Pop Goes the Warhol

New works devoted to Andy Warhol suggest some people get more than 15 minutes of fame.

Book Cover Speaking of Andy Warhol, I suppose it would be missing the point to complain that the person given credit for the prescient observation that everyone would be allotted fifteen minutes of fame had exceeded his own share. Artist, political activist, filmmaker, writer, magazine publisher, philosopher Andy Warhol, who died in 1987, continues to fascinate—two recent books and a musical attest to what the publisher of the Icons of America series opines as his “permanent residence in our national imagination.”

Philosopher Arthur Danto whose CV includes a long stint as the Nation’s art critic provides a masterwork of concision in his Andy Warhol (Icons of America, Yale University Press). In under 200 pages, Danto examines Warhol’s artistic development, his relationships with contemporary masters such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and the impact of Warhol’s Factory, concluding that, “what makes him an American icon is that his subject matter is always something that the ordinary American understands: everything, or nearly everything he made art out of came straight out of the daily lives of very ordinary Americans… The tastes and values of ordinary persons all at once were inseparable from advanced art.” And clarifies Richard Dormen, “As Danto explains, the question Warhol asked is not ‘What is art?’ but ‘What is the difference between two things, exactly alike, one of which is art and one of which is not?’”

Tony Scherman and David Dalton take a different approach in their 500-page-plus “major reassessment,” Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol (Harper). Utilizing extensive and original new interviews they have stitched together a compendium of facts about Warhol and some thoughtful insights, such as:
Traditional, manual virtuosity no longer mattered. The fact that Warhol could draw had no bearing on his art now: how an artwork was made ceased to be a criterion of its quality. The result alone mattered: whether or not it was a striking image. Making art became a series of mental decisions, the most crucial of which was choosing the right source image. As Warhol would contend some years later, “The selection of the images is the most important and is the fruit of the imagination.”
The end result of this distancing from craft was, of course, the Factory, which ushered in controversial developments in contemporary art.

And then there is a new musical based on the phenomenon that was Andy Warhol. What’s next, Andy Warhol bed sheets? Perfume? Mont Blanc pen?
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