Like Andy Warhol
by Jonathan Flatley
U. of Chicago Press. 274 pages, $45.
Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls
Edited by Geralyn Huxley and Greg Pierce
Distributed Art Publishers and The Andy Warhol Museum
328 pages, $65.
LAST SUMMER, I visited Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. “A two-hour visit will be plenty,” the host at my B & B told me. Not being a fan of Warhol’s work, I considered his suggestion a more than ample stretch of time. Like many lay people, I knew Warhol’s Campbell soup cans, Brillo boxes, and his multiple-image silk-screen portraits of celebrities like Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean—works that Warhol’s abstract expressionist contemporaries dismissed as superficial or even phony. I tended to concur in this estimation. Warhol himself famously said, “If you want to know all about Andt [Andy] Warhol, just look at the surface: of my painting and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”
Five hours after I arrived at the museum, I reluctantly pulled myself away. I could have stayed there until closing. My visit totally upended my hitherto unexamined dismissal of Warhol’s work. The more I looked—at the often dazzling surfaces, at the outrageous use of color, at the exuberant celebration of “messiness” and “mistake,” at the sheer volume and range of his output—the more my previous assessment struck me as unworthy of this enigmatic, provocative, multi-faceted artist.
Warhol was never bored. “He always found something to like,” writes Jonathan Flatley in his ambitious and intriguing book Like Andy Warhol. Flatley, a professor of English at Wayne State University, contends that for Warhol “liking things” was a project he pursued throughout his career. The artist was always ready to pay attention to something and be affected by it. In so doing, he uncovered “new ways of being affectively open to the world.”