The new catalog for the Andy Warhol Enterprises exhibit arrived at our doorstep with a gleaming white cover and gilt-edged pages. The over-the-top look of the book is something of a tongue in cheek reference to the subject of the exhibition it covers: Andy Warhol’s art as business/business as art.
Beginning at the beginning…
The Indianapolis Museum of Art pulled this show together quickly when they were presented with an opportunity by PNC Financial Services which has recently expanded into the Midwest. PNC – known for its support of the arts – approached the IMA with the idea of mounting an exhibit that would coincide with its new expansion. The offer started wheels turning quickly and IMA curators Sarah Urist Green and Allison Unruh worked with The Andy Warhol Museum to pull together a show that would examine Warhol’s art through the lens of his worshiping “at the altar of commercial and financial success.” A brilliant notion given the opportunity that made it possible, the Andy Warhol Enterprises catalog is a beautiful work in its own right as well as a provocative document of a man who turned the myth of the starving artist on its ear.
The exhibit’s central premise is summed up by the artist himself:
“Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist…Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” – Andy Warhol
Of course Warhol began his career as a commercial artist and illustrator before he made his mark in the gallery scene by blurring the line between high and low, valued and vulgar. By all accounts the man was a workhorse; the naming of his Factory workspace/scene not only alluding to a place where work is done, but also to a place where commodities are created – repeatedly.
The show features a number of sketches and finished works from Warhol’s commercial career. Layouts for Volkswagen, Chanel No. 5 and Life Savers are all lovingly reproduced in the catalog. An ad for Mobilgas is striking as the company’s Pegasus logo will reappear in Warhol’s fine art later in his career. The show includes a number of Warhol’s record cover art works as well as a number of print ads the artist appeared in during the ’70′s and ’80′s.
Both curators lend essays to the catalog as do Matt Wrbican and Thomas Crow. Crow’s essay “Warhol Among the Art Directors”, attempts to put the works of Warhol’s commercial career in context and the readable examination dovetails nicely with recent talks Crow has given about Warhol’s impact on the world of contemporary art. Allison Unruh’s interview with filmmaker/producer/Factory collaborator Vincent Fremont rounds out the text.
The real triumph of the exhibit is the way that it clarifies Warhol’s ideas about money and fame. It’s a common misunderstanding to think of Warhol as an unlikely corporatist with a winner-take-all sensibility. In fact, Warhol’s love of capitalism paralleled what he saw as its democratic capacity.
Again, the artist:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.” – Andy Warhol
For Warhol, money and capitalism bring all people to a common meeting ground – the marketplace. While there is a certain naivety in this idea, there is also truth in the fact that capitalism – up to a point – cuts across social and class boundaries in fundamental ways, creating connections that might otherwise not exist in a patchwork country like the United States. Even Warhol’s seeming worship of glamor and celebrity was a broader undertaking than many commentators have been able to grasp:
“If everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is.” – Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol Enterprises
Edited by Sarah Urist Green and Allison Unruh
Contributors: Thomas Crow, Vincent Fremont and Matt Wrbican
Published by Hatje Cantz (December 31, 2010)
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