Menzies Art Brands



It can feel almost playfully earnest, in an age of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, in an age of billionaire rappers and Saudi collectors and James Bond watches, in an age of the Avengers, to look back on a time when the world was still figuring out how art, money, celebrity and commerciality sat together. Andy Warhol, of course, is the name that comes up the most in this discussion. Hes been in this conversation for a while.

Hes there when we talk about the ways we measure the value of culture which is similar, but not the same, as measuring cultural value; a central tension of our time. Art is a calling, perhaps, but its a business as well. These days it needs to find its place alongside a multiplicity of images that saturate our consciousness, from Vogue to pop-ups to Instagram. Not for nothing is that silver-haired socialite considered to be both of his time and very much ahead of it.

Warhol was a commercial illustrator, still in his twenties, when he arrived in New York in 1949. He worked his way into painting, film, printmaking. He set up the Factory and nurtured his superstars. He settled into Manhattan life, a chronicler of his time. Holland Cotter, the co-chief art critic of the New York Times, has written about the experimental shifts in direction that characterise Warhols workthe fluidity, unmoored categories, a maddeningly disruptive relativism.1 The same qualities that have helped to secure his legend in the contradictory, forever-changing whirlpool of contemporary art.

In 1963, a year after he announced himself to the art world with his Campbells Soup cans, Warhol recognised with some satisfaction the way the rhythms of his surroundings had been blending into his art. Somebody said my life has dominated me, he said. I liked that idea.2

Two decades later, and two years before his death, Warhol was commissioned by Feldman Fine Arts to create a limited series of prints. These pictures drew on his former life as a commercial artist. Lines were blurring and circles forming.

Warhols Ads were just that. They transformed commercials into art. They also brought to life a particular moment in American culture. As well as James Dean, who made an appearance courtesy of his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause, Warhol focused in on prominent brands from the 80s, including Chanel and Apple computers (specifically, their fancy new Macintosh), plus Paramount Pictures, Mobil Gas, Life Savers and Volkswagen. Ronald Reagan spruiks for Van Heusen and Liza Minelli poses for Blackglama mink coats.

As the text on the left makes clear, Warhol was working on the Japanese poster for Rebel Without a Cause, the drama that came out in October 1955, a month after the lead actor died in a car accident at the age of twenty-four. But the story here is transposition, so we should be clear: the movie was not released in Japan until April 1956, some six months after the United States.

Warhol soaks the poster in red. Jim Stark, the James Dean character, is given a hallucinatory quality otherwise absent from the original. He comes across like a photo negative, a sensation heightened by the visual echo in the background, the afterimage. And so the medium had to be a screenprint: a cultural memory, shared between cultures, a copy of a copy. Through Warhols eyes, a piece of Americana lives on. Its the same, only different.



1. Cotter, H., Everything about Warhol but the Sex, The New York Times, New York, 14 July 2002, section 2, p.1, accessed May 2021:
2. Andy Warhol in an interview with Gene Swenson, initially published as What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters (Part 1), Art News, New York, November 1963, accessed May 2021:


Ashleigh Wilson is the author of Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing.


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