Mondo QT Presents
So Warhol axed Christ: Is culture everywhere? Do dash board dollies sing doo dah doo dah? And what's the weirdest tale you ever got in the mail?
When Andy Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanis in '68, I was waitressing at Max's Kansas City. Max's was the prime hangout for the Warhol crowd and I was shocked when I heard the news. Though I didn't take it as personally as some other employees. Fellow waitress Allegra looked stricken when she said "Have you heard? Andy was shot". I never thought of Warhol as "Andy". In fact, I had little grasp of the hipnificance of the Warhol scene or of Max's. I lived nearby and had wandered in looking for a job. Owner Mickey Ruskin had hired me. At the time, my main interest was politics. But the Warhol shooting was one of a chain of assassinations, or assassination attempts, which marked the period. It felt like another step into the land beyond beyond.
In the 70's and 80's, when my interest turned to art, I was ambivalent about Warhol. Though his significance was undeniable, I saw him mainly as Soup Can Marilyn. Bewigged doyen of the avant art world, court artist to the rich and famous. Pop of Pop Art and avatar of irony. After leaving NYC, I began to have a greater appreciation. Recently, I came across a book by Jane Daggett Dillenberger, Professor of Visual Arts and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. Called "The Religious Art of Andy Warhol", it mainly covers work Warhol did in the two years prior to his death in 87. Particularly the 100 or so drawings, prints and paintings based on Da Vinci's "The Last Supper". Though I'd seen some of these in shows and publications, I had no idea to what degree "The Last Supper" had preoccupied Warhol. And though I knew he was Catholic, I wasn't aware he was devout.
Though Warhol's reflections on "The Last Supper" are not traditional religious art, they are traditional Warhol. In the color pieces, the palette is bright and luminous, done in synthetic polymers and silkscreen inks. Advertising trademarks and slogans are overlaid. Images are broken down and multiplied. But what seem at first like typically cool, distanced exercises end up refocusing one's eye on "The Last Supper" and reaffirming the painting's power. The multiples for instance, have a mystical rhythm of their own, but also underscore and renew familiar gestures.
Warhol grew up in blue collar Pittsburgh. His family was from the Slovak Republic in the former Czechoslovakia. The Byzantine Catholic Church was central in their lives. Religious icons surrounded Warhol as a boy, both at home and at church. In the Eastern Byzantine tradition, icons are more than pictures: they become part of the holy subjects they depict and hence, are sacred themselves. Interesting to think of this in light of Warhol's fascination with fame and his myriad celebrity portraits. Andy Warhol was not a secret Catholic, though he was a private one. I don't believe that when he created icons of materialism, be they of soup cans or celebrities, he was subverting his subjects with coded Catholic meaning. But neither do I believe that when he painted religious subjects, he was casting them as soup cans. In short, Warhol was not a "subversive" or ironic artist, but a transforming one who embraced his subject matter. His depth and paradoxes reveal themselves more clearly over time. During his lifetime his selective reticence muddied the waters, as did the adulation of an art scene with a thing for surface.
Talking depth and paradoxes, consider "Culture is Everywhere". Prestel, 2002. Written by Victor Margolin and photographer Patty Carroll. Margolin is, among other things, curator of the Museum of Corn-temporary Art. The Museum is a small, private institution based in Chicago. The corn-temporary aesthetic embraces art found not in galleries, but in the cheapie effluvia of consumer highways and byways. Not slick products, but gimcracks and gee gaws. Tourist ashtrays, snow globes and dashboard dollies. Furniture crafted from beer cans. Some corn-temporary art is mass produced: some walks the wild side of individual creation. The corn-temporary aesthetic isn't a matter of camp sensibility. The corn-temporarist sees gimcracks as anthropologically meaningful and aesthetically pleasing, demanding critical consideration on their own terms. A particularly compelling aspect of corn- temporary art is the freedom which attends its birth. Much new, capital "A" art in traditional gallery venues, tends to the didactic, coy or blandly decorative. In part because art has become so subject to political judgement. Art has also become enmeshed with real estate interests and/or government support. Sales tools and pensioners tread carefully. Not so corn-temporary art-- it has no one to please but itself. Writ large across the mind of many. Bring on the awkward truths and intuitive connections and express em boldly in plastic and cheap pottery. And since corn-temporary culture can be found everywhere, its glories can sneak up and grab you. Any time, any place.
Another glory that pulls a fast one is Mail Art. It can be so much more than paper in an envelope. When living in Hoboken, New Jersey in the early 80's, I kept a post office box. Not only was the box roomier, but the nice postal folk would keep fragile, or unwieldy Mail Art items in the back until I picked them up. I regularly dealt with one postal clerk, who was used to the bizarro mail and generally wore a "nothing surprises me I'm a postal worker" expression. But his eyebrows joined his hair one day, when he handed me an "envelope" from mail artist Zan Hoffman. It was a wire dry cleaner hanger complete with hook. Zan had used the paper wrapped, triangular part as envelope, leaving the hook uncovered. To this day I marvel that this missive made it all the way up from Zan's old Kentucky home. When the 2001 anthrax mailings resulted in myriad descriptions of "suspicious" mail, I often thought of that hangar. I wish I still had it. But alas, I opened it. Luckily I still have John Doe's head-- which also arrived by mail. It can be seen in this issue of PEEP. Along with more works by other hands of glory. Now on with the show.
Culture is EverywhereWhen Knighthood was in Flower in the Jersey City Heights.
Plastic Untouchables in a Rustic Sicilian Kitchen.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff, USA.
Weird Tales by MailJohn Doe's Head. Allen Bukoff, Ohio USA.
Shozo Shimamoto's Ideogram.
Shozo Shimamoto. Nishinomiya, Japan.
Current AffairsCharming Friends Met While Relaxing in Sardinia:
Snak-y & Friends. Snak-y Art, Sardinia, Italy
Lovely Visions Seen While Relaxing in Frankfurt:
Easter Pax, Henning Mittendorf, Frankfurt, Germany
Plus One Website to Dream OnRyosuke Cohen, Japan.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
PEEP, a Mondo QT publication, is online at: http://mondoqt.com/peepmag
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