Contemporary Art

Andy Warhol in 'Artforum': The Highs and Lows of the Pop Master

By Sotheby's
Andy Warhol poses before his Cows wallpaper at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, 1 April 1966. Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images.

“T he reviews will be bad – my reviews always are,” quipped Andy Warhol once about an upcoming show of his work. “But the reviews of the party will be terrific" (April 2019 issue). Although he remains the art world’s unimpeachable king of Pop, critics didn’t only brim with praise for his groundbreaking work. In fact, there may be no other 20th-century artist who experienced quite the same degree of career extremities as he did – from being celebrated as the radically perverse purveyor of soup cans in the 1960s, to mocked as a washed-up celebrity portraitist before his death in 1987. Tracing his arc across the pages of Artforum magazine – in which his name has appeared more than 1,000 times since its first mention – it becomes clear that no matter how far he may have soared or sunk, or how tastes evolved, Warhol was always, and is still, an essential force within contemporary conversations around art.

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The September 1962 cover of Artforum.

Warhol received his first Artforum review in the September 1962 issue for his now-legendary show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. In a brief assessment, Henry T Hopkins, who would later become the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, acknowledged the artist’s prowess, though appreciated it with a certain skepticism. “Warhol obviously doesn’t want to give us much to cling to in the way of sweet handling,” he wrote, “preferring instead the hard commercial surface of his philosophical cronies. But then house fetishes rarely compete with Rembrandt in esthetic significance” (September 1962 issue). If it took Hopkins time to understand Warhol’s impact, others instantly recognized what he’d achieved. In the following month’s Artforum, installation artist Ed Keinholz articulated what the political detonation of Warhol’s brand of Pop meant to him: “...Andy Warhol's show is social protest, the Campbell's Soup show. It has to do with the extreme commercialism around and of everybody being fed up with it. Individually, they are all looking for some­thing that is theirs, something that they can grab ahold of and say, “This is me!” They are pushed by all the pressures of today into their search, and they go a certain way and it becomes social protest” (October 1962 issue). (Sculptor Eva Hesse also proclaimed him one of her favorites in the May 1970 issue, and painter Ad Reinhardt asserted in the October issue of that same year that it was Warhol who opened up the field and “made it easy.”).

(Left) Warhol, in a photo taken by Dennis Hopper, on the December 1964 cover . (Right) Andy Warhol's Life Savers, 1985, on the March 1985 cover .

It seems that Warhol, with his distinctly pale visage and shock of white hair, was almost as instantly recognizable as his art. In fact, he himself appeared on the cover of Artforum in December of 1964 in a photo taken by Dennis Hopper, while his art, oddly, wouldn’t grace the cover until March of 1985. Warhol’s only contribution to the magazine was a centerfold titled “Forged Image” for then-Editor-in-Chief Ingrid Sischy’s notorious February 1982 issue of Artforum, for which she featured fashion designer Issey Miyake on the cover rather than an artist) – a choice that seems to have taken its cue from critic/curator Robert Pincus-Witten’s review of a Leo Castelli exhibition in the summer of 1966: “If Warhol’s message was once that art and life are interchangeable, it now seems to be that art and fashion are the same” (Summer 1966 issue).

Warhol's centerfold for the February 1982 issue .
Portrait of Andy Warhol by Christopher Makos in the February 1982 issue .

To some, he was “Saint Andy,” as Philip Leider (Artforum’s famed Editor-in-Chief throughout the ’60s) anointed him in 1965. To others, like art historian Barbara Rose, he was at once “a freak,” and “the primitive of a new art.” Through 1970s and ’80s, Warhol was being treated as though he existed in the past-tense, once an iconoclast, now an old master. “Because so many of the subjects in the series have such graphic consistency within popular culture, there is nothing much Warhol can do to interestingly represent them," bemoaned Richard Flood in in Arforum's December 1981 issue. (Flood would later serve as the Chief Curator at the New Museum in New York City.) In that same issue, Rene Ricard blithely noted, “Well, Andy is everyone’s culture parent, it’s true.” But in April the following year, Thomas Lawson would sum up the artist’s devalued currency thusly: “There once was a time when Andy Warhol was producing what was undoubtedly some of the most important art in New York. But that was quite a while ago. In recent years his shows have been increasingly disappointing and this latest is the most disappointing yet. It is beginning to look as though Warhol has hit the bottom” (April 1982 issue).

Warhol on the April 1987 cover, a posthumous tribute.

Warhol never hit the bottom – at least, not really. He continued to make money, lots, and his work in a sense remained as divisive as it always had been. “It’s easy to be disgusted by Warhol, by an entire lifetime of deathgrip hipness,” reflected Carter Ratcliff in 1985. “Then I change my mind – rather, my feelings change and again my mood matches what I imagine to be his” (March 1985 issue). After the artist died on 22 February, 1987, Lisa Leibmann honored the artist by first honoring the challenges he put to his audiences. “Andy Warhol accomplished the theoretically impossible, she wrote. “He made incontrovertible icons out of a continuous present – living history – in which there is not, nor can there be, any consensus” (April 1987 issue). On that issue’s cover: a black and white photograph of Warhol, autographing a can of soup, and smiling.

Artforum covers, images of interior pages and quotations are used with the permission of Artforum International.

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