Philadelphia, Lawrence Oliver Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol, October - November 1988
Andy Warhol cited in: Victor Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, Michigan 1998, p. 436.
Rendered in dazzling, sparkling vermilion juxtaposed against a deep, vast black, Andy Warhol’s 1980 painting Joseph Beuys (Diamond Dust) presents an entrancing depiction of the greatest shaman of twentieth-century art history: Joseph Beuys. Warhol and Beuys, the twin giants of American and German post-war art, met for the very first time on 18th May 1979 in Hans Mayer’s Dusseldorf gallery, in an event of legendary status. “For those who witnessed them approaching each other across the polished granite floor,” recalls the journalist, academic and curator David Galloway, “the moment had all the ceremonial aura of two rival popes meeting in Avignon" (David Galloway, ‘Beuys and Warhol: Aftershocks,’ in: Art in America, July 1988, p. 121). This momentous and historic moment would lead to one of Warhol’s most fascinating series of portraits, in which the now iconic face of Beuys would become forever immortalised in the quintessentially Warholian body of diamond dust paintings. In November that same year, the two artists would meet again, this time in New York at Beuys’ major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. It was here that the idea for this celebrated series was initiated, when Warhol captured Beuys in his habitual uniform of felt hat and sleeveless jacket in a sequence of Polaroid photographs that would form the fundamental basis of the works. Characterised by the vibrant intensity of its resplendently glistening red diamond dust alongside a contemplative, brooding blackness, the present work encompasses the vastly polarised yet equally radical advancements in post-war transatlantic art by “the two extreme souls of contemporary art”: Warhol and Beuys (Michele Bonuomo, Exh. Cat., Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, Vesuvius by Warhol, 1985, p. 33).
Joseph Beuys (Diamond Dust) is a poignantly self-referential painting that draws together Warhol’s lifelong infatuation with celebrity, consumerism and material culture and Beuys’ more sombre investigations of humanism, social philosophy and politics. Warhol, as the progenitor of Pop and catalyst for a new cultural age, and Beuys, as a radical who didactically transformed the landscape of both conceptual and performance art, were each pioneering leaders in their own right whose respective legacies on the course of contemporary art history have been nothing short of profound. They were, as Michele Bonuomo attests, “Two opposite stories, two antithetical selves [who] deliberately chose the ideal place to observe and get mixed up with each other” (Michele Bonuomo in: ibid., p. 33). Warhol’s series of portraits of Beuys potently conveys this majestic union of the material and the spiritual, the artificial and the natural worlds that each artist occupied and explored. Conceived at the dawn of a new decade, the series would also usher in a new Warhol who was growing increasingly retrospective and introspective. Once the sovereign chronicler of the ’60s cult of mass media and glossy fame, Warhol had, by 1980, shifted his focus to a greater psychological intensity. The sober visage in the renowned ‘Fright Wig’ self-portraits of 1986, composed just a year before the artist’s death, have a clear precursor in Joseph Beuys (Diamond Dust): both confront the viewer with an unblinking stare and stark physiognomy. The fluorescent flashiness of his 1970s celebrity portraiture is replaced by a more direct interest in the sitter’s inner-essence and humanity. In this context, the shimmering, scintillating glitz of the diamond dust becomes a powerful meditation on the superficiality of modern life when confronted by the inevitability of the human condition.
Ethereal and otherworldly, Joseph Beuys (Diamond Dust) encapsulates the famously mysterious and elusive character of Beuys. Warhol’s paintings of the German artist were created using his innovative technique of silkscreen ink and acrylic on canvas, derived in turn from an initial Polaroid photograph. This was blown-up into a negative and used to trace the subject’s features onto the canvas. The details were then painted directly onto the work using acrylic paint, before converting the negative into a silkscreen that was used to print the photographic image in ink over the painted canvas. In the present work, the resulting portrait of Beuys maintains a striking resemblance to its photographic negative, eternally preserving in paint the celestial and revered image of the artist. That the shadow of the rim of Beuys’ hat, as captured in the original Polaroid, is incorporated into the artwork further heightens the allusion to a wraithlike and shadowy afterlife, and indeed Bonuomo has evocatively described the series as “enigmatic portraits, cold moonghosts” (Michele Bonuomo in: ibid., p. 33). Sublimely and sumptuously painted, Warhol’s portrayal of his German counterpart remains today a monumental eulogy to the unparalleled talents of two of the most influential artists of the Twentieth Century.
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