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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol has been dead since 1987 following a simple operation that went wrong. In the two decades since his death, people still debate whether he was an artistic genius, or was he just a showman? Isabel Kuhl looks at the life and times in this artist in the eponymous publication Andy Warhol (ISBN 978-3-7913-3814-9, Prestel Publishing 2007).
The book is in four main sections - The Big Apple Takes Over, The Artist on his Way Up, An Artist of the Everyday and No End to Andy Warhol.
The first section dealing with New York (the Big Apple) is more of an historical/societal overview, showing how the prevailing conditions at the time were conducive for original thought (though this does not imply excellence). The ‘Beat generation’ icons such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg being prominent members.
The second section covering Warhol on the way up shows just how hard he applied in making the contacts who could help him achieve his apparent ambition of fame. Warhol was also not averse to giving all his autographed books a low number, as he knew everyone preferred to think they were one of the first! Warhol the marketer, as opposed to Warhol the artist. As he was also so busy dreaming up his next self-promotion, the coloring of his pictures was often left to others, and his mother forged his signature! Warhol is even quoted as saying, “Sex and parties are the only things you have to show up for in person.”
The third section covers the elevation to “art” given to everyday items, with the Campbell’s soup tin being the most famous, and even used on the cover of this book. For me, this shows that Warhol was a good graphic advertising artist, and not much else. But then, each to his own!
On the inside of the back cover are advertisements for two other artists, Salvador Dali and Gustav Klimt. I think Andy Warhol would have found it amusing that he ended up alongside these two great artists. However it is my opinion that Truman Capote, quoted in the book, said it best, “I’m not saying that Andy Warhol has no talent … but I couldn’t say just what that talent is - except perhaps in being a genius at selling himself.”
At B. 595, it is not a bad primer on someone who was really never a ‘great’ artist, but in the way he reproduced his art with silk-screening showed that he was a trendsetter while trying all the time to make sure that everyone knew that he was one. Posthumously his work sells for astronomical figures (in the millions of dollars) and even at the time of his death he had amassed an estimated $100 million estate.
Love him or loathe him, Andy Warhol remains a significant figure in the western world history of art, and this inexpensive book, with good color plates makes an excellent reference publication. It is also interesting that this book was originally published in German (not Warhol’s native language) showing his enduring appeal to the European art scene, and was later translated into English.