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Exploring Andy Warhol’s Lifelong Fascination with Women

Andy Warhol. Ladies and Gentlemen, Circa 1974-1975
Synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas, 120 x 80 inches (304.8 x 203.2 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander

Andy Warhol. Red Jackie, 1964
Acrylic and silkscreen ink, 40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart Courtesy Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart

Andy Warhol turned appropriation into fine art, perhaps the most profoundly American aspect of his practice. Where Dada subverted the known, Warhol exalted it, creating a pantheon of iconography that charmed, rather than challenged, the status quo – while simultaneously being edgy enough to avoid becoming camp, corn, or schmaltz.

Warhol is America looking back at itself, with a nod and a wink, taking art in the age of mass reproduction to the next level when he began making silkscreens in August 1962. Marilyn Monroe’s tragic death sparked it off. She was his first, perhaps his greatest, and far from his last, as he transformed The Factory into an art world machine.

Andy’s Marilyn is a Mona Lisa of sorts — her many incarnations and moods a psychic x-ray into the person none of us ever knew. Using a publicity photography by Gene Korman for the 1953 film Niagara, Warhol took the manufactured image and remade it into something beautiful and grotesque.

Warhol’s well-timed embrace signaled a new mood: one that centered pop culture in intellectual circles. In his early works, appropriation was deftly played; Warhol fittingly took branded images and elevated them, successfully avoiding lawsuits until his 1966 Flowers series, which drew from the work of Patricia Caulfield, which he lost.

A couple more lawsuits did the trick — Warhol took up photography to avoid paying for infringements, though he did never completely stopped. As a photographer, Warhol’s portraits became more direct, a simple encounter with his subjects and a Polaroid camera. His tight compositions echoed his earliest Marilyns, while his choice of casting was nothing short of divine,

Whether photographing his mother, Julia Warhola, trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, or Ashraf Pahlavi, Princess of Iran, Warhol’s gift lay in being a fine judge of character. Smart enough to keep his opinions to himself, Warhol allowed his work to speak on his behalf, creating a rich tapestry of pop culture at the end of the millennium.

Warhol’s Women, on view at Lévy Gorvy through June 15, is a celebration of the artist’s fascination with the beauty, power, and allure of the feminine. The exhibition begins with the iconic Marilyn and Jackie paintings that endeared him to the world. The specter of violence and death is met with a serene visage, like Mary, Mother of Christ, a tender restoration of lost innocence.

Here, Warhol’s use of photographs not his own is truly transformative — setting a bar so high few can reach it. As Warhol’s Women progresses, the distinction between the artist’s photographs and those he appropriates is clear, much as the way they inform each other. At the center of Warhol’s practice is heart of a fan, one that waves happily in the presence of wealth, fame, and glamour. With Warhol’s Women, the photograph becomes the vessel in which we can preserve our most flawless visage.

Andy Warhol. Blondie 1981
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 42 x 42 inches (106.68 x 106.68 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Private Collection

Andy Warhol. Dolly Parton 1985
Synthetic polymnet paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 42 x 42 inches (106.7 x 106.7 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander

Andy Warhol. Mint Marilyn (Turquoise Marilyn) 1962
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Dorothy Zeidman

Andy Warhol. Judy Garland (Multicolor), 1978
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander

Andy Warhol. Licorice Marilyn, 1962
Acrylic and silkscreen ink, 20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut

Andy Warhol. Aretha Franklin, 1986
Synthetic polymner paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm)
© 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Tim Nighswander

All images: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

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