Transmitting Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol could have been a marketer or one of those suits you see in Mad Men, finger clicking good at selling everyone ‘the dream’. He’d have been as he was, of course, an oddball, both in temperament and aesthetic.
There would be Don Draper, dapper, refined, every inch the perfect man, cigarette smoke rising from his desk, hypnotising everyone with his natural way with words. And then there would have been Warhol, at times, very well-dressed, appropriately so, but always something was amiss.
His hair, for one, was unreal, figuratively and otherwise, and he was eccentric in other areas of his life. He didn’t at all, for example, fit into the image of what it meant to be a man in sixties America.
He was, to the industry’s loss, not a media man in the conventional sense, though as an artist, his so-called true calling, he did very much embrace the extended industry. What was it he once said – “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have”?
It could have been a line right from Jon Hamm’s Draper, a character who knew all too well what it was he was in charge of – selling happiness. And, in this (post)modern world we live in, even that can be bought.
A new exhibition at Tate Liverpool examines how the pop art genius engaged with mass media, in a way that was necessarily impossible before, but unheard of artistically. He saw the media of film, radio and publishing as vessels in which he could widen art’s reach.
He’s something of an original in this regard, with the gallery stating that Warhol “redefined access to culture and art” in his novel approach to self-promotion. One of the defining aspects of this was his ability to turn upside down all sorts of ideas pertaining to high and low culture.
“Andy Warhol believed that art was for everyone, and tried to get his work out there to the biggest audience possible,” said Stephanie Straine, assistant curator to the exhibition, in an interview with the BBC.
“This led him to have his own show on Manhattan cable TV, and even to create designs for musicians and albums, such as Velvet Underground and John Lennon’s Menlove Avenue. I’m thrilled that we have this exhibition here in Liverpool and I’m sure our visitors will enjoy it.”
Warhol is often disparaged as being somewhat vacuous, lacking in real talent, a savvy individual who was able to ride on the zeitgeist of the time and sell back to the world physical objects and ideas that had already been ‘sold and told’. Fuel for this kind of criticism is obvious because he played up to it.
He did once say that “art is what you can get away with”, and while he is right in that his work was sometimes absurd and quite shallow, easy even, replicable – something the art world frowns upon when it comes to defining the worth of a work – he was a thinking man. There’s more to his work than their shiny aesthetic and like Draper, it’s dark, it’s tragic and it’s ultimately human.
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