Andy Warhol: Death and Disaster

Guy Hepner is pleased to present ‘Death and Disaster’, an exhibition by Andy Warhol. Please join us for the opening reception on Thursday, May 12th, from 6pm – 8pm. The full exhibition catalog is available upon request.

Andy Warhol was a product of the very American art he produced. He was part of everything great and also things society doesn’t agree upon like race, riots, death, drugs and suicide. Having an attitude against American life, placed Warhol above it because he was so knowing but at the same time he could enjoy it. Because his life was so much of an open secret, he was able to operate underneath a mask and reflect exactly who he wanted to present to the world, constantly transforming and perfecting. Through his art, he was able to formulate his fantasies, fears and shame, exploring the dark corners of life that he did not as yet have the courage to explore himself, in a way that we can all identify with on some level. It pushed the culture forward at the same time that it was being created.

Focusing less on Warhol’s graphic reproduction of Campbell’s Soup Cans, this exhibition of Death and Disaster works suggests a more spiritual sentiment. In this scenario, the act of painting and screen printing worked as a meditation on life and the afterlife. The impact of Andrew Warhola’s private life, including the influence of his mother Julia Warhola who was obsessed with death and misfortune and being shot, shaped the vast career of Andy Warhol the artist.

Memento mori, or images preoccupied with concepts of death, appeared throughout Warhol’s body of work. From his Death and Disaster period, he produced the Electric Chair for a show in 1970; along with numerous images taken from magazines showing suicides, car crashes and other tragedies. The idea that mass media dramatized and popularized tragedy was of great interest to Warhol. While his most famous works, like his Campbell’s Soup Cans and celebrity portraits of Marilyn and Jackie, betray a fascination with the glorification of American pop culture objects, death would be of increasing concern to Warhol. His premonition almost came true in 1968 when Warhol was shot three times and nearly killed by Factory follower Valarie Solanas, who accused Warhol of stealing ideas from a script she had presented to him. Initially declared dead, paramedics were able to revive Warhol, who then began a long and slow recovery.

Warhol created The Flash Portfolio in 1968 to depict the continuing media spectacle surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The portfolio contains eleven screen prints based on campaign posters, mass media photographs and advertisements. The cover reproduces the front page of the New York World Telegram from the day of Kennedy’s assassination. Each screen print is accompanied by Teletype reports selected by Phillip Greer that provide a direct media narrative for Warhol’s images. The sequence of the portfolio and its relation to the Teletype text is unknown; it is truly a meditation on the passage of time and death. Warhol’s use of text underlines the notion that our collective understanding of the images is a result of a media construction and not our own personal emotional response.

Full of mystery and contradiction, Warhol’s life can appear as a riddle. Capable of great tenderness and kindness, he could also be unspeakably cruel and manipulative. Wracked with self loathing and insecurity, he simultaneously possessed extraordinary determination and quiet confidence in his own abilities. During his storied career, Andy Warhol was labeled a zealot, genius, fraud, visionary, voyeur, cultural vampire and the voice of a generation. An honest appraisal of his life would offer evidence to support any or all of these assertions. But regardless of one’s own personal opinion of the man and his work, his impact on the world and more specifically on art itself, is undeniable. The passion he was able to elicit from detractors and fans alike is unlike anything the art world has seen before or since. Warhol’s audacious approach utterly defied convention and tradition. Through his choice of subject matter, his use of repetition and his methods of mass production he was able to remove all preciousness and self-seriousness from his work. In doing so, he single handedly reframed the existing paradigm of what constituted art. But it was his innate ability to recognize the right idea at the right time that was perhaps Warhol’s greatest gift. It was this gift that made him a conceptual artist without peer.

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