At the end of his career, Andy Warhol was the most famous artist in America and yet, to many observers, deeply compromised. The common perception in the art world was that he had sold out, squandering whatever talent he once possessed to become a court painter to the glitterati, in celebration of American consumer culture at its unrepentant worst.
The Gems exhibited in this room playfully spoof the artist’s own awestruck fascination with the trappings of wealth. A keen collector of diamonds and jewellery, Warhol zooms in on the object of his desire in this series of paintings, which present the precious stones as full-frame fetishes rendered in phosphorescent paint that glows under ultraviolet light. This gaudy flourish was closer in spirit to the disco culture of the moment than to the high seriousness of contemporary art, and indeed the links that Warhol forged between art and entertainment and between art and money were to become important touchstones for the generation of artists who emerged in the 1980s.