There is an essay I recommend, written by James G. Ballard in 1989 (to be clear, at that time I wasn’t even born yet) which was published by The Guardian and it’s part of “A User’s Guide to the Millennium”. Here, Ballard defines Andy Warhol as some sort of “ghost at the banquet”, as in the text he explains how, as he approached the end of his life, people had the tendency to avoid him, exclude him from parties, having him seating in the farthest spot. He also recalls how ordinary his death was in 1987, when he died because of a gall-bladder surgery after a life spent in glory, great subversions and epic challenges.
There are some things that need to be evaluated before moving forward with other considerations.
In first instance, the fame of the person that Ballard defined «the Walt Disney of the amphetamine age»survived Warhol himself and I do believe it will survive even us. We are the ones who read about him and visit his modern-day exhibitions in museums and ancient palaces with an aura which is half bourgeois restraint and half disgraced art expert, showing meticulous interest.
Such exhibition belong to a rather dynamic reality, made of globalised and industrialised contexts, which are technologically advanced but philosophically empty (although that’s just a provocation) yet artistically prolific.Such exhibitions are still vivaciously capable of being avant-garde, with many different contaminations and influences.
Andy Warhol and his Friends is not the name of a limited company but the title of a successful exhibition with a synaesthetic approach to a world made of images on canvas, bits and pieces of world on film, music and videos. It is capable of portraying all the vices, the greatness, the contradictions and the development of thr great protagonist of an amazing artistic era such as the Pop Art. If one asks the people whom pop art was created for – individuals with needs and dreams, who are part of a social group and of the consumeristic society, people who take selifies and live for a bargain on serially-made products – what pop art is, the answer be most likely a name: Andy Warhol.
Ballard defied Warhol “a Mickey Mouse obnubilated by Valium“, but when I think about Warhol and his Factory I think about the beautiful and hallucinated melodies by the Velvet Underground and Heroin’s endless melody that instead does indeed have an end. I think about a great era of experimentation and about everything that happened between 1928 and 1987: the second world war, the Russian revolution, Trockij’s death, the Cold War, the Space Race, students protests, coups, mafia killings, stock market crashes and political system crashes, death of revolutionaries, building of highways and reailroads, birth of new music genres and new bands while other disband (like Led Zeppelin in 1980), the beginning of tv and videogame eras and much more.
When I think about the one who made great an idea had by Richard Hamilton in 1956 with ‘Just what is that makes today’s homes to different, so appealing?’
I imagine a particular party, the one in ‘Americana’ by DeLillo. The name is not a coincidence,as Warhol’s entire production could be defined “american”, a production created after a close and fruitful dialogue between a nation made of lights and drugs, celebrations and music. The America of fame and of the American dream, that during Warhol’s life was still a land of opportunities, where one was so blinded by the possibility to make it that the possibility of failing and crashing to smithereens was invisible.
So what is that it can be seen in this early 16th century palace in Zaragozza street in Bologna? Listed in no particular order it is possible to see bright portraits of movie stars or politicians, a Lenin that, turned in an art piece, was not as popular as Mao. There is a 1972 portrait of Gianni Agnelli with an hypnotic gaze and a stain of color coming out of his dark hair. The aura of the artist is still perceptible, it’s a shadow coming in and out of the paintings, a shadow from 1981 stuck on a red paper, so concrete yet so volatile, like the life of every man.
Some are Warhol’s friends, others are his enemies, some shared his idea and lived in his time and geographic area, those who were influenced by him, those who appreciated him and also those who hated him.. An exaltation of his aura is so extreme until it shatters in a piece which it is a symbol of all the contradictions of the time: ‘Canova’s Venus’ by Richard Prince, where upon a closer look it is possible to read «Warhol put down painting. Warhol was a fucking bone and so were his fuckhead friends and stupid fans. I’m glad he died».
The point is, regardless of everything that happened Warhol’s name got repeated and duplicated like the serial works so acclaimed and criticised, like the Campbell’s tomato soup cans.. that name contains so many universes and idea, so many concepts within concepts. Thirty two years after his death, Andy Warhol’s name is still intact and gets more stable in this confusion and in this globalised world. His figure still stands perfect, at ease among our serial lives seeking success with a filtered selfie. Call it luck, fate or karma. In the meantime, Warhol is probably sniggering from his grave in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.