CCTP-725: Cultural Hybridity/Remix Culture: Weekly Seminar Discussion
Week 7




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--MI





ERIN, JESSICA & SAARET:


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Andy Warhol is, according to artfacts.net, the best selling artist of all time. In a way, this fact is a testament to his ability to combine genres successfully—commercial and fine art. Warhol is famously quoted as saying, “Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist.” For Warhol, hybridity was not merely a combination of art genres—of painting and sculpture and photography—his art was the combination of philosophies.

A discussion of Warhol as an artist is incomplete without consideration of The Factory, the collective of people who were associated, attached to and -- often embodied -- his artwork. Warhol’s assistant Gerald Melaga said that “Andy was always looking for ideas …” and spectacle, particularly fame as spectacle was a central idea around Warhol’s experiments. He was fixated on catapulting his celebrity and the objects he created frequently toyed with icons and recognizable brands.


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Reading Andy Warhol
In his essay Getting the Warhol We Deserve, Douglas Crimp identifies the different ways in which Warhol’s work could be read, mainly as referential or simulacral. The latter surmising an ambivalent and dissociative artistic motivations. To take a referential stance on Andy Warhol is to imagine his renderings, like that of Marilyn Monroe, as empathetic art; his prints and reproductions to be attempts at truth-telling and political consciousness. To situate Warhol in the context of art history is to, therefore, select the sides of him that best apply to already-existing expectations of fine artists and their work. As Crimp explains, “The trap of art and theory that take up the question of difference, finally, is that "if the invoked artist is not perceived as socially and/or culturally other, he or she has but limited access to transformative alterity, and that if he or she is perceived as other, he or she has automatic access to it." (Hal Foster as quoted by Douglas Crimp).

How much ingenuity then does art history post-humously project onto Warhol? His reproductions, for example, and affinity for repetition can be considered traumatic or transformative, depending on the eye. As Crimp explains, his color-struck rendition of Elvis is arguably as homoerotic an objectification as Thirteen Most Wanted Men. Judge for yourself:


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Elvis I & II, 1963
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Thirteen most wanted men, 1967

Yet, whether or not a consensus can be made on Warhol’s art, Crimp wisely contends that his place in history is by all accounts fictional. What we make of Warhol’s legacy is very much a projection, as paradoxical and fragmented as the artwork, itself.

Making hybrid work
Thierry De Duve dives into the implications of Marxism on the visual arts, outlining the role of exchange-value versus use-value in the field of fine arts. Warhol’s response to this phenomenon-of artists attempting either to circumvent the demands of the market or their struggle to use it to their advantage-was to take a unique path, “the one that never feared the market, the one that left it to the Don Quixotes of utopia to get upset about the transformation of art lovers into consumers or to fight against exchange-value in the name of use value” (de Duve 13). The famous Campbell’s soup can is an instance of Warhol’s refusal to even enter into this Marxist battle for meaning in the market—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, he seemed to be saying. The soup can, repeated endlessly and displayed in rows upon rows, as it would be in the supermarket, was a slap in the face to those who would have had art preserved as a “pure” field, outside of the influence of the market. Warhol transformed the viewers of his ‘fine art’ into consumers. In his own way, he was laughing at the pretensions of Abstract Expressionism to save fine art from a mass-produced consumer culture.


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Combining sources previously unused
Warhol’s irreverent attitude toward the art world allowed him to incorporate material into his work that would have previously been considered outside the scope of fine art. He used photos from newspaper clippings (Death and Disaster series), commercial images (Coke, Campbell’s, Brillo), and celebrities (Monroe, Taylor and Elvis) and transformed them into something with an entirely different meaning from that of their original contexts. In Arthur C. Danto’s article, Introduction: Modern, Postmodern and Contemporary, Danto states that in this new era of contemporary art, which seems to also include Pop Art, “…anything could be a work of art, and it meant that if you were going to find out what art was, you had to turn from sense experience to thought. You had, in brief, to turn to philosophy” (13). This new inclusion of previously unused source material, could only be explained as having any significance—according to Danto—if it were considered under the auspices of philosophical thought. This need for philosophical reflection, in part, arose from another observation made by Danto in the same text when he states that contemporary art, the movement of which he seems to have considered Warhol to be a member, was the end of art. He did not mean this in the sense that the production of all art had ended forever, but rather that the narrative of art that Greenberg had constructed, in which one period built on another in a coherent story, was over. Art was no longer about creating one’s own style in response to a previous style, but had become “a style of using styles” (Danto10).

