The panel discussion on "Andy Warhol as an Abstract Artist" held on Jan. 7 at the Gagosian gallery in SoHo must have been fascinating. The event was advertised as having limited seating, and they weren't kidding. At least two thirds of the seats were reserved and the precious few remaining chairs went to wise early arrivers. The rest of us had to stand shoulder to shoulder in the back.
As we glowered in the heat, various art world luminaries (like new Whitney director Max Anderson) waltzed in late and sashayed over to their reserved seats. Meanwhile, Charlie Finch, unfazed as always and tote bag in hand, distributed copies of the latest Coagula.
First, Gagosian director Ealan Wingate provided a friendly introduction to the illustrious panel. It included Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; critic and poet Carter Ratcliff; New York University art historian and Guggenheim adjunct curator Robert Rosenblum; and critic Barbara Rose.
Sokolowski began his remarks by praising Gagosian for showing Warhol's various groups of abstractions: piss oxidations, shadows, Rorschachs, and camouflage works, unjustly ignored by museums. Sokolowski was flamboyant and obviously a worshipper at the church of Warhol. He compared modern debates about abstraction versus representation to Renaissance comparisons of painting versus drawing or sculpture, and color versus form. My back was beginning to ache.
Carter Ratcliff began his contribution with a reflection on the abstractness of most representation. I was having trouble concentrating. I remember now that someone cited Warhol's desire to become an abstract painter, and his remark that abstraction would ultimately trounce representation in the estimation of posterity. Sokolowski noted that Pop art was a relatively short episode in Warhol's artistic life, although his search for the "fabulous" color never stopped. "This is only the tip of the iceberg," he said, "as far as unseen Warhol is concerned."
The shadows were compared to Kline, and the yarn paintings (yarn paintings?) to Pollock. The camouflage works were identified as war paintings, and Warhol's curious refusal to visit Candy Darling on her deathbed, because it was too "abstract," was also discussed (?).
With this I decided it was time for dinner, and exited discreetly. Charlie Finch paced outside, tote bag still in hand. I was sorry to have missed hearing Barbara Rose and Robert Rosenblum, since they have a long (antithetical) history. After dinner, I walked past the gallery again. Somebody leaving said they'd slept through the whole thing.
PS: The gallery walls are crammed with camouflages. Tiny ones go for $16,000, and big ones for $650,000. They're selling, too.