Who is Andy Warhol?

Published 10:09 am Thursday, September 11, 2008

For weeks now, billboards and a news media blitz have announced the coming of Andy Warhol to the Johnson Center for the Arts.

And for, lo, those many weeks, people have been asking, “Who’s Andy Warhol?”

Some have asked if he’s a rock star. Others have guessed he’s the spokesperson for Campbell’s Soup. And at least one has identified him as the man in Little Orphan Annie.

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Andy Warhol is none of the above.

He was an American artist and a central figure in the movement known as Pop Art.

And, unknowing to most, he coined the phrase, “15 minutes of fame.”

“Oh, he did that? Well, now that’s something,” Joe Doe might say and suddenly Andy Warhol is “somebody.”

And in reality he was and is.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, after a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became famous worldwide for his work as a painter, an avant-garde filmmaker, a record producer, an author and a public figure known for his membership in wildly diverse social circles that included bohemian street people, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats.

That in a nutshell is Andy Warhol.

And that’s perhaps where Warhol fits best. In a nutshell.

“He was a goofball,” Richard Metzger, executive director of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center, said laughing. “He liked being notorious. He fabricated his own mystique. Andy Warhol created art that has stood the test of time because he, more than any other artist, understood how the distance between the working class and the glitzy crowd could be both enormous and insignificant.”

Metzger said it was just a stroke of luck that placed Warhol in New York in the early 1960s but it was nothing short of genius that his work spoke to the people and to the times.

“Warhol’s work was exhibited at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1962,” Metzger said. “The exhibit included art of Elvis and Campbell’s Soup cans and people didn’t know what to think. They didn’t know whether it was for real or a joke being pulled at their expense.”

Metzger said, as one art connoisseur was leaving the gallery, he asked another what he thought.

“It was awful,” was the reply.

“And, Andy Warhol was on his way,” Metzger said, with a smile. “There were probably dozens of artists exhibiting their work in New York at that time whose work and names were never known.”

Andy Warhol didn’t think that art should be only for a select few. It should be for everybody. Pop art is about liking things, he said.

Commercialism was running rampant and Warhol ran right along with it. His art played on everyone’s fantasies of glamour and celebrity and, at the same time, his art demonstrated that these celebrities were available to everyone.

His art still has that appeal because it does belong to everybody. The long haul truck driver can enjoy Warhol’s John Wayne just as much as an art gallery curator.

Warhol has been quoted as saying what is great about America is that it started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest.

“You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it and you know it.”

That’s the way the art of Andy Warhol is. The President views his Campbell’s Tomato Soup can in the same way that the hobo living under the bridge views it. And, when the President opens the can, it’s the same tomato soup inside that the hobo gets.

Warhol’s art is about the sameness in the world. It’s about mass advertising. It’s about image overload in the media. It’s about the routine, the ordinary, the mundane. It’s about everyday life and the diversions from it.

Metzger said it’s art that people from all walks of life and of all ages can relate to and understand and hopefully appreciate.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14 the grand opening of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts will feature the Prints of Andy Warhol. The exhibition will run through Nov. 15 and it’s free and open to the public.