Shift in the way contemporary art was received and understood.
If that is now the case, and all content is equal then art must now be understood in a whole new way, but Warhol does not entirely fit into this new category, because while he did in fact participate in this new ‘style of using styles,’ his content was not arbitrary. While works such as Green Car Crash utilized the style of repetition with the effect of draining away significance, of weakening the horror of the atrocity depicted on the canvas, the content is not arbitrary. Hal Foster contends that Warhol’s choice of subject was intended to be a commentary on the nightmare of the American dream—a style similar to “a dream in the age of television.” In the age of mass production and mass consumerism, it seems Warhol is asking, “What are we consuming?”


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In the end Warhol himself also became the content of his own artistic work--the final step in the transformation of the artist into commodity. The viewer of his art was not only consuming his vision of the American dream, they were consuming Warhol as the American dream. Thus content, as well as style, are essential to understanding Warhol’s works, as well as his participation (or lack thereof) in the previous artistic and philosophical movements.


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Camp and Warhol - drawing the distinction
Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, first published in 1964, outlines many camp sensibilities, but also probably leaves us with more questions than answers regarding taste, subjectivity, creativity and the conflations of high and low art. At the outset she states, “To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it,” highlighting the idea that acknowledging the concept or use of camp is to negate it’s effect. Sontag states that one of the distinctions of camp is that it is an aesthetic “not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.” In this sense, it is easier to draw similarities between what most may think of as camp and the works that Warhol created, both in paintings and on film.

The intent of many of Warhol’s films, especially in his most productive period from 1963-67 (during which time he created more than 60 films) was to create a simulacra of his subjects, those collaborators in his factory. The audience is meant to perceive that these characters are merely living their own lives (perhaps one of the earliest examples of the concept of reality tv?) but in point of fact, Warhol is creating, selecting, and, in some ways, “scripting” the performances and filmgoer experience from the outset. David Bourdon, who later went on to write one of the most respected biographies on Warhol, asserts that “Warhol lets his performers be ‘themselves’ in roles that correspond to their own characters. He selects the people whose looks and personalities almost - but not quite - coincide with the characters he wishes to create.” (Warhol as Filmmaker, 1971) In this sense, Andy was a calculating, almost campy, filmmaker, looking for ways to create or capture an artifice that might correspond closely with reality. Ironically, while he was subjecting audiences, and indeed his actors to this simulacra on-screen, he was also living his own life in much the same way, as De Duve states in Andy Warhol, or The Machine Perfected, “In the Factory one led the bohemian life, played at it, but never submitted to it as a destiny.”

Of course, there are also a few examples where Warhol’s art isn’t nearing camp, but actually succeeds as camp. One such example, is Batman/Dracula, a film Andy made in 1964 in collaboration with The Velvet Underground.








While this was likely to be considered the first blatant example of Batman as camp, it’s also another primary example of hybridization and acquisition of commercial culture in Warhol’s work. The film was supposed to be an homage to Batman, a character that Warhol liked very much, but he also made the film without first obtaining the rights from DC comics. Just as with the Campbell’s soup cans or Coca-Cola, though this time through a different medium, Warhol has taken something with commercial, consumer success, and made it uniquely his own.

Warhol as innovator: Underground film and the use of a new machine
It seemed only a natural progression for Warhol to eventually turn to film - his preoccupation with reproduction, machinesand his Factory led almost seamlessly to his work behind the camera. While his success in film was considered marginal, and paled in comparison to his commercial success as a painter, Warhol left an indelible mark on the history and trajectory of underground filmmaking. His provocative early works provided many innovations like his “equation of real-time with reel-time.” (Bourdon), and the introduction of stillness in movies. His film Sleep was an extreme demonstration of both relative stillness and the idea of reel-time, as the audience was made to watch Ondine sleep for 6 hours, with no other action present in the film. While this minimalist approach may have appeared to actually be in real-time, this too was an artifice - edited, and purportedly REPEATED footage pulled together into a six hour film. While many were enraged by the film, and other works like it, Warhol pioneered many of his techniques, some of which (most notably repetition) were crossovers from his painting. In his early films, Warhol was concerned almost entirely with form (or style) over content. Heiress-turned-actress Edie Sedgwick was a consistent point of (UN)focus for his camera:








