Meet Warhol, Again, in This kind of Brilliant Whitney Show

Mr. Paradox, who never left, is actually back.

Although, technically, “Andy Warhol — through A to B along with Back Again” at the Whitney Museum of American Art is actually the artist’s first full American retrospective in 31 years, over that will span he’s been so much with us — in museums, in galleries, on auction blocks, on Calvin Klein poplin shirts — as to make a survey seem almost redundant. At the same time, his ever-presence has made him, like wallpaper, like atmosphere, only half-noticed. He’s there, yet do we care?

We can’t not. He’s the most important American artist of the second half of the 20th century. The Whitney show vividly restores him to full, commanding view, along with reasserts his importance for a fresh generation, yet does so in a carefully shaped along with edited way.

Despite the show’s monumentalizing size — some 350 works spread throughout the museum along with an off-site display by Dia of the enormous multi-panel painting called “Shadows” — This kind of’s a human-scale Warhol we see. Largely absent is actually the artist-entrepreneur who is actually taken as a prophet (malign or otherwise) of our market-addled present: the creator along with promoter of Business Art, a venture in corporate Conceptualism that will, inside 1980s, brought Warhol into the orbit of Donald Trump, who delighted in quoting the B.A. credo: “generating money is actually art along with working is actually art along with not bad business is actually the best art.”

What we have instead inside Whitney show — organized by Donna De Salvo, the museum’s deputy director for international initiatives along with senior curator, assisted by Christie Mitchell along with Mark Loiacono — is actually a figure we seem to have lost track of, along with one who young artists today can identify with along with treasure: the Warhol for whom art, whatever else This kind of was, was an expression of personal hopes along with fears.

This kind of is actually not to say that will This kind of fresh-old edition of the artist is actually so different that will we don’t recognize him when we arrive on the Whitney’s fifth floor show. Ms. De Salvo has made sure that will we do. Right at the start we find a lineup of his Pop classics: Brillo Box sculptures, paintings of Campbell Soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, camouflage patterns, along that has a whole gallery filled with silk-screened flowers along with electric pink cows. This kind of’s as if the curator wanted to ground us inside familiar, in order to move us on.

Moving on, in This kind of case, means going backward in time, to when the artist was young, along with still living at home in Pittsburgh, along with still named Andrew Warhola. This kind of could not have been easy to grow up, as he did, a sickly femme kid with bad skin along with big ambitions in a Pennsylvania industrial town during the Depression. Almost inevitably, because he was gay along with the child of immigrant parents, he stood at once outside along with inside mainstream American culture. (He said that will his mother, Julia Warhola, spoke English with such a heavy Slovak accent that will he had trouble understanding her.)

His aesthetic sense developed through This kind of dual culture positioning too. On the one hand, he was entranced by American pop culture: newspapers, advertising, product design, Hollywood fanzines. At the same time, he was deeply influenced by the religious art he saw — gold-painted icons of saints, Crucifixions, Last Judgments — inside Byzantine Catholic church he devoutly attended, along with by the ornamental embroideries along with drawings made by his mother at home.

Although there’s only one piece by Julia Warhola inside show — a charming ink drawing of a cat lying on a bed of handwritten “purrs”— her filigreed linear style turns up inside early graphic work produced after Warhol moved to fresh York City in 1949 to start a career in commercial design. There, after doing freelance illustrations for magazines along with record albums covers — there are examples inside show — he landed a choice steady gig drawing newspaper ads for I. Miller shoes.

Julia was part of all This kind of. By the early 1950s she was living with Warhol as muse along with collaborator. Because he loved her calligraphic script, he had her sign his commercial work. yet not all his output was produced for advertising. Some shoe drawings, encrusted with gold leaf along with foil, were stand-alone pieces along with intended as portraits of celebrities Warhol admired: Elvis Presley, Truman Capote, the transgender pioneer Christine Jorgenson. along with he was drawing, often in ballpoint pen, soft-core homoerotic images along with sketches of cross-dressed male friends.

These pictures, well represented here, have only fairly recently been admitted into the standard record of his career. along with they’re important additions. They make his identity as a gay man, which he was on-along with-off cautious about broadcasting, a concrete part of his story. along with knowledge of This kind of opens a path to consider how along with to what degree his art queered — to use a term through academic theory — received versions of American culture: questioned their validity, revealed their contradictions, turned them inside out.

One obvious example of This kind of testing of orthodoxies was the way he changed careers. inside late 1950s along with early ’60s, he dropped his professional identity as a graphic designer along with picked up one as a gallery artist. In an era when painterly self-expression was considered the only serious style, he adopted a commercial reproductive technology, silk-screen printing, as his art medium. At a time when talk of money along with markets was thought to sully art, he made work about commerce along with consumption. The soup can along with Coke bottles date through these years.

