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Andy Warhol, Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg

Andy Warhol, Prince of Pop

by Jan Greenberg

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Richie's Picks: ANDY WARHOL: PRINCE OF POP by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan, Random House/Delacorte, October 2004, includes 32 page color insert, ISBN: 0-385-73056-X; Library ISBN: 0-385-90079-1

" 'We weren't just at the art exhibit. We were the exhibit.' "

"Like to take a cement fix
Be a standing cinema
Dress my friends up just for show
See them as they really are
Put a peephole in my brain
Two New Pence to have a go
I'd like to be a gallery
Put you all inside my show

Andy Warhol looks a scream
Hang him on my wall
Andy Warhol, Silver Screen
Can't tell them apart at all"
--David Bowie "Andy Warhol"

On Saturday night, October 20, 1973, during my first semester at UConn, I accompanied some of my new friends to an on-campus screening of Andy Warhol's Trash. It is an evening that I will never forget, although its significance has only partially to do with Warhol's raunchy "artistic" film, whose cast was immortalized in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."

" 'Scripts bore me. It's much more exciting not to know what's going to happen.' "

On our way to the theater, my friends detoured by way of a subterranean eatery on the south end of campus. Back then, the establishment was still adorned in original '50s dark leatherette, accompanied by chrome, pennants, mirrors, and a soda fountain. Parking me in a corner while they ordered themselves some slices, I zoned in on the radio as the music was interrupted by a news bulletin: President Nixon had just forced Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to resign after their refusals to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Solicitor General Robert Bork then proceeded to do the deed for Tricky Dick, and I proceeded to experience a surreal evening of having my eyes aimed at a screenful of junkies, prostitutes, and transvestites, while my mind kept repeating hysterically, "No! He can't do that! No! He can't do that!"

(Robert Bork later got his second fifteen minutes of fame, as a failed Reagan Supreme Court nominee, and continues to get an additional five or ten seconds each time I explain to Shari's classes the origin of Rodman Philbrick's phraseology, "That really borks me off," when we read them THE LAST BOOK IN THE UNIVERSE.)

But I seriously digress.

" 'Now and then people would accuse me of being evil--of letting people destroy themselves while I watched, just so I could film or tape record them,' Andy said. 'But I learned when I was little that whenever I got aggressive and tried to tell someone what to do, nothing happened. I just couldn't carry it off.' "

In the long run it can be argued that Andy Warhol and his complex life became much larger than his art. But the rise of Andy Warhol was the result of a simple and logical progression.

"Some people like to go out dancing
and other people like us, we gotta work"
--The Velvet Underground, "Sweet Jane"

An artistic son of eastern European immigrants grows up to become a successful commercial artist.

"Pittsburgh was far from New York, but the lessons Andy had learned in his hometown--work hard and work fast--were already serving him well."

A commercial artist is someone who is creating interesting and appealing images of products for sale. And the slight, pale, hardworking subject of this book was an absolute master at it. So when a new art movement coincidentally appeared--Pop Art--that involved the incorporation of everyday objects and newspaper images in paintings, who would have been a more likely person to rise and become the prince of that movement than this true master of commercial art?

And who better to tell the fascinating life story of such a controversial artist and cryptic individual than that dynamic duo of artist biographers, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan?

"For months Andy had been working hard, trying to find a subject to paint that was both fresh and visually stimulating."

The authors do a terrific job of conveying the tension that filled Warhol's determined quest to evolve from successful commercial artist to successful artist. Without that pivotal transition, of course, we wouldn't be talking about Andy Warhol forty-something years later.

"Eventually he painted a six-foot-tall Coke bottle--the curvy shape reproduced straightforwardly, larger than life, with the seriousness of high art. It was a breakthrough for him. Did he intend the Coke bottle as a still life or a satire on the female figure in painting? Certainly Andy never stopped to interpret his artwork; he was just trying to reinvent himself as a serious artist."

But, what's the story of his choosing the Campell's soup can? How did that happen?