Arguably, Warhol’s most successful film was //Chelsea Girls// from 1966. This film was directed by Andy and Paul Morrissey, a man whom Andy came to collaborate with frequently during the second half of his prolific film phase. The shift to focus on content in addition to form, can really be seen with Morrissey’s collaborations. Morrissey explains, as quoted in Bourdon’s article, “My influence was that I was a movie person, not an art person...Andy’s form was extremely stylized, and people thought the content was very frivolous...the emphasis now is less or very minimally on the form and all on the content.” While Morrissey may contend that with his arrival the focus was almost all shifted to content, perhaps the most gratifying element of Chelsea Girls was the melding of form and content. Warhol’s concept for the film was a split screen, accompanied by alternating soundtracks attached to each scene, and the juxtaposition of the white (representing light, innocent sides of life) shown next to the black (darker and more disturbing aspects). Additionally, the fact that the soundtracks would never be exactly in sync as one was brought up and the other was brought down, the presentations of this film were all distinctly unique. Although Warhol’s films were not as critically and commercially accepted or appealing as his paintings, his role as an innovator is not likely to be disputed.

In retrospect, it’s interesting to see Warhol’s film productions living their extended life on YouTube, where visual experimentation and self-objectification (or reflexivity?) are often one-in-the-same. What Warhol did was essentially manipulate the spectacle through spectatorship on and off-camera, as his positioning of Sedgwick in front of the camera gained her admitted insta-celebrity. What’s more the banality of Warhol’s commissioned stories and onscreen activity make us consider why we’re watching in the first place and why, over time, we continue to.


Zachary Allard

Andy Warhol has become almost universally revered as a great artist in the decades since his death. His work was a natural progression within the fine art movement, the “next logical move” as we have discussed in class. Professor Irvine mentioned more than once in class that his work, “everywhere pre-supposes Jackson Pollack.” To a certain extent, this explains why Warhol mattered and why his work continues to endure. His work (and the Pop Art movement writ large) was the next logical step for “fine art.” Such a term is remarkably complicated, but to put it simply, Warhol was immersed in the schools and lessons from fine art and primed to take the next step, so to speak.

However, Warhol (as superb as most of his work is) was not suitably prepared to make the same leap in film as he did in fine art. His films lack the same knowledge of their medium that his paintings and sculptures carry with them. If his painting carries the influence of the abstract expressionists and art history with it so does his film (to its detriment). Looking at Warhol’s films like “Sleep” or “Blow-job,” they are laden with the agitprop influences of his fine art roots. Warhol desperately wanted to be a famous filmmaker, but he had not learned the lessons of that medium and instead applied the repetition and experimentation of Pop Art to a medium that had endured a far different evolution than fine art. Contrast this with the French New Wave which was in full force by the early sixties--about the same time Warhol was becoming a household name. Their work was experimental and pushed the medium forward in new ways, but it did so in response to Golden Age Hollywood cinema. In the French New Wave, the genres and editing and style of Classic Hollywood film is everywhere pre-supposed. Thus, the French Wave New Wave still seems vibrant and relevant today. However, Warhol’s films had no such pedigree. Therefore, his films are little more than curiosities today in the midst of a still vibrant artistic catologue.





“The Taming of the Shoe”

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As I read De Duve’s “Andy Warhol or the Machine Perfected”, an Andy Warhol Calendar which I bought some years ago came into my mind. This calendar, which I confess I might have bought for aesthetic reasons, which I bought to enliven my sophomore year cell like college dorm is called “The Taming of the Shoe”. It is one of those Warhol designs which have self perpetuated the basic ideas that Warhol was trying to express through his art by becoming
massively reproduced, an object of mass consumption and an object that any 19th year old girl like myself could admire for its mere aesthetics.

