REVIEW ~ Adman: Warhol before pop at AGNSW

Young, playful, dapper Warhol. Worldly, fashionable, commercial adman.

In the 1950s, Andy Warhol’s formative years as a commercial illustrator resulted in a plethora of chic, witty and elegant illustrations, advertisements, fragrance displays and magazine covers. Adman: Warhol before pop at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) explores the surprisingly robust and successful career that Warhol developed in the advertising industry before he went on to critique, obscure and augment commercialism at large.

Philip Pearlstein Andy Warhol in New York City c1949, Philip Pearlstein papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Source: AGNSW

In contrast to the AGNSW’s previous exhibition held in the small gallery space on its upper level – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera – which left most people desiring more, this 2D-based exhibition filled the space completely and offered more breadth and variety. Over 300 items are on display in Adman, including bodies of work (‘A is an Alphabet’ (1953) is a highlight with its 27 frames of humorous rhymes and effortless line drawings) and framed illustrations featuring Warhol’s iconic ink-blotted lines.

In addition to this, the exhibition is notably punctuated with a generous array of paraphernalia from Warhol’s early life – plane tickets and travel itineraries, awards written for “Andrew Warhol” and photographs by friends at a Memorial Day Picnic, Andy with his tongue sticking out. This is a very different angle from the silver-haired, aloof and abstract 1960s Prince of Pop we know so well, that is plastered on mugs and in art history text books, and is a required obsession for all burgeoning art buffs.

Exhibition photo by Laura Derkenne

I have come to grow lethargic of Warhol’s name emblazoned on exhibitions, always with the championing of the same themes of experimentalism and shock! and groundbreaking-ness. In recent memory, I can recall Warhol’s name in blockbuster titles such as ANDY WARHOL (GOMA, Brisbane, 2007-2008), Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal (ArtScience Museum, Singapore, 2012), Andy Warhol – Ai Wei Wei (NGV, Melbourne, 2015-16). I can think of no other artist with this consistent blockbuster track record. But the truth is: Warhol’s era passed long ago, almost 40 years ago. Much of his theories have been exhausted and reviewed over and over and over.

The real joy of Adman is discovering a hidden side of something you thought you already knew. I believed that my high school obsession with all things Warhol had made me a verified fan, with the knowledge that Andy’s mum would sign the book she wrote “Andy’s mum” rather than with her own name, Julia, and that Maria Callas was a favourite soundtrack in the foil-lined factory, and my insistence that POPism by Warhol and Pat Hackett was one of my all-time favourite books. But it seems that I had barely scratched the surface.

I adored the Adman exhibition because it surprised me in its angle, submerged me in an excellent narrative of works and context, and reignited my interest for something that I thought had been over-exhausted.

Until 28 May 2017
Art Gallery of NSW
Tickets: $18 adult, $16 concession, $8 child