The Washington Post this week includes a review by Paul Alexander of Blake Gopnik’s epic new biography of Andy Warhol, a work which calls Warhol — with complete justification in my opinion — “the most important and influential artist of the twentieth-century,” surpassing even Picasso.
For those unwilling to plough through the 1,000 pages of Gopnik’s book, this review outlines in broad strokes the reasons behind that bold claim.
Warhol was a highly successful commercial artist before turning his mind to what we might call fine art, first with the Soup Cans (which invented Pop Art), then with the silkscreens and Brillo sculptures and the first Factory. By the mid-1960s he was creating experimental films (“Chelsea Girls“, for example, and “Poor Little Rich Girl“) and inventing new music with Velvet Underground. Gopnik goes on to show that after he was shot and nearly killed in 1968, he returned to art (the Mao posters, and famous portraits) and allowed Fred Hughes to build a Warhol business empire which included television work and a new Factory.
Warhol produced a phenomenal amount of extraordinary and innovative material in his lifetime, stopping only for death in 1987. Gopnik notes the “critical scepticism” that surrounded the living artist, a scepticism that has disappeared since Warhol’s death. What has also grown over the years is a recognition of the positive and exciting influence that Andy Warhol had on so many other artists.
Andy Warhol is not my favourite modern artist — that remains Lucian Freud — but I share Gopnik and Alexander’s appreciation of his supreme importance.