Complesso Del Vittoriano | Rome, Italy
From the 3rd of October 2018 to the 3rd of February 2019
by Charlotte Amey
Andy Warhol is the Godfather of Pop Art. A line can be traced all the way from Warhol to modern pop cultural movements today such as street art. It’s therefore appropriate that an exhibition celebrating the 90th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s birth is held here in Rome, where contemporary art thrives.
Coming into the exhibition, you are herded into a small, intimate room playing a biographical film about the artist, in which you learn about his background, his rise to fame and his death. Whilst only scratching the surface of this controversial figure, it sets the tone for the exhibition, which runs from 3 October 2018 to 3 February 2019 at Complesso Del Vittoriano. It coincides with the Andy Warhol & Friends exhibition in Bologna. As well as being the largest collection of Andy Warhol’s works to date, the Rome exhibition is also a critical retrospective on the man himself; the inner battle felt by Warhol, struggling to unite his swift rise to stardom with his modest roots as a second-generation immigrant, is crystal clear.
Amid metallic walls and garish neon signs, in the next room we are introduced to some of Warhol’s best-known works, culminating in the acclaimed Marilyn series. After his debut solo showcase in 1962 featuring the renowned Campbell’s Soup Cans, Warhol was both criticised for shamelessly commercialising his artwork and hailed as the revolutionary behind redrawing the boundaries for what is considered art. The Green Coca-Cola Bottles series symbolises the accessibility and affordability that Capitalism provides, reflected in the ability to transform an everyday object into a piece of artwork. Yet, with these same works Warhol underlines the loss of a unique identity as part of the process of consumerism and globalisation. The Marilyn series dehumanises its subject and reduces it to the same status as the tin can or coke bottle. As Marilyn Monroe’s face is distorted into a one-dimensional, poster-paint lipstick and eyeshadow farce, the human disappears and the falseness of her dead-eyed, toothy grimace is made even more apparent as you see it replicated. Warhol’s question is clear as he comes to terms with his own new-found fame: does celebrity make a person special, or does it reduce them to a product, another money-making scheme for the manufacturers to abuse?
The viewer is encouraged to indulge their own vanity too. The next room of the exhibition is an infinity room with psychedelic disco lights, reflecting your own image interminably in the mirrored walls and ceiling. At your knees stands an illuminated army of petalled flower templates, a reference to Warhol’s lesser known series Flowers (1970), where the natural world is subjected to the same reductive artistic technique as the humans, ridding them of every distinguishing feature but their outline. When lit up, the swinging 60s are evoked, but when the lights turn off, the flowers’ white paleness reveal an ordinary and dull reality.
Coming out of the infinity room, Warhol turns his characteristic silkscreen printing to men. His first subjects are the Communists of the era, from Mao to Lenin, as powdered as a geisha or as green as an alien, perhaps poking fun at those opposed to the inevitable expansion of Capitalism. As Warhol is drawn deeper into stardom, celebrities queue to model for him as he experiments with layered drawings, photographs and silkscreen prints: from fashionistas such as Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace, to actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Warhol enjoys VIP access to some of the greatest figures in history.
The unique aspect of this exhibition is the display of the polaroids Warhol took of his models, some of which have never been publicly exhibited before. The men are, without exception, hyper-masculine, with exposed chests and striking virile poses, whilst the women are highly sexualised with suggestive bare shoulders. Warhol used the polaroids as part of his artistic process – the first step before modifying them to perfection for his silkscreen prints. It was the removal of human defects that made Warhol so popular among the celebrities of his day, his encouragement of the vanity of self-promotion in a way that both glorified and satirised his subject. The exhibition finishes with one of Warhol’s self-portraits in silkscreen form: a ghostly, punkish figure that sticks two fingers up at his own mortality and ensures that this artist is still living his 15 minutes of fame.