A stark, dramatic sweep of glossy black upon matte white, Shadow elegantly reveals the height of Warhol's artistic powers. Following a complete mastery of contemporary imagery, Shadow testifies to his search for more timeless subject matter - images to outlive the contingencies of any historical moment. In a characteristically consuming but brief burst of production, Warhol created the Shadows from December 1978 to February 1979. Immediately following their completion, 83 canvases were exhibited as a continuous frieze at Heiner Friedrich Gallery in New York; these plus an additional 19 were purchased by the Lone Star Foundation (now the Dia Art Foundation) and today are permanently installed at Dia Beacon. Warhol experimented with seven or eight shadow compositions, but favoured only two for the Dia installation, differentiated by curator Lynne Cooke as "the peak" - a black positive on a white or coloured background and "the cap" - a coloured or white negative on a black field.
The Shadows represent Warhol's deferred engagement with abstract expressionism and constitute his most haunting and visceral forays beyond figuration. Between 1977 and 1986 he produced six abstract series: the Oxidations, Shadows, Eggs, Yarns, Rorschachs and Camouflages, which interrupted his contemporary "visual history of the world" (Robert Rosenblum, 'Warhol as Art History' in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, p. 28). Of the abstracts, Shadow engages most fecundly with abstract expressionist mythology while moreover uncannily soliciting metaphysical contemplation. Confronted with the play between presence and absence underpinning the Shadows, Artforum critic Carrie Richey wrote: "there's a Blow-up quality of criminality to this exhibition; each canvas looks like an over-enlarged photograph of some unmentionable event.... What am I to make of this? Warhol obliges me to play detective. I'm obsessed with finding evidence. Criticism's supposed to be policy work and here I am down in the fingerprint bureau" (Carrie Richey, 'Review: Shadows at the Heimer Friedrich Gallery, New York', Artforum, April 1979, p.73). Rich with narrative atmosphere, the Shadows motif is as entrancingly compelling as it is evasive.
Warhol was deliberately opaque regarding the Shadows' source image, explaining offhandedly: "it's a photo of a shadow in my studio" (the artist in: Lynne Cooke, 'Andy Warhol: Shadows', Robert Lehman Lectures on Contemporary Art, New York 2004, p. 87). A silhouette without a distinct origin, Shadow visually prompts the viewer to posit an underlying subject: both shadows and photographs have documentary value, each arising from the play of light on physical objects in our environment. As such, shadows recur in originary myths of the artist. Renaissance writer and artist Leon Battista Alberti asserted that "the earliest painters used to draw around shadows made by the sun", himself referencing Quintilian (Leon Battista Alberti, De Pictura/On Painting, Harmondsworth 1991, p.61). Yet like Peter Pan's shadow, which naughtily slips away until recaptured by the pragmatic Wendy, the outline here evades material strictures. Any pure mimetic pursuit is undone by Warhol's canny and decidedly noir evacuation of a subject; by his astonishing success at simply depicting "nothing."
Stylistic imitation instead guides Shadow's genesis. Just as the Oxidations retorted Jackson Pollock's drip-painting cult by dripping bodily fluids onto copper, Shadow addresses the black and white abstract expressionist paintings of Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline. The Shadows' environmental installation at the Heiner Friedrich Gallery alludes to Harold Rosenberg's description of Action Painting as "an apocalyptic wallpaper" and assertion that: "works of this sort lack the dialectical tension of a genuine act, associated with risk and will. When a tube of paint is squeezed by the Absolute, the result can only be a success" (Harold Rosenberg, 'The American Action Painters', Art News, December 1952, p. 22). Warhol parodically vindicates Rosenberg's criticism by producing an abstract work with dubious relation to "a genuine act" even as it aesthetically channels deeper meaning.
The driving tension between emptiness and presence in the Shadows is most pronounced in the stark black and white palette, exemplified by the present work. Warhol laconically referred to his Shadows series as "disco décor" following his exhibition opening, but the description is uncompelling once the vibrantly saturated disco hues are absent (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Dusseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, Warhol, the Late Work, 2004, p.19). Pared down to its essential celluloid format, the black shape remains ineffably evocative. Interpretations abound: "the peak" as Empire State Building; as elegy to the recently deceased Giorgio de Chirico, master of shadows; as post-apocalyptic landscape. Ronnie Cutrone, Warhol's assistant, remembers assembling Factory miscellany into random piles whose silhouettes Warhol photographed. But the explanation does not satisfy. Shadow testifies to Warhol's absolute command over imagery both abstract and figurative, and to the vast reaches that his revolutionary technique and style could conquer.
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