In 1962, Andy Warhol began to create paintings by selecting a publicity photograph of a popular celebrity and silkscreening it directly onto the canvas. In a single event, he laid challenge to the history of painting, substituting the silkscreen for the brush. This exhibition traces the evolution of Warhol’s painting from his first use of crude printing techniques in the 1950s to the monumental canvases scattered with diamond dust that he made in his later years.
More than any other artist of his generation, Warhol showed us that the ubiquitous imagery of mass culture had come to reflect and shape contemporary life. Coca-Cola bottles, newspaper photographs of car crashes and of the death chamber are as closely associated with Warhol as they are with America. This powerful subject matter, however, has often obscured his radical explorations into different media. He painted and drew with silkscreen, made moving film images appear still, stitched together identical photographs, and filled a room with silver balloons.
Warhol described his approach as ‘machine-like’, but his work was far from uniform. He created an art of endless permutation, reinventing the same images again and again. This aspect is emphasised in the galleries’ thematic groupings. We have also added an expanded section on Warhol’s abstractions. Usually seen as a late career development, his interest in abstraction can be traced back to his earliest works. Indeed, all of Warhol’s paintings can be experienced as a late twentieth-century simulated landscape in which everything is surface and nothing but surface. Through this mediated world, Warhol gave form to the myths – aesthetic, sexual, cultural, political and economic – that continue to fuel contemporary life.
This exhibition was first shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin where it was curated by Heiner Bastian. The Tate Modern presentation is curated by Donna De Salvo.