Julian Schnabel, quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Shadow Paintings, 1989, p. 7
Rich with an elusive narrative atmosphere and compelling as it is evasive, Andy Warhol’s Shadow remains one of the artist’s most entrancing motifs. The Shadow series marked a new departure in Warhol’s career, away from the 1960s figurative works that depicted cultural icons and commodity symbols towards an idiom of abstraction that is also mirrored in various series of the late 1970s and early 1980s. 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 Oxidation, Shadow, Egg, Yarn, Rorschach and Camouflage paintings, which interrupted his contemporary "visual history of the world." (Robert Rosenblum, 'Warhol as Art History' in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Warhol: A Retrospective, 1989, p. 28) Of the abstracts, the Shadow paintings engage most abundantly with abstract expressionist mythology while soliciting profound 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)
Based on photographs taken in Warhol’s famed New York City studio, The Factory, the Shadows create a mood of ultimate intangibility. The shadow as a symbol for transience, and ultimately mortality, appears in a variety of works in Warhol’s last decade, amongst them the Skulls series from 1978. In fact, Warhol had also used the shadow as an effective instrument to mystify and disguise certain elements within major 1960s works such as the Death and Disaster series and his 1966-1967 Self Portrait. Repetition of the image only increased the challenge to grasp the “shadow” visually as well as metaphorically. The series of multi-colored Shadow paintings, originally conceived by Warhol as one work, includes one large installation of a total of 102 paintings in 17 different colors that now resides in the collection of the Dia Art Foundation and that was exhibited in its entirety for the second time only at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2014-15. Installed alongside each other, these Shadow paintings present the aspect of a song’s refrain or the appearance of a reel of film, spooling the same image across an almost limitless space. In her essay for the Tate Modern retrospective of Warhol’s work, curator Donna De Salvo extolled the series’ resonant content: “The Shadows have been discussed as existential statements, as everything and nothing, as something fleeting, changeable and as intangible as real shadows. They have also been characterised as commentary on the very act of painting.” (Donna De Salvo, “Afterimage,” in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol Retrospective, 2002, p. 50)
The present work exemplifies the concept of seriality and repetition that lies at the very core of Warhol’s oeuvre and revolutionized the course of art in the 1960s. In a subtle balance between kinship versus contrast, the light tones on the canvas are the driving tension between emptiness and presence in the Shadow paintings, exemplified by the present work. Warhol laconically referred to his Shadows series as "disco décor" following his exhibition opening. (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Dusseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, Warhol, The Late Work, 2004, p. 19) Pared down to its essential celluloid format, the white remains ineffably evocative. Brimming with the elegance and conceptual verve that characterized Warhol's abstract paintings from his last decade, 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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