"During this period, Andy fell into a depression. His mother constantly nagged him to send more money home to his brothers and their growing families in Pittsburgh. He felt torn between the financial security of commercial art and his ambition to be a great artist. He lay in bed, suffering from panic attacks. Afraid his heart would stop beating if he fell asleep, he would stay up all night talking on the phone to friends. It was on the telephone that he was most verbal, loving to hear gossip about celebrities and stories of his friends' love lives. Andy begged anybody and everybody for ideas. His friends grew used to hearing him moan. 'What should I paint?' They made plenty of suggestions, but nothing seemed right to him.
"Then one night at a party, he asked his usual question, only to receive an unusual response. Muriel Latow, an art consultant, said, 'I can give you an idea, but it's gonna cost you fifty dollars.' Latow had such a bright, sassy point of view that Andy believed she might well come up with a startling suggestion. He pulled out his checkbook.
" 'What do you like most in the world?' she asked him. 'You like money, you should paint that. And you should paint something that everybody sees everyday...like cans of soup.'
"Andy wrote her a check on the spot."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

" 'Publicity is like eating peanuts, once you start you can't stop.' "

Guiding us through his studio (The Factory), the galleries, parties, film sets, and multimedia presentations; from his near-assassination to the back room of Max's Kansas City, the authors provide an eye-opening look at the art scene and The Scene that Warhol created and nurtured. Years after his death, Andy Warhol's historic images of American icons continue to play a role in our pop culture. ANDY WARHOL: PRINCE OF POP is an engrossing portrait of the man, his art, and the publicity machine he set in motion.

Richie Partington
BudNotBuddy@aol.com ( )
  richiespicks | May 24, 2009 |
I asked my teenagers whether they had heard of Andy Warhol. One had. When I began talking about the picture of the tomato soup can and the pictures of Marilyn Monroe, all of my teens knew this art in detail. It would be an exceptionally rare soul who has not had some exposure to things Andy today.

Perhaps half of us would chide Warhol’s art or even hesitate to label his prolific output with the term —just as he divided his art professors at Carnegie Tech. It is difficult, however, to dispute the influence Warhol had and continues to have on both the art world and popular culture. Whether you consider Warhol to be an artist or a huckster, there is no denying that Warhol was the first to turn our artistic gaze to everyday objects. When I asked my teens why someone would draw eight-foot pictures of soup cans, an argument commenced and each person had a completely different answer. This arguing is exactly why this book is valuable in social studies classes, art classes, or any class that explores popular culture. Readers should note, however, that this book will take you into the heart of the Factory Studio, known for its sex and drugs and rock and roll. Readers should also note that this tour will be conducted with exceptional insight, cultural and historical awareness, and a fair measure of objectivity.

As with the other artist biographies they have written, Greenberg and Jordan skillfully develop the context of the times along with the life of the artist. They show how Warhol developed from the young Shirley Temple fan in the steel mill town of Pittsburgh to the icon of pop art whose influence is stilling rippling today. Perhaps I should withhold judgment on this book until I see the actual book (I am reviewing from a galley copy that does not have the artwork). I think, however, that Warhol would embrace any errors and claim both versions as the truth. ( )
  edspicer | Nov 5, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385732759, Mass Market Paperback)

“IN THE FUTURE EVERYBODY will be world famous for 15 minutes.”

The Campbell’s Soup Cans. The Marilyns. The Electric Chairs. The Flowers. The work created by Andy Warhol elevated everyday images to art, ensuring Warhol a fame that has far outlasted the 15 minutes he predicted for everyone else. His very name is synonymous with the 1960s American art movement known as Pop.

But Warhol’s oeuvre was the sum of many parts. He not only produced iconic art that blended high and popular culture; he also made controversial films, starring his entourage of the beautiful and outrageous; he launched Interview, a slick magazine that continues to sell today; and he reveled in leading the vanguard of New York’s hipster lifestyle. The Factory, Warhol’s studio and den of social happenings, was the place to be.

Who would have predicted that this eccentric boy, the Pittsburgh-bred son of Eastern European immigrants, would catapult himself into media superstardom? Warhol’s rise, from poverty to wealth, from obscurity to status as a Pop icon, is an absorbing tale—one in which the American dream of fame and fortune is played out in all of its success and its excess. No artist of the late 20th century took the pulse of his time—and ours—better than Andy Warhol.

Praise for Vincent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist:

“This outstanding, well-researched biography is fascinating reading.”—School Library Journal, Starred

“Readers will see not just the man but also the paintings anew.”—The Bulletin, Starred

“An exceptional biography that reveals the humanity behind the myth.”—Booklist, Starred

A Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

An ALA Notable Book

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:05 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Relates the artist's rise from poverty and obscurity to Pop icon, discussing his art, controversial films, and hip magazine.

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