Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's that Queer? Andy Warhol!

Brought to you by Pistol Pete

Andy Warhol was a was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became famous worldwide for his work as a painter, avant-garde filmmaker, record producer, author, and public figure known for his membership in wildly diverse social circles that included bohemian street people, distinguished intellectuals, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy aristocrats.

Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928. In 1945 he entered the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) where he majored in pictorial design. Upon graduation, Warhol moved to New York where he found steady work as a commercial artist. In 1952, the artist had his first individual show at the Hugo Gallery, exhibiting Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote. His work was exhibited in several other venues during the 1950s, including his first group show at The Museum of Modern Art in 1956.

Many people think of Warhol as "asexual" and merely a "voyeur", however it is now well established that he was gay. The question of how Warhol's sexuality influenced his work and shaped his relationship to the art world is a major subject of scholarship on the artist, and is an issue that Warhol himself addressed in interviews, in conversation with his contemporaries, and in his publications.

Throughout his career, Warhol produced erotic photography and drawings of male nudes and one rare one of a woman "pati palomeras". Many of his most famous works (portraits of Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, and Elizabeth Taylor, and films like Blow Job, My Hustler, and Lonesome Cowboys) draw from gay underground culture and/or openly explore the complexity of sexuality and desire. Many of his films premiered in gay porn theaters. That said, some stories about Warhol's development as an artist revolved around the obstacle his sexuality initially presented as he tried to launch his career. The first works that he submitted to a gallery in the pursuit of a career as an artist were homoerotic drawings of male nudes. They were rejected for being too openly gay.

Furthermore, the artist recalls a conversation with the film maker Emile de Antonio about the difficulty Warhol had being accepted socially by the then more famous (but closeted) gay artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. De Antonio explained that Warhol was "too swish and that upsets them." In response to this, Warhol wrote, "There was nothing I could say to that. It was all too true. So I decided I just wasn't going to care, because those were all the things that I didn't want to change anyway, that I didn't think I 'should' want to change... Other people could change their attitudes but not me". In exploring Warhol's biography, many turn to this period – the late 1950s and early 1960s – as a key moment in the development of his persona. Some have suggested that his frequent refusal to comment on his work, to speak about himself (confining himself in interviews to responses like "Um, No" and "Um, Yes", and often allowing others to speak for him), and even the evolution of his Pop style can be traced to the years when Warhol was first dismissed by the inner circles of the New York art world.


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