There’s to be a big Andy Warhol retrospective at Tate Modern this spring. They say it’s the first Warhol exhibition there for 20 years, although as a Tate member for around 20 years it seems to me that he’s never been far away, and of course exhibitions can be dressed up in different guises (all to pull the crowds in). This time round we’re promised new insights, and no doubt for non-members the £22 ticket price will produce all sorts of fascinating glimpses into the man’s creativity for those who see him as a latter-day Messiah. But I’ve lost interest in Pop Art—its baleful influence has been to license veneer as depth, immediacy as significance. This is not to say one can’t appreciate a powerful image, but context free powerful images dim our sensibilities and denude aesthetic appreciation.
I agree with the art critic Hilton Kramer on this:
As a movement Pop Art came and went in a flash, but it was the kind flash that left everything changed. The art public was now a different public—larger, to be sure, but less serious, less introspective, less willing or able to distinguish between achievement and its trashy simulacrum. Moreover, everything connected with the life of art—everything, anyway that might have been expected to offer some resistance to this wholesale vulgarisation and demoralisation—was now cheapened and corrupted. The museums began their rapid descent into show biz and the retail trade. Their exhibitions were now mounted like Broadway shows, complete with set designers and lighting consultants, and their directors pressed into service as hucksters, promoting their wares in radio and television spots and selling their facilities for cocktail parties and other entertainments . . .
(Hilton Kramer, The Triumph of Modernism, The art world, 1987-2005, Rowman and Littlefield, Maryland, 2013 pp 146/7)
Yes, Warhol has a lot to answer for, but his defenders would no doubt argue that his ‘Factory’ democratised art and helped blow apart the elitist clique who considered art the preserve of connoisseurs. But the clique has merely refashioned itself in new clothes and its portals are more expensive than ever as artists seek to relocate themselves in the world of designer labels. Looking at an ‘original’ Warhol (is there such a thing?) one is more likely to ask ‘what’s it worth?’ rather than ‘what does it say?’