity is this: since both sorts of self live under the imperative to gather all value into an infinitely expansive now, both the art world and the marketplace individual are, first of all, types of consumers. The argument against this is: artists produce, they make art. Yes, but from the time of Romanticism on we have treated works of art as evidence of experience voluminously consumed. The artwork as a reminder, endlessly renewable, of an instant when an unbounded self engulfed and consumed the transcendent.

In 1948 Barnett Newman wrote of “freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you”—our cultures history, in other words—so that the artist could “express his relation to the Absolute.” Newman wanted to “express his relation to the Absolute” by embodying it; that is, by swallowing it whole—rather, by giving his color fields a look of engulfing infinitude. That relation, whether established by a New York School painter, a Surrealist, a Constructivist, or an early Romantic, is inflationary because it traps experience in an isolated present where meaning is impoverished by the absence of a past and a future—an absence of history. With meaning depleted, the demand for it must be excessive. Modernity has offered no more powerful emblem of that devaluation, suffered by artist and viewer alike, than the allover field of New York School painters like Newman, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock.

Andy Warhol occupies the allover field with media images chosen to remind us of the infinity of image-barrage. His allover field offers an emblem of selves stretched thin by a belief in their own limitlessness. Warhol’s scarcity of self was self-proclaimed: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol,” he said in 1968, "just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it: Out of this frankness about scarcity came something more. Looking back from his fields of silk-screened banality we can see a comparable but different banality, and a comparable scarcity of self, in much of the art of the last two centuries. Warhol illuminates the spectacle we would prefer not to notice—a convergence where, for two centuries, we insisted on seeing divergence. His refusal to be coy about money and power helps us see that modernity’s model of a privileged, elevated, esthetic self is a close variant of the selfish, competitive, marketplace self, which everyone—even economists—acknowledge is impoverished. Warhol pointed the way beyond a mood of melancholy dissatisfaction with our modern selves to a precise vision of our deficiencies—just what we need to step out of the inflationary present into a more convincing present, one connected to history. But Warhol doesn’t want to come along with us. He loves, if he loves anything, the fragmentation of the self. So he will pursue his vocation, which is to cultivate the inflationary now whose pressures create the weaknesses that in their turn promise more, and more finely ground, rubble.

Warhol amid the rubble—over the last quarter century, this has become one of our culture’s favorite spectacles. Some like to rail at Andy, others sneer at him. Many are fascinated by his attraction to disasters, some of them his own. Admiration breeds images: Raggedy Andy, a Pierrot for our times; Andy the Angel of Death, the ghostly presence who appears whenever our vision of the Modernist Wasteland turns Gothic; Andy pal of Liz Taylor and proud possessor of a cameo appearance in Tootsie. Friend of the superstars, supercynic, Andy as the dummy who sits on the culture’s knee, parrots its most vacuous assumptions, and somehow manages to stay in control. In each of these roles, Warhol is an exemplar of an emptiness we all feel. We offer him our gratitude because he feels more of that emptiness than we do (Andy is really empty). Warhol’s our Modernist martyr.

Our pleasure in the Martyrdom of St. Andy is an art-world pleasure felt by our carefully adjusted art-selves. We can continue to refer all images of Warhol and his art to the attention of that specialized art-self; we can refuse, in other words, to be conscious of what our marketplace self might see in Warhol, if given the chance. But the ’80s make that difficult. Warhol has had too much success in the marketplace. I don’t mean the art market. I mean the larger market of the media, advertising, entertainment. It doesn’t make sense any more to look at Andy, see the ruin of art, and have an art-mood.

On the evidence of the book Edie, one could easily conclude that Andy made no distinction between playing with images and manipulating people, and that, at extremes, the effects were disastrous. The point is to get past one’s moral revulsion. A first step is to understand the magnitude of his success in this decade. That requires a comparison with his first major failure. Fifteen years ago, Warhol wanted Hollywood, and Hollywood wouldn’t let him in the door.

Until then, his success had been constant. During the 1950s he made himself one of the best-paid commercial artists in New York. In the ’60s he became St. Andy. Even before he was shot in 1968, he had devised his image of personal martyrdom. This image, joined to his skills as a commercial designer, gave his Pop paintings blue-chip status. And the art world loved his movies, even the comparatively slick ones with color and sound and fragments of a narrative. But Hollywood didn’t. He tried and tried again to jump up from New York artist to movie mogul. He just couldn’t make it. So he looked for other ways to the top. Art-world eyes cannot see what Andy saw: the top of the art-world is not very high up. Like an art-self, the art world is overly specialized and peripheral. Andy wanted to ascend to the high point that forms the dead center of the cultures endlessly renewed now—the media now.

