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Andy Warhol,
Rorschach, 1984

Rorschach, 1984

Rorschach, 1984
164 x 115 in.

Rorschach, 1984

Rorschach, 1984

andy warhol: 

by Mia Fineman
Andy Warhol's Rorschach paintings, produced 

in a giant spurt of activity in 1984, have 

the kind of star quality that Warhol always 

admired. Liquid, protean and seductively 

vacant, they reflect your own desires and 

fantasies right back at you. Conceived in 

the spirit of superstar Nico's beguiling 

promise ("I'll be your mirror"), these 

pictures will be whatever you want them to 


The entire series of Rorschach paintings, 

many of which have never been shown before, 

were put on view in a massive show at both 

Gagosian in Soho and up on Madison 

Avenue. There are 38 paintings at the 

uptown venue--upstairs are medium-sized 

symmetrical black stains on bright white 

backgrounds, while downstairs are smaller 

works, including a wall of paintings made 

with multicolored, butterfly-like blots in 

gaudy tones of pink, yellow, sea-green, 

violet and cobalt blue. Seven huge 

canvases, each about 10 by 14 feet, fill 

the lofty downtown space, including two on 

the west wall composed of glitzy gold blots 

that verge into the brash decorative 

register of rococo wallpaper. But many of 

the paintings--especially the large ones--

have a queer sort of carnal presence. Aside 

from the undeniably genital imagery, the 

symmetrical networks of thick, syrupy veins 

of paint left behind by Warhol's pour-and-

fold technique conjure up the fleshy 

physicality of lungs or kidneys.

Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychiatrist 

who invented the eponymous test, was 

himself a frustrated artist whose high 

school buddies prophetically nicknamed him 

Kleck, meaning "inkblot," because of his 

interest in sketching. In a real Rorschach 

Test, a patient is asked to describe what 

he sees in ten standardized blots--some 

black and gray, others with patches of 

color. Trained professionals then measure 

the responses against a set of established 

norms, interpreting the interpretations to 

unearth dark secrets about the subject's 

personality, intelligence and sexual 


Although Warhol professed ignorance about 

the standardized blots of the official 

Rorschach Test, he was obviously intrigued 

by their serial repetitiveness and 

formulaic impersonality. In his brilliant 

faux-naive deadpan, he explained: "I was 

trying to do these to actually read into 

them and write about them, but I never 

really had the time to do that. So I was 

going to hire somebody to read into them, 

to pretend that it was me, so that they'd 

be a little more...interesting. Because all 

I would see would be a dog's face or 

something like a tree or a bird or a 

flower. Somebody else could see a lot 


Warhol never actually got around to hiring 

an analytical ghost-writer, but Gagosian 

managed to snag critic extraordinaire 

Rosalind Krauss to say something 

interesting about the paintings. In her 

rather highbrow catalogue essay, Krauss 

reads the Rorschach series as a "parodic 

vision of Color Field abstraction," as a 

sassy corruption of the "stain painting" 

practiced by Helen Frankenthaler and Morris 

Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. If 

the Color Field painters wanted to 

transcend the carnal messiness of Abstract 

Expressionism, to move painting into the 

disembodied realm of pure opticality, as 

Krauss says, then Warhol "pulled the plug" 

on these sublime aspirations by reminding 

us that there's no form so innocently 

abstract that it can't be turned back into 

literary content--like a tree or a bird or 

a flower. 

And it's true--these are abstract paintings 

without the heavy air of cryptic obscurity 

and vague profundity that hangs around a 

lot of abstract art. There's a democratic, 

do-it-yourself quality to the Rorschach 

paintings: you can read whatever you want 

into them, there are no wrong answers. Go 

see the show when you're a little tired, 

when you're defenses are down, when you 

need to sort out and discard some of the 

odd junk lying around between your ears. 

That's what I did, and this is what I saw: 

a blooming iris; a solar plexus; a sinister 

jack-in-the-box; Jimmy Durante's nose; a 

couple of flamenco dancers in a bowl of 

Cheerios; a schematic portrait of Groucho 

Marx; a pouncing black cat; the Lone Ranger 

with a bad skin disease; a grimacing 

clown's face; a startled elephant; twin 

fetuses with coiled tails; a grizzly bear 

with his head lodged in a guillotine; a 

mutant Mickey Mouse licking his own tail; 

two facing seahorses kissing a penis; a 

vampire bat swooping down over a headless 

male nude; a giant insect crawling up a 

wall and extruding a rooster-shaped turd; 

an atom bomb exploding over the man in the 


Any further analysis is best left to 

trained professionals.

MIA FINEMAN is a New York writer.