Once again I was engaged by the way in which this article highlights the way in which Warhol and his work served to challenge the previously held artistic paradigm that separated art from commerce, how perhaps the differences between the motives of his own work and the work of Matisse were not so great, and how according to De Duve he managed to promote the idea that “Fair or unfair, it is a fact that the art market, to the precise degree that it is a market, treats works of art as commodities and absorbs aesthetic values into the sole value of exchange”(De Duve, 1989, 9).

Jessica Gesund


FINE ART AND “WHAT COUNTS”

by Alicia Dillon

With the end of the Modern art movement, the beginning of Contemporary Art opened up the cannon to allow art to count as anything. With the introduction of a new theoretical framework that the art object itself was to act as a vessel for the conceptual contribution it carried, the life of the art object was brought to the forefront. While this came to include the life that the object had outside of itself, it also came to encompass the meaning of the work in the museum, in the market, and in the general present sociopolitical climate: Their (the object’s) content is the “concept of art.”


Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory, New York City, October 30, 1969
Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory, New York City, October 30, 1969


As such, the separation of meaning and object are no longer separate entities; they are inextricably one. This self reflexive, self-referential practice is what has in part contributed to the structure of ‘insider’ knowledge that is often required to ‘crack the code’ of present-day conceptual artworks. This concept, that in part art is supported by the “truth myth” it sustains is discussed by Aurthr Danto in “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.” In it Danto presents a variety of examples in regards to human pleasure, and describes the ways in which this pleasure is made possible and sustained. He touches upon the ways through which the everyday is rendered meaningful and specifically, he presents the example that our belief system is the structure through which this pleasure is made possible; noting that, should this belief system prove to be false, the pleasure is therefore denied. While a bevy of often seemingly extraneous examples are given, Danto’s main goal is to establish that our understanding and idea of what we are looking at, or what we take to be art, is as important as the object itself. If this myth proves to be false in some way, then it ceases to hold pleasure.

This is certainly true with Warhol and Pop, where the threshold between high/low, elite subgroups and mass culture. Therefore, in understanding POP, and really in attempting to provide a dialogue for conceptual art in general, Danto’s analysis of truth and pleasure contributes a particularly productive way of understanding this Warholian engagement. For with pleasure, comes the idea of imitations and illusions.

Lastly, as an aside, I believe that Danto’s bringing this analysis to the level of gender is both productive as well as detrimental to creating a space for the advanced discussion of art. It is productive in as much as that, in the fine arts the idea of “what counts” refers mainly to the process of a piece being recognized and incorporated into the cannon of the Art World, thereby being christened as a “legitimate” contribution to the dialogue; accepted as true and real work, not an impostor. Therefore, it is important to remember that aesthetics is manifested in a variety of forms. The formulation and construction of “normal” and moreover “real” structures every aspect of culture: music (sound), gender, etc. The formation of categories, labels and the construction of what we read as real is a crucial part of a much larger debate on visual media and the remix.

Generally speaking, external aesthetics cue and evoke specific culturally learned (or conditioned) labels and conceptual relationships, and what counts is in a constant state of flux. The push and pull between exterior and object, over time, come to possess internal meaning: in other words, language has a look. That said, it is easy to see how identity and identifications go hand in hand. However, although Danto’s invocation of the theories of Irigaray and Butler, aptly calling upon the idea of performance and masquerade in order to discuss how ‘truthful representation’ in art (a lack of deception), is key to its ability to occupy a particular position of authenticity, such theories are too entrenched debates of their own kind. To my mind, one need not necessarily add such complications to the already controversial topic of ‘what counts as art.’


AMD




Warhol: more than Camp

Arthur Danto’s chapter from After the End of Art, titled “Modern, Postmodern, and Contemporary” (1997), describes how in the 1970s art moved away from a modernist conception of grand narrative towards a one that had not interest in referencing art history. Within this new attitude, art is able to reference a real thing without needing to question its artistic merit, and there are no rules about how art needs to look. While the infrastructure of art institutions continue to function, the new art – Pop Art – requires that museums surrender “much of the structure and theory that define the museum” to accommodate the particularities of a new bread of artist (17).


