Friday, January 13, 2012

Andy Warhol and Pop Art

Andy Warhol. Campbell's Soup Cans. 1962
Warhol, Andy Cambell's Soup Cans 1962, polymer paint on 32 canvases, NY MOMA

A few weeks ago, my mom came home skeptical from an exhibit of Andy Warhol at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.  "People are so crazy about this artist," she said with a frown, "and yet, I don't get how he got so famous.  He made nothing original and yet he makes millions of dollars on the images of others.  It's like he's playing a prank on the entire world.  He's the tailor who sold the emperor an invisible new suit of clothes, and everyone admires his art, not trusting themselves to expose him as a phony."

My mom is not an art historian; she is an intelligent, observant woman who does not allow anyone else to make her opinions for her.  I've been thinking about what she said, and about Warhol, who indeed came to fame to a great extent from reproducing images from newspapers, brand graphics and even other artists.  Even when it is true that his huge body of work is in fact far more varied than this, he's most known for adapting the images of others.

Warhol was part of a movement, started in the 1960s, known as Pop Art.  Pop artists used and manipulated motifs seen in contemporary advertising.  People were surrounded by these motifs in their daily lives, so much so that they probably hardly thought about them.  Pop artists, putting these motifs in the unexpected context of the art world, reminded people to question them.  How much do these motifs from advertising affect our lives?  How does repetition (such an essential component of Warhol's Cambell's Soup Cans, and an essential part of how advertising appears in our daily lives) change the meaning of the motif?  The thoughts about the subconscious and inescapable power of never ending advertising, which are evoked by pop art, can even be downright scary.

Warhol, Andy Brillo Boxes, 1970 silkscreen on plywood, Allen Memorial Art Museum

All that being said, I think my mom, in her thoughts about Warhol, has a point.  Not that Warhol is a bad artist, but that his art should strike us as funny.  He is playing a bit of a cheeky, and rather genius prank, putting soup cans or brillo boxes in a museum where they clearly don't belong, making money from such a deceptively simple trick.  

(If you're interested in this artist, check out the very interesting Warhol Museum Website, where I found quite a bit of information about Warhol that surprised me.) 


  1. Hi Alexis--

    Where did you find surprising information on the Warhol Museum site? I can't find anything about him personally. I am doing a research project about the controversy behind Warhol and whether he was a negative icon. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi MR,
      I would suggest reading the information here:

      This is an Andy Warhol biography organized around thematic groupings of his artworks. Perhaps particularly interesting for your project, click on the sub-section "career" to read about, and view art works relating to his social commentary and his celebrity status.

      Good luck with your research.


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  3. I've heard about this picture. This is a very extraordinary point of view and I respect modern art because people do not afraid to create something new