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Daniel A. Siedell

The Other Warhol

In Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) recently closed a monumental retrospective of the work of Andy Warhol, which consisted of over 250 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints. Organized by the New National Gallery in Berlin, it traveled to the Tate Modern in London before coming to Los Angeles. The exhibition also produced a catalogue that nicely complements its thesis and will itself contribute to a deeper understanding of the artist and his importance in the history and development of 20th-century art.1

But even to say that Warhol's art requires a "deeper understanding" and that he has "importance" for 20th-century art is to pick a fight. More than any other contemporary, Warhol is an artist we love to hate—perhaps the most famous and least understood artist of his time. It is by no means possible to define Warhol's friends as the art élites and his enemies as the unwashed masses. When he is lionized, whether by the art world or by the popular media, it is his aura that is buzzing, an aura compounded of high-art snobbery and gay camp, Hollywood glitz and shameless kitsch, and an insatiable desire to be hip.

The response from Christians tends to fall along party lines. For liberal Catholics and for Protestants still tending Tillich's flame, Warhol is the savior of art's spirituality. Much attention is paid to his Byzantine Catholic upbringing and his faithful attendance at Mass nearly every day of his life. For conservative Christians, Warhol the homosexual, whose "Factory" came to embody the libertine creed of the Sixties, delivered the coup de grace that finally separated fine art from the church once and for all.

There's more than just a grain of truth to these rival versions of Warhol: the celebrity, the crypto-saint, the decadent. But the Warhol on display in the MoCA exhibition and its catalogue is something different. The power of this "other" Warhol was undeniable, even in Los Angeles, where the setting and the milling, restless crowds at ...

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