“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” Andy Warhol, while famous for works like his iconic Campbell’s Soup Can print, will perhaps be remembered best for his now prescient quote regarding fame in modern society.
Warhol started his career as a commercial illustrator, and made a simple transition from producing work for ads to producing ads ironically as art, in what became known as Pop Art. This eventually led to making general observations on popular culture via art, which many critics at the time regarded as fraudulent and not real art.
Even while working as an ad artist, Warhol was known for shopping his work out to his peers, building a stable or artists that he would rely on. Some of the work that is most closely associated with him was, in fact, merely thought up by Warhol and produced by someone else under his guidance. Eventually, this evolved into Warhol’s famous Factory, where he surrounded himself with like-minded artists, most of whom were under his direction.
Warhol’s reliance on collaboration with others was regarded as controversial at the time, because he was technically taking full credit for work that was not all his own. It is worth noting, however, that many famous painters, such as Picasso and Rembrandt, surrounded themselves with students who became so talented at mimicking their teachers that the differences are still difficult to distinguish today. The gap between the practices of these older, accepted artists and Warhol’s own practices with the Factory seem negligible at best.
Warhol was fascinated by visual art in all its mediums, and embraced the new, cheaper availability of film technology to make avant garde cinema in addition to paintings, screen printings, and sculpture. Warhol’s Factory members, including musicians, artists, models, and bohemians often appeared in his cinematic work.
The openness of Warhol’s Factory came to a near-fatal halt on June 3, 1968 when he and Mario Amaya, a critic and curator, were both shot by radical feminist Valerie Solanas. Amaya escaped with only grazes, but Warhol was seriously wounded. He barely survived the attack and suffered physical repercussions from it for the rest of his life. Solanas said that she attacked Warhol because, “He had too much control over my life.” She had appeared in one of Warhol’s films.
During the seventies, Warhol became more of an entrepreneur, seeking out celebrities who would commission expensive portraits, including Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson. It was also during this period that he created his famous portrait of Mao Tse-Tung.
Warhol often chose specific artists that he would ‘adopt,’ notably the band The Velvet Underground, for which he created the famous ‘banana’ cover for the album The Velvet Underground and Nico.
During the seventies, Warhol became associated with the disco and club scenes in New York, where he would frequently be seen on the periphery, a quiet, pale man simply observing. Most notably he frequented iconic discos like Serendipity 3 and Studio 54.
In the eighties, Warhol became widely renowned again, this time as a discover of young artists, most notably Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as Julian Schnabel (who would later direct a film about Basquiat) and David Salle, leaders of the school called Neo-Expressionism.
It is telling that Warhol has appeared as a character in almost twenty films, portrayed by talents as diverse as Guy Pearce (Factory Girl), David Bowie (Basquiat), and Crispin Glover (The Doors). He has also appeared as a character in Austin Powers and an episode of The Simpsons, representing just how iconic a figure he is in American pop culture.
Andy Warhol died February 22, 1987, following complications after a gallbladder surgery in New York. He was buried in Pittsburgh next to his parents, in a black cashmere suit and wearing his trademark platinum wig. He was also buried with a copy of Interview magazine, an Interview t-shirt, a rose, a prayer book, and a bottle of Estee Lauder Beautiful perfume.
He had so many possessions at the time of his death that it took Sotheby’s nine days to sell it all off, generating more than 20 million dollars.
In 2007, on the 20th anniversary of Warhol’s death, the Gershwin Hotel in New York hosted a week-long event remembering Warhol’s work and influence. Attendees included the superstars of his Factory, his peers, his subjects, and his fans. Blondie performed, and The Carrozzini von Buhler Gallery in New York hosted an exhibit of work by Warhol and his students, as well as work of a younger generation inspired by Warhol.