Art exhibition review: Andy Warhol at Tate Modern 12 March – 6 September 2020

Andy Warhol (1928–87) was one of the most recognisable artists of the late 20th century, yet his life and work continue to fascinate and be interpreted anew. A major new exhibition at Tate Modern – the first at the gallery for almost 20 years – offers a rare personal insight into how American icon Warhol and his work marked a period of cultural transformation. I walked away from a special press view feeling so inspired in my creative work as well as in my personal sphere! Extraordinary! An inspiring exhibition to take children to over the Easter school holidays. Don’t miss it when it opens on 12 March (open until 6 September).

The exhibition features over 100 works from across Warhol’s remarkable career, the show sheds light on how the artist’s experiences shaped his unique take on 20th century culture, positioning him within the shifting creative and political landscape in which he worked. While Andy Warhol is mostly associated with his iconic paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Liz Taylor, Campbell soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles that well represent American culture, this exhibition emphasises recurring themes around desire, identity and belief that emerge from his biography.

It shows how this innovative artist reimagined what art could be in an age of immense social, political and technological change.

Marilyn Diptych 1962
Acrylic on canvas
support (each): 2054 x 1448 x 20 mm

Andy Warhol was born as Andrew Warhola from Carpatho-Rusyn parents who emigrated to Pittsburgh from a small village in the former Czechoslovak Republic. The Warhola family were devout followers of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church, and the impact of the strong religious conviction of Julia Warhola, Andy’s mother with whom he lived for most of his life, is considered as a significant context to his work. 

Warhol’s sexuality is also an important theme in the exhibition, beginning with a selection of his evocative early line drawings of men from the 1950s. These works form an intimate pairing with the film Sleep 1963 – which documents Warhol’s lover, the poet John Giorno. There are controversial aspects of Andy Warhol’s work that might not be totally appropriate to kids. However, young children would appreciate other aspects of pop-art. For this reason alone, I would not hesitate to take them. 

Key works from the pop period, such as Marilyn Diptych 1962, Elvis I and II 1963/1964 and Pink Race Riot 1964, are examined in relation to contemporary issues around American culture and politics, while Warhol’s drive and limitless ambition to push the traditional boundaries of media are represented via his famous Screen Tests 1964-6 and a recreation of the psychedelic multimedia environment of Exploding Plastic Inevitable 1966, originally produced for the Velvet Underground rock shows. Visitors can also experience Warhol’s floating Silver Clouds 1966 installation that was initially meant to signal his ‘retirement’ from painting in favour of movie making. Children will enjoy this room and installation very much. 

Andy Warhol’s installation Silver Clouds

He famously stated that ‘good business is the best art’: the exhibition looks at how Warhol’s forays into publishing and TV, as well as his interest in club culture, can be viewed as an attempt to bring the stars of the underground into the mainstream. 

Andy Warhol’s immersive video music installation

Following his shooting by Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol returned to large-scale painting projects and the exhibition emphasises his skill as a painter and colourist with a room dedicated to the largest grouping of his 1975 Ladies and Gentlemen series ever shown in the UK. These striking portraits depict anonymous Black and Latinx drag queens and trans women from New York, including iconic performer and activist, Marsha ‘Pay it no mind’ Johnson – a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Warhol’s final works of the 80s, such as the poignant Sixty Last Suppers 1986 – on view at Tate Modern for the first time in this country – is considered in relation to the artist’s untimely death as well as the unfolding HIV/AIDS epidemic, which ultimately went on to impact the lives of many in his close circle.

My favourite pieces of artwork shown at the Tate include portraits of rock stars such as Blondie’s lead singer Debby Harry, Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger as well as country music icon Dolly Parton. 

To book tickets for Andy Warhol, visit www.tate.org.uk

Related features:

Tate Modern turns 20

Art exhibition review: British Baroque: Power and Illusion at Tate Britain until 19 April 2020 

About Monica Costa

Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums

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