Warhol is certainly the most famous artist associated with Pop Art. His art was revolutionary in that it used commodities, production and communication technologies to create artworks that were unashamedly embedded within an economy prioritizing exchange-value over use-value. Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp (1964) provides some useful ways of thinking about Warhol’s approach to art through her definition of the term Camp. Camp is “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration … Camp is … a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.” (Sontag, 1964) Sontag provides a long list of criteria by which to recognize Camp: it is first and foremost a mode of aestheticism; it is artifice and stylization – not beauty; it is apolitical; it requires a certain amount of “badness” or artistic failure; it likes works that are exaggerated; it is naïve (art that is knowingly Camp often fails to be so). Warhol’s work does in many cases fit Sontag’s definition of Camp.





warhol.jpg
Coca-Cola [4] Large Coca-Cola, 1962, acrylic, pencil & Letraset on canvas



So, Warhol’s work is often Camp, but there are also other less fluffy points to be made about his work. Thierry de Duve’s “Andy Warhol, or the Machine Perfected” (1989) suggests that Warhol based his art on desire and the principle of consumption. Art was commerce, hence “the Factory” – the name of his studio. De Duve argues that there are no higher goals for Warhol. There is no promise beyond anything except the commodity (6). Works of art have neither more nor less value than commodities. Warhol, then, turned Marx on his head by making the fetishism of commodity his philosophy (de Duve, 1989).



In “Death in America” (1996), Hal Foster explains how Warhol made “un-art” the central feature of his art: boredom, repetition, mass consumer commodities. The endless repetition of images had the effect of minimizing emotive responses to a work. For example, in Ambulance Disaster, Warhol’s repetition of the image (of a real ambulance accident) and infusion of color disassociates us from the real event. We see only the image; it is no longer referencing anything. It is unclear to me whether or not Warhol intended to make a societal point with “Death in America”.



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Warhol, Ambulance Disaster, 1963, silkscreen inc/acrylic on canvas




“Camp” and Today’s Popular Culture
In her Notes on “Camp”, Susan Sontag observes that the style “responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and strongly exaggerated”. It seems that there is no better incubator for this sort of expression than today’s popular culture, valuing the outspoken, over-the-top, explicit behavior that we’ve come to expect from our celebrities and artists. The never-ending legal troubles of Lindsay Lohan, who seems to live exclusively in Camp, were recently covered in the New York Times. The same publication has offered at least 10 stories on Charlie Sheen in the last month. Out of all the troubles and conflicts across the world, why did the Times – America’s most respected news source – find it necessary to cover a fading celebrity’s felony charge? Maybe because our society values the spectacle of Camp more than the unhappy conflict of war. Camp today is thus analogous to the escapist films of the 1930s. With our movies today confronting current events head-on, we turn to the Camp celebrity culture to distract ourselves. Just look at the Grammys.

Cee-Lo Green performing at the 2011 Grammys
Cee-Lo Green performing at the 2011 Grammys


The show offering the American music industry’s greatest honor has turned into a celebration of Camp: exaggerated, and often celebrating androgyny. Androgyny is, of course, most apparent in terms of gender bending, but doesn’t Cee-Lo Green dressing up like a giant parrot puppet count as well? Additionally, Cee-Lo’s costuming recalled the extravagant costumes of Elton John and Liberace, gay icons who carved out a space for themselves in a time that was much less tolerant of gay culture.

Elton John performing on "The Muppet Show"
Elton John performing on "The Muppet Show"
Sontag notes, “homosexuals, by and large, constitute the vanguard – and most of the articulate audience – of Camp”. This distinction may be why Camp is so celebrated today. Though much progress is still to come, our society is now more accepting of the gay population than ever before. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, the Justice Department will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, and every twenty-something TV or movie heroine has a gay best friend.
Further, Camp is seen throughout contemporary art. A prime example is Jeff Koons and his “Balloon Dog”, which in 2008 was masterfully installed in Versailles, a champion of 17th Century Camp. In accordance with Sontag’s definition, Koons’ balloon sculptures value “‘style’ over ‘content’, ‘aesthetics’ over ‘morality’, ‘irony over tragedy’”.

Jeff Koons, "Balloon Dog", 1999
Jeff Koons, "Balloon Dog", 1999

Drawing on experience with celebrity culture, it seems inevitable that these sculptures are some of the most recognized works of the past twenty years in art. Damien Hirst may be more recognized in the general population – but of course, his oeuvre is highly reliant on Camp as well.
-EDK