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But the cool tone of the images in Warhol's works is one reason why a viewer might be tempted to read a kind of backhanded affection for advertising and consumption in Warhol's series, as well as satirical parody. What Hughes calls this affectlessness, a fascinated and yet indifferent take on the object, Warhol does not obviously express a point-of-view, rather he simply deploys sameness in different contexts -- advertising in an art gallery, movie stars tinted with flat paints. Whether he does this with love as well as humor might be possible, but because there is such a visual parallel between the parody or the art and the real, it is hard to assign a definitive tone, other than coolness, to Warhol.
For instance, a viewer might ask, is there, in the repetition of stars' faces such as Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie O. And of course Marilyn, as well as Marlon Brando, and the rest of the faces cataloged in Warhol's series, a parallel with observing these people as artists worthy of fame -- or does the repetition of the image show that the image is what matters, not the accomplishment of the person? Regardless, upon observing these series, the viewer, rather than coming to a specific and quick opinion about these works, is merely asked to acknowledge the presence of the repetition, to take note and record this modern condition of being an uninvolved spectator in a media that is over involved in our lives, and cannot walk away with a secure sense of the artists' point-of-view.
Thus, more than asking the viewer of the art to laugh out loud, Warhol's works, notes Hughes, speak eloquently about the condition of image overload in a media saturated culture. By satirizing advertising and celebrity, the preoccupations of the modern media, Warhol was "variously treating themes that some people have considered a catalog of the preoccupations of the time," in a quick, repetitive, yet efficacious manner -- much like the viewer is bombarded with images while watching the evening news. These subjects or preoccupations of Warhol "included disasters, such as newspaper images of death and destruction," as well as advertising and celebrity, always drawing the media to the forefront of Warhol's artistic discourse.
We consume soup, the media and celebrity, suggests Warhol, and whether this is good or bad is left up to the viewer, he as the artist simply depicts rather than comments about how this modern fact affects him. Alas, the recent monotony of images of death in destruction in our modern media might seem to query the infamous quote of Warhol that the more one sees of something "the better and emptier" a viewer of the media feels. But by better one does not necessarily feel good, perhaps, but reassured in one's own sense of certainty in the world. Through repetition, even of a disaster, the viewer becomes assured of a far off disaster really occurring, rather than as something abstract, narrated only in the verbal medium of radio -- and by repeating one's own image and status through buying into a certain consumed image, one reaffirms one's own identity.
Is this assigning too much meaning and significance to Andy Warhol's critique of advertising and commercialism? After all, one could allege that his work is a kind of homage as well as a satire, and because of its absence of originality it is more of a performance than a true work of art -- without the viewer's participation and viewing the soup cans as different from ordinary advertising, does any art really take place?
Advertising and Warhol's work depend upon collusion of viewer and subject -- they must be viewed to have their full effect in the sense that the viewer must be fluent in the cultural images of the day as well as simply appreciate art. Warhol knew the world of commercial advertising quite well and was quite skilled in deploying its language upon the minds of consumers. He began as a commercial illustrator, and unlike many a recent art school graduate, was a very successful trade professional on assignments such as shoe ads for I. Miller "in a stylish blotty line that derived from Ben Shahn." He first exhibited in an art gallery in 1962, when the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles showed his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans, 1961-62, not very long after he ended his work in commercial, as opposed to artistic design.
Interestingly enough, much like the celebrities whose lives he chronicled, most of Warhol's best work was done in a relatively concentrated period, over a span of about six years, finishing in 1968, after he was shot by a follower/hanger-on/fan. His work, said Hughes "all flowed from one central insight: that in a culture glutted with information, where most people experience most things at second or third hand through TV and print, through images that become banal and disassociated by repeated again and again and again, there is role for affect less art." In other words, Warhol was the first artist to play upon the lack of feeling created by modern culture, and to stress its importance in modern life, by deploying repetitive commercial images and media in his art.
American art was no longer about personal, interior expression, after Warhol. As an artist, " you no longer need to be hot and full of feeling. You can be super cool, like a slightly frosted mirror. Not that Warhol worked this out; he didn't have to. He felt it and embodied it. He was a conduit for a sort of collective American state of mind in which celebrity - the famous image of a person, the famous brand name - had completely replaced both sacredness and solidity."
Warhol's art proved a conduit for the later art works fashioned by the hand of the contemporary artist and satirist of commercial culture, Jeff Koons. Today, Koons is among the most controversial and intriguing artists to have emerged in the past decade and a direct descendant of Warhol. Like Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol before him, "he is concerned with the transformation of everyday objects into art and takes such post-modern issues" as high and low culture, context, and commercialization of art "as the central focus of his work." Koons focuses, unlike Warhol, not upon standardization, but elevating low art images and forms into the galleries of high art, but by making use of supposedly lower-class cliches such as Easter bunnies and puppies, the parody of Koons and Warhol share a common bond, as well as their affect less use of the darlings of commercialized culture.
Koons' art historical glory" resides in the fact that he is flat -- no depth, all about the surfaces of things, even, some have noted, "flatter than Warhol." This meaninglessness and banality, if nothing else, is his most important contribution to art," as Koons lacks even the slickness of Madison Avenue advertising, and the sense of specious sophistication that images of celebrities might create.
But Koons is even more controversial as an artist of high life than Warhol. For instance, the critic D.S. Baker has called Jeff Koons a duper of modern art critics. While Warhol was similarly accused in his day of not engaging in true, unique productions of original art, Baker validates Warhol but not Koons, rhetorically asking that rather than parodying commercialism, Koons is using the media to his own advantage to conceal a lack of real artistic talent. "Is Koons duping the media? This paradox in the Koons phenomenon." Baker states that unlike the oddly pleasurable performance-like effect of Warhol's series, the use of Koons of common, almost folksy images instead is a "tragedy to the well-meaning spectator who wants to know what's going on, wants to get to the bottom of things." Koons is about a lack of style, rather than using a lack of apparent style in a creative act of dialogue between consumer of art, consumer of media, and artist.
Koons, states Baker, laughs at the spectator, rather than causes the spectator or consumer of art to laugh at his or her own purchasing, buying self at the supermarket, buying a brand of soup and gazing at the celebrity gossip rags. There is no truly healthy irony present in Koons, says baker, "I do not think that laughter is intended." Baker alleges that Koons does not even fully understand his own irony, unlike Warhol. "I don't mind having Koons try to put one over on us, but is seems dangerous (if not disastrous to the state of mass spectatorship) that the discourses and interpretations surrounding the art world play Koons straight, granting him depth," says Baker -- in other words, given the lack of stylization of Koons, and his lack of an apparently deliberate use of media, why not simply walk through a Hallmark store for the same…[continue]
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