Andy Warhol

Bruno Bischofberger

“Truth lies in the surface, deep in the surface.” This comment by Robert Wilson about his theatrical productions is also applicable to Andy Warhol’s oeuvre—especially to the works of the ’60s on display here. Warhol privileged the surface—the surface of the work itself and of the age of the commodity. Numerous subjects more readily recognizable in their later, slicker versions are prefigured crudely here in pencil, and then painted, as in the antique telephone which floats in front of abstract doodles in brown and violet. In a second version from the same year, Warhol’s naturalism has become an abstraction. The works in this exhibition are transitional pieces in which many techniques converge on one canvas, as in the painting of the crumpled Campbell soup can which combines rubber stamping, stenciling, and hand painting. How radically he departed from any personal signature style is evidenced in the series “Flowers,” 1964.

One senses the style of a graphic designer in these works—one who appropriates the laws of advertising by using dynamic cropping, seductive glances, agitprop compositions, and propagandistic conditioning through repetition. And Warhol achieves this without sacrificing emotional sovereignty. The small Marilyn piece—which consists of two gold tondi—functions as a careful study for the great Marilyn apotheosis of later years. Likewise, the portrait of Robert Rauschenberg is intimate; he peers at us, like a double, from a blue area of color as if a curtain had been placed before the canvas. Warhol used this heroic photograph in combination with family shots one year later for his Let us Now Praise Famous Men, 1963.

This exhibition offered a stimulating opportunity to contemplate why Warhol’s use of repetition is still artistically compelling. Conditioning through repetition is more than superficial, for through repetition the unknown, the strange, becomes known, and we can digest it. One recognizes others through the external, the artist through the images which, over time, become part of our visual vocabulary. This process occurs unconsciously, but how multifaceted Warhol’s subjects were is already demonstrated in these early works of 1961 and 1962.

Claudia Jolles

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.