Each of these extraordinary paintings was conceived as part of a series of closely related works which differed in shade along with format. Warhol was an artist-designer of tremendous virtuosity, along with the temptation to demonstrate This kind of by putting comparative works side by side must be hard to resist. yet Ms. De Salvo has chosen to display just one example through each series, along with that will’s a not bad idea. an individual, modest, tondo-shaped gold Marilyn, isolated on a gallery wall, tells you everything you need to know, emotionally, devotionally, about that will picture along with what This kind of meant to that will artist.

In 1965, Warhol “retired” through painting along with spent the next decade multitasking like mad. He organized collaborative multimedia events like the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a sensory overload of dance along with superstarness delivered by the Velvet Underground along with Nico. He published a magazine (Interview), along with turned out hundreds of films. (Several short ones play inside galleries, along with the museum has organized a program of individual screenings for the run of the show.) This kind of was also when he put the Business Art concept into effect, which primarily meant lining up endless lucrative portrait commissions through the global rich along with famous of the day. (Dozens of such products line the walls of the Whitney’s lobby gallery.)

Was Warhol the outsider striving to get inside at last? along with what kind of inside was This kind of that will had him courting Imelda Marcos, painting the Shah of Iran, along with trying to swing a portrait deal with Mr. Trump? A serious chunk of the art world wasn’t amused. This kind of commenced to call him washed-up.

He wasn’t washed up, though. not bad work still came, including, in 1975, the sparkling, self-commissioned portrait series called “Ladies along with Gentlemen,” its sitters all black along with Latino cross-dressers recruited through Manhattan drag bars. yet inside decade leading up to his sudden death in 1987, at 58, Warhol’s art gradually changed in tone, grew darker, fatalistic. Long underrated, even critically disparaged, This kind of work still awaits careful study, along with Ms. De Salvo devotes fully a third of This kind of brilliantly-conceived show to This kind of.

With the advent of AIDS, along with the loss of partners along with friends to This kind of inside early 1980s, Warhol swung between self-protective denial along with outright fear, which intensified his religious faith. The show captures his mood of free-floating anxiety in an extraordinary salon-style installation of two dozen modest 1980s silk-screen paintings, most in black along with white, several quoting through tabloids ads along with Apocalypse-minded religious fliers (“Stress!,” “Are You ‘Different?’,” “Mark of the Beast,” a “Heaven along with Hell Are Just One Breath Away!”) interspersed with paintings of dollar signs along with dire news headlines (“Marine Death Toll Hits 172”).

Intimations of mortality had always coursed through Warhol’s art along with the 1970s brought fresh ones in eerie pictures of skulls, along with, by implication, in “Shadows,” a 100-plus panel abstract tour de force in which darkness has no source along with no end: This kind of’s just there, foreboding, miasmic, waiting. The artist specified that will This kind of wraparound painting, on loan through Dia Art Foundation, could be edited to fit differently sized spaces. inside edition at This kind of point on view at Calvin Klein headquarters at 205 West 39th Street, This kind of’s reduced to 48 panels along with has its sightlines interrupted by the space’s thick columns. Even with handicaps, though, This kind of’s a stunner, along with Dia gets full credit for the presentation.

along with, strange as This kind of seems for an artist so absorbed in worldly matters, images of spiritual transcendence were a staple of his work too, through the “Marilyn” paintings onward. along with Ms. De Salvo has given his retrospective a celestial conclusion. There are only four works inside large rectangular final gallery. At either end hang two giant examples of his abstract “Rorschach” paintings, one gold, one black. With their curves along with flanges they could be giant examples of Julia’s rococo designs. On a long wall hangs a 25-foot long silk-screen painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” its sacred narrative of dread along with redemption half-buried in camouflage patterning. along with facing This kind of is actually an even longer picture called “Sixty-Three White Mona Lisas,” in which repeat images of the most famous celebrity-sitter of all are dimly visible under washes of semi-translucent white paint.

The work is actually both a nod to an old, fixed art history (Leonardo, Duchamp) along with the statement of a fresh, open-ended one of simultaneous erasure along with proliferation. along with seen at the conclusion of Ms. De Salvo’s show the painting suggests a further reading: the image of a host of spirits — benign? threatening? neutral? — stirring behind a drifting bank of clouds.

I never thought I’d use the word exalted for Warhol, or transcendent, or sublime. along with he probably never thought to use them either. yet that will’s what’s here.