This work has been assigned the number PA10.238 by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Somebody Wants To Buy Your Apartment Building! is an important, dynamic painting from a series of pictures known as the Black & White paintings, created by Andy Warhol in the mid 1980s.
By the early 1980s Warhol was aware that the art world sought fresh, young voices and simply something different. "I got so nervous thinking about all these new kids painting away and me just going to parties", he writes in his diary (November 16, 1980). Soon he was collaborating with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, perhaps hoping to get new ideas from these rising stars, or maybe he just wanted to grab some of their attention.
At the same time, Warhol returned to what one might call his roots, finding inspiration for a superb series of Black & White paintings. These are largely based on scraps of advertising matter – classified ads and illustrations from fliers – which he had collected over the years, mostly from the early and mid 1960s when he himself was the rising star. In contrast to the slick, corporate imagery that he appropriated for his 1984 Ads series, these materials are humble in origin and vernacular in style. Some are invested with clues about their date of origin – for instance, the ads for Beatle Boots, a short-lived fad – which veneer them with nostalgia. It’s easy to argue that they appealed to him because of their banality, but this underestimates the intensity he brought to contemplating every kind of imagery, particularly the sort created to transmit messages of persuasion: this was where his career began, it was what he loved – with a passion not much visible to the public – and he never strayed far from it.
Some of the sources contain images which are so simple that they function effectively as symbols for the messages they carry (Hamburger, Puma Invader). Some sources incorporate lettering such as Somebody Wants To Buy Your Apartment Building! To properly understand the series one must recognize that the lettering, pictures and diagrams are part and parcel of the same urgent, simple strategy. Looking at the lettering as one would look at the pictures, one sees what Warhol saw – a carrier-wave is embedded in the style of each advertisement or sign, subtly transmitting information about its cultural and economic context. For Warhol, there was no difference between an idea pictured and the idea written. The specialized cultural literacy required to read words is also able to decode these simple but very specific images. Warhol’s vision was so acclimated to this notion that he contemplated an entire series based on the front pages of newspapers, which he had experimented with as early as 1962 and returned to in 1981 (see Charles Stuckey et al., Andy Warhol - Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away! - Late Paintings and Related Works, 1984-1986, New York, 1992, Figs. 10 and 11; page 12, footnote 32). In these works, images combine words, pictures and emblematic illustrations, which shed their original meaning after they are enlarged, made into silkscreened paintings and hung on walls, long after the headlines have lost their topicality.
This transformation is emphasized in his Reversals paintings: variants where the blacks are rendered in white and vice versa. Here, there is neither gain nor loss from these variations; instead, they divert our attention from the semiotics of the images, towards their formal properties. (The 1981 picture, Fate Presto, referred to above, is a Reversal.) When the tiny original for Somebody Wants To Buy Your Apartment Building! is enlarged to monumental scale, the textures of the background spaces become exactly as compelling as the white words they frame. It is like an abstract design: a medley of black and white passages reminicent of a Franz Kline painting. But not quite – the genius of the image never surrenders its banal grip on our refined viewing sensibilities and we experience, simultaneously, high art and low art.
Warhol’s visionary ability to expand infinitely the repertoire of appropriate content for fine art has been his principal legacy and assures his place as one of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century. The present work, comprising humble source material, monochrome palette and virtuoso painting, is a dramatic example of Andy Warhol at the pinnacle of his creative life.
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