In his first postfailure move Warhol adapted his Pop style to celebrity portraiture. Andy chose clients like Giovanni Agnelli, Truman Capote, and Diane von Furstenberg—media presences, some of them with substantial power in addition to their image-clout. Andy got to be a celebrity himself. Not an art-world celebrity (he had been that since 1961), but a real-world celebrity. He published books, texts transcribed from his deadpan monologues. He played around with theater, and hung out with rock stars. Meanwhile, he kept hustling paintings and prints with sufficient success to design and direct the marketing strategies that governed the sale of his work. He appeared in network TV ads, became a fixture at Studio 54, and kept tinkering with Interview magazine, trying to find the formula that would make it take off. Eventually he did, and now Interview is his greatest triumph: the vehicle of his constant presence in the media, the sign that he is part of the machinery generating the now that absorbs and degrades so much of our energy and our history.

That now is the region of scarcity, hyped demand, and inflation. It is the shifting present where experience thins out and we sense ourselves being devalued. It is not a place to pause for the pleasures of contemplating the tragic figure of Andy, hero of modern emptiness. It is not a place for the cultivation of poignant, melancholy images of death in the service of style and the cutting edge of hipness. It is a place of fear—not fear of death but of nonbeing, of surviving unnoticed in a deprived and diminished state. Inflation induces this fear in each of us. It doesn’t simply devalue our currency. It devalues us. Interview is an example of how this works.

In Interview, every celebrity gets the same treatment because the magazine has only one thing to give, and not much of that: a ditsy, fun, distracted kind of quasi-attention. Like polo players and veteran fashion designers, artists become the target of questions that deny one has any origins, any future, any intentions, any destiny other than that of being interviewed by Interview. Nobodies usually have no voice, but this magazine illustrates certain specimens of anonymity with full-page photos—nobodies who might, in some frenzy of ditsiness, be mistaken for somebodies. These nobodies, the visible few, get the same photographic treatment as celebrities. Warhol is a leveler but not an egalitarian. From cover to cover, Interview is an exercise in refusing to acknowledge the full existence of anyone or anything. It is a rhetoric of incomplete definitions: nothing is noticed, save to diminish it. It joins in the policies of our marketplace culture, creating scarcities in an absorptive, engulfing now, scarcities that deplete the self and put it in competition with every other depleted self.

Warhol has always exercised these inflationary powers. The art world never noticed because it saw him only as an artist, one of those heroes who whisk us away from thoughts of inflation and other depressing actualities. But Andy didn’t want to be a hero for the art world. He wanted to be a success in the larger world. In this decade he got what he wanted, and we have to call on our marketplace vision to see what is at stake.

Recently it looked as though Warhol had quit making lively images. What the art world considers his lamest images are from the early ’80s, when he ascended to his present power in the larger world; when, for example, he set up his own video production company. Then came “Ads,” 1985, a series of ten silkscreen prints. Some of their purples and reds recall his juiciest works of the ’70s. Others show what his latest public persona had already demonstrated: that his take on the media is as acute now as it ever was. The “Ads” include a revamp of a Japanese poster for James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, a tangible sign that Warholian shrewdness has global reach. His Judy Garland in a Blackglama mink looks like the unattainable ideal toward which all Interview covers unsuccessfully strive. For now this image presides over the contested zone where the lines between art, media, and entertainment are drawn,erased, and immediately redrawn. The “Ads” announce Warhol’s self-consciousness, in case anyone doubted it.

The aura of the ’80s Warhol sheds a bright light on the barrier of privilege we hoped would always separate the art world from fashion, entertainment, and everything else art flirts with. So long as we believed Andy himself was content to benefit from those privileges, to exploit them in designing his Death Angel persona, we were content to carry on as if the borders of the art world were unbreachable. The border is still there, but it is so permeable it can count as just another image. To trace Warhol’s progress is to see along the way a future in which our culture won’t contain sanctuaries for privileged images of the self or of art. So there will be no more meaning in crossing the cultures internal borders. Those borders won’t matter, nor will the differences between our art-world selves and our marketplace selves. Because of Warhol we see those figures revealed as twins. Fears of scarcity and inflation drive them both. There is one difference: the marketplace self is conscious of these fears; the other self isn’t. Less than five years ago, we could look at Warhol, look at ourselves, and remain ignorant of all this. Now we cannot. The spectacle of Andy Warhol requires us to face the scarcities that define our art, our experience, and us. Becoming conscious of our own impoverishment, we can refuse to accept it. We can begin to remember that we have a natural right to something more.

Carter Ratcliff is a poet and critic who lives in New York; his book on Robert Longo will be published by Schirmer/Mosel, Munich.