Warhol Still Relevant


Andy Warhol, Heaven And Hell Are Just One Breath Away, 1985-86; Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas; 20 x 16 inches

by Caroline Newman

Prism LA is currently featuring an impressive suite of Andy Warhol’s black and white paintings, highlighting his timeless critique of consumerism, politics, and religion.  Approximately 35 black and white paintings by Warhol from the late 1980’s are on display.  All works are done in Warhol’s signature high contrast style, but some contain text, some contain imagery, and some both.  The focus turns directly towards the stark text or solitary image by leaving out all details.

Themes of consumerism, politics, and religion have always played a key role in Warhol’s work.  This body of work demonstrates that not much has changed in the importance of these issues since the works were completed.  Advertisements for apartment buildings, shoes, and food are all dominated by the image of whatever is being sold and over-sized text followed by exclamation points.  Perhaps Warhol presaged the recent controversy in Los Angeles on over-sized billboards?  “Missile Maps” (1985) contains a map of the U.S.S.R. covering most of the canvas with every missile base marked by an image of a missile.  The Cold War, as Warhol saw it, was over, but the world is still a dangerous place and the artist commented on the need to be wary, which is just as valid today.  The same image is made in both the positive and negative.  An image of Christ in “Detail of the Last Supper” (1986) and “Heaven And Hell Are Just One Breath Away” (1985) critique the corruptness of the Church.  This is made even more clear in “Christ $9.98” (1985) where an image of Christ with rays around him is juxtaposed with the remaining phrase ‘ONLY $9.98’ which was cut from another sentence.  The scandals in America and worldwide have only intensified since the 1980’s.  This coming together of everyday words with everyday imagery combines to communicate the powerful criticism that permeated Warhol’s work.

The selection by Warhol to depict these works in black and white is both refreshing and ‘in-your-face’.  By extracting color and detail, the focus becomes clearer and the message rings stronger.  The display of the same image in a pair, one in the positive and one in the negative, draws similarities to Larry Johnson’s study of text and color (“Larry Johnson”, Hammer Museum, 2009).  What happens when we see the same image in predominantly white and then predominantly black?  How do we interpret the meaning of the work and the message that it contains?  How are we so easily fooled by these simple optical illusions?  Visit Prism LA and find out…

Andy Warhol Black & White @ Prism LA (now through June 27, 2010)

Prism LA

8746 W. Sunset Blvd.

West Hollywood, CA


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