Andy Warhol: Capturing the 20th Century
Andy Warhol’s career can be seen as a study of celebrity and the consumption of mass media. His portfolios read like a history book, outlining the people and moments that define the twentieth century and cementing them as aesthetic icons. From sports stars to astronauts, Warhol’s prints provide a glimpse into contemporary American life at the time.
One of Warhol’s most sought-after collections consists of all fictional figures. In the Myths Portfolio, he demonstrates the rise of American media through characters from popular films and television programs. Warhol’s reference to mythology is comparing these cartoons, creatures, and idols to the gods and goddesses of ancient times. Mickey Mouse is at the forefront, with the classic cartoon holding its status as a beloved symbol to this day.
Muhammad Ali is another one of Warhol’s most highly requested portfolios. The famous boxer is held dearly as a source of American pride, particularly to the Black community who was vastly underrepresented in popular culture at the time. Ali’s success and visibility hailed him the title of a sports god and hero to many. Warhol portraits the boxer at the height of his fame as World Heavyweight Champion.
Mick Jagger is a unique subject in Warhol’s portfolio of famous celebrities. Working with the artist when he and the Rolling Stones were still relatively unknown, Warhol continued to photograph Jagger as he rose to rockstar status in the early 70s.
Warhol not only captured the people of the decade, he was able to chronicle major events as well. Collections like Moonwalk highlight a historical landmark for the country, while others like Electric Chair reveal less celebrated markers that were happening in the undercurrents. In these pieces, Warhol injects history with his own ideation of what it means and looks like.
Warhol had a strong grip on the pulse of American culture. His ability to recognize and forecast popularity is what led him to the forefront of pop art. As much as his portraits define the 20th century, he became apart of the definition himself. Without Warhol, the cultural landscape would be unrecognizable to how we see it today.