PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

The Warhol Paradox and 'On&By Andy Warhol'

Andy Warhol seemed to always have it both ways. He was able to play high against low, simple against complex, present and yet far away, sexual/asexual, etc.


On&By Andy Warhol

Publisher: MIT Press
Price: $24.95
Author: Gilda Williams, ed.
Length: 272 pages
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-02
Affiliate
Amazon

I thought I knew everything there was to know about Andy Warhol, yet endless streams of books constantly emerge about him. Warhol’s life and work are undoubtedly overly examined subjects that only Bob Dylan enthusiasts can relate to. With memoirs, anecdotes, and scholarship, new information is always popping up in the New York Times book reviews. I know all this and yet I still can’t get enough of Warhol.

On&By Andy Warhol is a survey of essays, divided into two sections. The first part is Warhol in his own words, mostly through interviews, his books, and transcripts. The second and less engaging part is various essays about Warhol.

For On&By Andy Warhol, Gilda Williams took on what must have been a massive undertaking of sorting through the endless scholarship. She compiled a wide range of diverse voices, from fictional conversations with the artist to feminist critiques of his work. Warhol was super-humanly prolific, yet made himself appear blank enough for viewers to be able to project their own interpretations of him and his work onto that blank exterior. His work and persona begged us to ask, what’s behind the mask?

In RE/SEARCH Volume 11: Pranks musician John Cale, in discussing Warhol, states, “Andy has a great gift of being able to make aphoristic statements about anything.” Indeed, the first half of On&By Andy Warhol is full of these philosophical aphorisms. Warhol’s dualistic worldview tends to jam difficult subjects into pithy single thoughts. He never claims to know anything while playing the observer. For example, “The interviewer should just tell me the words he wants me to say and I’ll repeat them after him. I think that would be so great, because I'm so empty I just can't think of anything to say.” It’s very charming.

When a 23-year-old Gretchen Berg interviewed Warhol in 1966 for The East Village Other, it was far from predictable that it would become one of the seminal interviews in the Warhol library. Oddly enough in On&By Andy Warhol, Berg’s 1966 interview appears early in the book, yet the actual transcript, which was found in one of Warhol’s time capsules, appears near the end of the book. I'm guessing that this was due to the chronology of the book, being that the transcript was discovered in 2008. The transcript of the famous interview shows that Warhol’s aphorisms were not as sharp as retellings have made them; rather, his aphorisms were a combination of clever editing and questioning, e.g., “I'm just doing work. Doing things. Keeping busy. I think that's the best thing in life. Keeping busy.”

Williams wisely included some negative things written about Warhol, which are very revealing of where his reputation stood in the '60s through to the present; for example, venerated minimalist Donald Judd wrote a very bitchy review that thinly veiled his jealousy. It was clear Warhol hit the zeitgeist as minimalism was receding into the shadows of postwar art history. Pop Art was clearly a threat to many of the ruling intellectuals.

Benjamin Buchloh’s "An Interview With Andy Warhol" is a lot of fun in that Warhol doesn’t take the mask off. This article is clearly a case of the critic trying to bait the artist to further his own career. Much like Judd’s review, there seems to be some agenda. I've always thought that most critics can’t create so they try to destroy art, as if they are doing culture some big favor. Warhol sees through Buchloh's game and wins by not caring. It should be noted that this 1985 interview didn’t surface until 2001. I wonder if Buchloh feels a little embarrassed by it.

Donna DeSalvo’s essay, "Success Is a Job in New York" renders a portrait of a young, ambitious Warhol fresh from Pittsburgh. He becomes a romantic figure when we see how malleable he made his drawing style in order to become a successful illustrator. This essay came about on the occasion of a more intimate Warhol show that ran concurrently with the reportedly whitewashed 1989 Museum of Modern Art blockbuster following the artist’s death. I didn’t see the show, but critics have made it seem like that show tried to cover up Warhol’s homosexuality and overall otherness.

Several takes on Warhol’s role in defining identity politics are addressed. Jennifer Doyle’s “I May Be Boring Someone”, Simon Watney’s “Queer Andy” and Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick’s “Warhol’s Shyness / Warhol’s Whiteness” all bring his sexuality to the front to give us a perspective on how his personal life shaped his art and where women fell into the context of his work. I get the impression that there was a time when Warhol’s sexual identity had been something of an open secret.

It's certainly de rigueur to quote Roland Barthes and other French semioticians in academic writing; however, philosophical writing about Warhol seems to miss the point. Warhol said everything he needed to say simply and was very easy to understand. While Barthes is a very important thinker his writing on Warhol falls short. Scholarly writing by the likes of Barthes, Thomas Crow and Frederic Jameson come off as incredibly dull and intellectually dishonest. Anthony Grudin’s essay “Except Like Tracing” desperately points to obvious class distinctions in Warhol’s work.

In the Artforum vernacular of art-speak, it’s common to hear Marxist/Late Capitalist interpretations almost as much as one hears Walter Benjamin’s tired ideas echoed throughout this group of essays. Certain forms of discussing art have become an intellectual cliché. The economics in Warhol’s work are self-evident. He painted dollar signs. None of this is as interesting as the transcript of Warhol interviewing Alfred Hitchcock towards the beginning of this collection.

Williams delivers an investigation of Warhol’s famous quip, “If you want to know about Andy Warhol; just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There is nothing behind it.” Williams takes this metaphor and investigates it in literal terms. She talks about how there's a frugality and thinness of surface. Screen print uses very little paint. The cow wallpaper is paper-thin. Even Warhol’s skin is thin. It's an interesting idea. It made me think of Seinfeld; the most popular show in television history that jokingly refers to itself as a show about nothing. The blankness in Warhol’s work is what we project on to it. Seinfeld isn't really about nothing. The viewer knows Warhol isn’t blank, but for some reason this is an appealing bit of show business. Hell, he predicted Seinfeld decades prior: “As I said, I want a show of my own called Nothing Special.”

What makes Warhol endlessly fascinating to me is the sheer inventiveness of his work. Warhol was a genius by making it appear that he wasn’t a genius. He reinvented every medium he touched: screen printing as serious painting, banality as depth, the rock impresario as artist, 4,000 audio recordings, 492 screen tests, 70 films, television, the TV appearance, the interview format, etc. The work is still fresh, Warhol’s color schemes and compositions are still visually attractive and intellectually seductive. The paintings particularly embody boldness of decision and are aging well and expensively as a result.

The theme that returns throughout the book is what I think of as the Warhol paradox. Warhol seemed to always have it both ways. He was able to play high against low, simple against complex, present and yet far away, sexual/asexual, etc. The dualities in his work speak to the paradoxical nature of the universe. I think human beings carry much of this paradox around, and so few people know how to own it, much less embody it.

As a culture we are still flailing at trying to figure Warhol out today. One-thing historians seem to agree on is that he would have loved the 21st century. He was always right there as a practicing futurist in front of the “new” of his time: “If I had a good computer I could catch up with my thoughts over the weekend if I ever got behind myself. A computer would be a very qualified boss.”

On&By Andy Warho is the rare reference book that can serve as an introduction to the wide range of Warhol’s work and influence on contemporary culture, as well as a deeper investigation for Warhol enthusiasts like myself, who are always looking for that hidden anecdote to reveal more about this near mythical figure who dropped jewels like: “If you watch your weight, try the ‘Andy Warhol New York City Diet’: when I order in a restaurant, I order everything I don't want, so I have a lot to play around with while everyone else eats.”

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.