AUSTIN BOWES | DATE 1/11/2016
“Andy Warhol’s images may be as intrinsically shallow or inane as Howdy Doody, which doubtless led Warhol’s critics to think of him as shallow and inane. But such critics were blind to the power these images held for vast populations whose lives they distilled and energized.” So writes art historian Arthur C. Danto in his deep exploration of Warhol's power in visual culture, published in the definitive catalogue raisonné, Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987, first issued in 1989 and now available in a new, heavily updated fourth edition.
Published by D.A.P. in association with Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, the Warhol Foundation and Edition Schellmann, Andy Warhol Prints is a truly comprehensive compendium, spanning from Warhol's very first hand-printed screenprints of James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces and Bella Lugosi as Dracula to his last portfolio of camouflage pattern prints, published just prior to his untimely death in 1987. In contrast to earlier editions, this definitive, scholarly volume contains 500 additional, fully documented images; a new section on the portraits and related paintings; and a supplement featuring prints and illustrated books from the 1950s, accompanied by a new essay by Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Though this volume covers only Warhol’s prints, there is the deep sense of a complete monograph on the artist. For although prints were not Warhol's only medium, he was very much at home with the screen-printing technique from the beginning of his career to the end. Through them, we are able to track Warhol's artistic developments in granular detail.
Taking in more than 1700 works over 400 pages may seem daunting to begin, but one quickly finds that there can never be too much Warhol. As thoroughly iconic as his work has become since he first surged to popularity in the 1960s, this volume proves that, remarkably, there is still something new to see every time one turns the page.
As a student of classical art history, it was particularly pleasing to flip through the major sections on both published and unpublished prints looking for references to past masters. Warhol cheerfully borrows from Italian Renaissance painters such as Botticelli and Uccello in his Details of Renaissance Paintings series featuring variations on "Birth of Venus" and "St. George and the Dragon," among others. In a 1984 series, Warhol plays with Edvard Munch’s German Expressionist woodcut masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna," capturing Munch’s preoccupation with the relationship between mood and color with his genuine touch of Pop.
As I made my way through the book, I couldn't help thinking of German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer, who was one of the first artists to achieve popular recognition through printmaking within his own lifetime. Warhol's prints famously allowed “everyone who wanted one [to] have one.” In this way, according to Danto, Warhol challenged even the idea of high art. “Who thought of them as Art with a capital A?”
What's more, by working with such emblematically American images as Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell's Soup can—which essentially became an icon through his work, and his work alone—Warhol created images of such essential American-ness that, Danto posits, all viewers would become, in some fundamental, perceptual way, American, no matter their actual nationality.
He explains, "French students would hardly have known who Howdy Doody was, nor German, nor Yugoslavian, nor Scandinavian students. Not to know who Howdy Doody was would automatically exclude someone from the culture his image defined. To have to ask who he was and what he meant was the cognitive mark of not being part of the community which was partially constituted through knowing who he was and what he meant. A community is defined by the images its members do not have to find out about, but who know their identity and meaning immediately and intuitively. If twenty-year-olds in 1968 knew Howdy Doody in this immediate and intuitive way, irrespective of their class and their racial backgrounds, the central community to which they belonged transcended differences between class and race. Everyone in America knew Liz and Jackie, Elvis and Marilyn, Mickey Mouse and Superman, Campbell's Soup and Brillo. When this knowledge vanishes, the culture will have changed profoundly...When people know who Marilyn was only because they have made a special investigation, Marilyn will have stopped being a part of who 'we' are—or there will be a new 'we.' But when that knowledge is internalized by persons outside the political boundaries of America, they are in effect deeply American, whatever their nationality."
I confess, when I opened Andy Warhol Prints, I had never heard of Howdy Doody. And yet, Warhol is as fresh and relevant as ever today, despite the fact that there is a new “we.”
AUSTIN BOWES studies Art History at New York University, and is currently studying Renaissance art in Florence, Italy. Raised in Sarasota, FL, Austin takes an interest in American modern and postmodern art.
IMAGES FROM TOP: "Howdy Doody" from the Myths series (1981). Early prints, "Cagney" (1962/1964) and "The Kiss (Bela Lugosi)" (ca. 1963). Selection of "Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482" prints from the Renaissance Paintings series (1984). "Madonna (After Munch)" (1984). Selection from the 10-print series, Campbell's Soup II (1969). Selection of prints from the Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (1967) series. Prints from the Self-Portrait series (ca. 1977).
Clth, 9.75 x 11.75 in. / 400 pgs / 1500 color / 20 b&w.