A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andrew Warhola Jr. once said: “When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.” Andy Warhol studied commercial art at Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Art, and made his living as a commercial artist, and provided a major shift in the art world in the 1960’s — moving from the abstract and the mystical to something more popular and commercial. This phenomenon could be seen as an elevation in stature of ordinary everyday objects of American life; or it could be regarded as slouching toward the mediocre — bringing into question the idea of having any sense of cultural refinement at all, — moving away from any standard of ‘perfectibility.’
“It’s the movies that have really been running things in America, ever since they were invented, “ Andy Warhol once explained. “They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.”
This could explain a lot about popular culture in the decades that followed. A 2009 article in The Economist, “The Pop Master’s Highs and Lows – Andy Warhol is the Bellwether,” notes that the market that he created for his work — his painting on canvas, entitled “Eight Elvises” is said to have been sold for $100,000,000 — established his reputation as a “trendsetter,” as Damien Hirst would do in the 1990s with his iconic work, featuring a shark and a variety of other animals suspended in formaldyhyde, purchased by collectors for millions of dollars.
The New York-based art critic and modernist art historian, Robert Pincus-Witten proposed decades ago that it’s craft that reflects the culture, and it’s art that moves it forward. Each individual consumer of art will have to make a judgement about whether Mr. Warhol was as “deeply superficial” as he claimed to have been, or whether he was ahead of the curve in drawing our attention to the influence of images and symbols we each experience in our day-to-day lives, whether or not we are aware of it. He did make one statement that could give us a clue, noting: “I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty.”
This exhibition, which offers an opportunity to judge the work for yourself, will be current through 5 June, with a Special Saturday Tour coming up on 4 June, from 2-3 p.m. The Exhibition is entitled “Society Portraits: Andy Warhol’s Photographic Legacy,” and the Exhibition labels of the photographs are available here. The Exhibition was curated by Matthew Affron, associate professor of Art History at the University of Virginia and Curator of Modern Art at the U.Va. Art Museum. Professor Affron was also general editor of the catalog for the 2009 exhibition Matisse, Picasso, and Modern Art in Paris. The University of Virginia Art Museum is located in the Thomas H. Bayly Building at 155 Rugby Road, in Charlottesville. The Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from 12-5 For additional information, call 434 924 3592.