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The most powerful element in the story--at least after Cubism--was sex. The female nude was his obsessive subject. Everything in his pictorial universe, especially after 1920, seemed related to the naked bodies of women. Picasso imposed on them a load of feeling, ranging from dreamy eroticism (as in some of his paintings of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter in the '30s) to a sardonic but frenzied hostility, that no Western artist had made them carry before. He did this through metamorphosis, recomposing the body as the shape of his fantasies of possession and of his sexual terrors. Now the hidden and comparatively decorous puns of Cubism (the sound holes of a mandolin, for instance, becoming the mask of Pierrot) came out of their closet. "To displace," as Picasso described the process, "to put eyes between the legs, or sex organs on the face. To contradict. Nature does many things the way I do, but she hides them! My painting is a series of cock-and-bull stories."
There seems little doubt that the greatest of Picasso's work came in the 30 years between Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and Guernica (1937). But of course he didn't decline into triviality. Consistently through the war years and the '50s, and even now and then in the '60s and '70s, he would produce paintings and prints of considerable power. Sometimes they would be folded into series of variations on the old masters and 19th century painters he needed to measure himself against, such as Velazquez and Goya, or Poussin, Delacroix, Manet and Courbet. In his last years particularly, his production took on a manic and obsessive quality, as though the creative act (however repetitious) could forestall death. Which it could not. His death left the public with a nostalgia for genius that no talent today, in the field of painting, can satisfy.
TIME art critic Robert Hughes is the author of The Fatal Shore and American Visions
By Steven Henry Madoff, editor of Pop Art: A Critical History
Publicist, Prankster, Parvenu, Andy Warhol Was the Pan of Modern Art.
If Picasso was the artistic Prometheus of the century, then Pop artist Andy Warhol was its Pan. Pop is the realm where American art gave up its spiritual reach in exchange for the bounty of commerce. Warhol, more than any of his peers, was its avatar, its passive-aggressive emperor with a tapioca complexion and a pale wig, gliding through its landscape as prankster and publicist, pariah, sexual cipher, parvenu.
In the early 1960s, he rattled art culture with garish silk screens of Hollywood sirens and Campbell's soup cans, of Sing Sing's electric chair and car-crash scenes pulled from the pages of the daily papers. The jolt of the work was its off-register blear, its bright-crude colors; but more so, his icy message that the whole world was product. If everything is reducible to an assembly-line image for sale, then Marilyn, Brillo, cows, Elvis and tabloid death are all equal and equally convertible to cash. Warhol summed up his career with the words, "I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist."
Warhol was the neon sign of the times, flashing sex, gossip, death. His hunger for the machinery and trappings of fame thrust him beyond painting into filmmaking, with titles like Flesh and Trash; into music, fronting Lou Reed's rock band, the Velvet Underground; into publishing the gushing society organ Interview; even into the odd cameo appearance on TV. All these activities orbited the low-gravity center of the artist, with his blank stare and his wan voice that uttered such sibylline aphorisms as "I want to be a machine" and, most quoted of all, "In the future everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes."
Famous indeed. For the last quarter of the century, and in the 11 years since his death, Warhol has floated over the art world like a slightly sinister saint. Scads of artists have grown bold from his example. Warhol's artful packaging of the world and himself made way for the media-fueled fame of such '80s artists as Julian Schnabel and David Salle; for the self-conscious works of Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine. Since then, artists across the globe have churned out paeans to corporate logos, toilet seats, detergent boxes and endlessly on. The best known of them Jeff Koons in America, he of the polychromed statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles; and Damien Hirst in England, infamous for his dead cow pickled in a formaldehyde-filled vitrine epitomize the Post-Warhol Effect: whole careers can now be spun from a clutch of industrial knock-offs and icons of calculated sensationalism.
What he captured so adroitly about our culture, our culture clearly wants more of. Just last month, Sotheby's sold his Orange Marilyn, 1964, for a new Warhol record at auction: $17.3 million. Somewhere St. Andy is smiling.