What Memes Owe to Art History
From the Catalogue:
“I went to China…and I went to see the Great Wall. You know, you read about it for years. And actually it was really great. It was really really really great.” Andy Warhol
October 27, 1982: Flying from New York on PAN AM, which at the time was the gold standard of international service, Andy Warhol, along with photographer Christopher Makos, Andy’s business manager Fred Hughes, and Fred’s friend Natasha Grenfell arrived in Hong Kong. Thanks to an invitation extended by young businessman Alfred Siu, who had commissioned portraits of Prince Charles and Princess Diana from Warhol for the nightclub he was opening, the small entourage was surprised with a VIP trip to the Chinese capital for a few days. Beijing, to Warhol, was like a burst of visual images of graphics. Seeing Chinese characters on his plane, passing signs on the way from the airport, the foreign cars, the different smells, Warhol was acutely aware of what was different or strange about the place. To anyone travelling into China from the West, it must have been a sensory overload, and a stark contrast especially for Warhol. So much so, perhaps, that the artist would attempt to apprise his new experiences by drawing comparisons to more familiar ones.
“It’s like walking up to the Empire State Building.”
Climbing up one of the greatest world heritage sites, Warhol likened the Great Wall to a landmark more firmly rooted in his domestic experiences, namely the Empire State Building, highlighting Warhol’s relatable position as that of a curious tourist. In these instances, we are offered an unobstructed view of Warhol beyond and behind the artist.
Snapping away at will while roaming the Great Wall and the Ming tombs, like all tourists do, a Chinon camera in hand, a slight wrinkle in his forehead, focused eyes underneath his rounded spectacles, Warhol not only continued his ongoing obsession with looking but also paradoxically became the object viewed. Each photograph presents a record of what Warhol was looking at, but also sometimes of people looking back at him. His fascination with repetition and patterning comes through, yet his instinctive eye for relaying the everyday detail remains– the endless cobbled grounds, the abstract shapes of Chinese calligraphy, men and women, young, old, all in their Mao suits, curl after curl of coiled incense, this was to Warhol, this was China, new and hitherto unexplored.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Blindstamp credit in the margin. Initialled ‘T.J.H.’ by Timothy J. Hunt of the Andy Warhol Foundation in pencil, estate copyright credit reproduction limitation and date stamps on the verso. Accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity signed in ink by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria; Pittsburgh, The Andy Warhol Museum, Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei, 11 December 2015 – 11 September 2016
Nicholas Chambers, Michael Frahm and Tony Godfrey, eds., Warhol in China, Germany, 2014, pp. 72-73, 299 (illustrated)
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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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