What Memes Owe to Art History
This work is stamped by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board and numbered A106.095 on the overlap.
From the Catalogue
"I'd been thrilled having Kennedy as president; he was handsome, young, smart–but it didn’t bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way the television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad." — Andy Warhol
Depicting one of the most beloved first ladies in American history, Andy Warhol’s Jackie can be considered the ultimate expression of Warhol's deep understanding of the American media and an astute commentary on its creation of celebrity icons. Jackie presents the viewer with Warhol’s stylistic and philosophical idiosyncrasies that shook the art world in the 1960s and differentiated him from all other Pop artists working at the time. Here, Warhol showcases his revolutionary silkscreen technique, a tool that allowed the artist to convey a radical reinvention of social critique and observation. As opposed to the mere illustration of social conditions, silk-screening allowed Warhol to investigate the intense media craze that shaped American culture through print, television, and radio channels. With this in mind, though particularly reflective of his contemporary culture, Warhol’s media-inspired rhetoric can be traced back to a particular moment during his childhood when, at the age of ten, he received a signed photograph of Shirley Temple after writing her a plethora of fan letters. From that point on, movies and magazines became forms of motivational escape from the mundanity of his hometown, Pittsburgh, in the 1930s.
After graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949, Warhol moved to New York where he made a name for himself in the advertising world through drawing shoes of celebrities—Judy Garland, Joan Crawford—for fashion magazines such as Glamour, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. As Warhol attempted to make the shift from commercial to fine artist, he was disenchanted by the dominating movement, abstract expressionism, in the New York art scene. In spite of this, Warhol’s early style demonstrates a clear influence from artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, pioneers in the utilization of images and materials found in their environments. The techniques espoused by Rauschenberg, such as the incorporation of print media, and Johns’ refusal to abstract found imagery, fit neatly into the vocabulary of Warhol’s professional career, which consisted largely of hand-copying photographs—of consumer goods, celebrities—for commercial advertisements. Warhol began exploring distinctive ways to express these interests in text and commercial imagery, a pursuit that led to his initial experiments with silkscreening in the spring of 1962. Silkscreening allowed Warhol to capture detail with great precision and to create work at a much faster rate. As Warhol stated, the process was evocative of a more strict mechanical function, positioning the artist as machine. Through this technique, images are created, repeated, and produced en-mass, recalling the production of simple commercial goods at large-scale factories, many of which were his chosen subjects. The silkscreen allowed Warhol to mimic the way in which media outlets were inundating the American population with news of celebrity gossip—in particular, news of tragedy, death, and disaster.
Warhol became invested in the relationship between media outpours and public mentality following the press’ sensationalized coverage of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Reports of Monroe’s death not only stunned the nation, but simultaneously instigated a “wave of ‘sympathetic’ suicides around the world" (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 124). A year later, after the assassination of President John. F Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Warhol recognized an identical form of manipulation carried out by the media: “When President Kennedy was shot that fall, I heard the news over the radio. I was alone in my studio. I don’t think I missed a stroke. I wanted to know what was going on out there, but that was the extent of my reaction… It didn’t bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way the television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad” (Andy Warhol, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, London 2007, p. 77). Responding to these events, Warhol began to investigate the way in which a public image shown pervasively through the mass media was reduced to a mere artificial construct: a trigger for the feelings of strangers rather than a portrait of a person.
As demonstrated in his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Warhol sought to expose the permeating and dehumanizing effects of the media’s narration of Jacqueline Kennedy’s personal loss. With Monroe, Warhol analyzed the way in which the media chronicled her suicide by spotlighting her glamorous movie-star looks and uncommon beauty. This decision ultimately memorialized Marilyn as an object of beauty, erasing any traces of sorrow and imperfection in her character. For Jackie Kennedy, in contrast, the enormity of her tragedy in 1963 personified a greater sense of national loss, and her inner trauma became her public personae.
Warhol traces the media’s exposé of Jackie’s emotional journey by selecting source images from both before and after the assassination. As the media callously reported the catastrophe through photographs and speculation from its closest and most affected witness, Warhol emphasizes Jackie’s courage and resilience by purposefully recounting the president’s assassination through the candid expressions of Jackie as she was left to represent her family in the face of a grieving nation. The present work shows Jackie, beaming upon her arrival at Dallas' Love Field airport on November 22, 1963, just hours before her husband's assassination. In the original LIFE Magazine photograph of the President and First Lady's arrival, we see just how infatuated with the Kennedys America truly was: hundreds of civilians lined the tarmac just to get a glimpse of the pair and the always-poised Jackie gracefully cradles a bouquet of red roses just gifted to her by the mayor's wife. An emblem of youth, beauty and style, Jackie became the ultimate feminized American dream. Warhol, aware of America's infatuation for the First Lady, has closely cropped his image to reveal just her face, glowing with a pure and now-ironic sense of ease, allowing the viewer's mind to complete the picture. Unlike those images of Jackie at her husband’s funeral, in this work we understand the joy of her married life, and as such, better comprehend the poignancy of its abruptly curtailed conclusion. Against the media’s pervasive scrutiny, Warhol unveils the truth behind Jackie, an icon deserving of reverential adoration and the consummate deity of pop art.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's
Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above circa 1965)
Anders Höglund Gallery, Sweden
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009
Obsessed with celebrity, consumer culture, and mechanical (re)production, Pop artist Andy Warhol created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. As famous for his quips as for his art—he variously mused that “art is what you can get away with” and “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”—Warhol drew widely from popular culture and everyday subject matter, creating works like his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans (1962), Brillo pad box sculptures, and portraits of Marilyn Monroe, using the medium of silk-screen printmaking to achieve his characteristic hard edges and flat areas of color. Known for his cultivation of celebrity, Factory studio (a radical social and creative melting pot), and avant-garde films like Chelsea Girls (1966), Warhol was also a mentor to artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His Pop sensibility is now standard practice, taken up by major contemporary artists Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons, among countless others.
American, 1928-1987, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York
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