Art: Man for the Machine

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It is an immigrant's face. In times past, thousands like it—high cheekbones, timid eyes poked like currants into a doughy Slavic mask, pale from weeks in steerage—streamed through Ellis Island. Add shades, a black jacket and dyed silver hair and you have America's perverse Huck Finn, son of Mrs. Julia Warhola from Mikova, Czechoslovakia—a face that, after Picasso's monkey visage, is perhaps the most instantly recognizable in art today.

The man's popularity is bizarre; his work, in one sense, is not popular at all. You cannot go into a department store and buy a print of a Warhol. But go down a couple of floors and they proliferate among the groceries: row after row of Brillo cartons, absurd ziggurats of Mott's apple juice and Del Monte peaches towering up under the flat strip lighting. By now nobody who has seen a Warhol can enter a supermarket without the hallucinatory and even monstrous feeling that life is imitating art and that the principle of repetition and meaningless abundance on which Warhol's work is based has created its own landscape, as surely as Cezanne's brush "created" the expectations with which one might drive to Mont Sainte-Victoire. But the America of mass consumption has not been changed; only signed, and in invisible ink.

Some gestures of love seem intolerable. The hardest thing to accept in Warhol's passive and ecstatically sanitary affair with the mass product is that he really does love his subject matter. Once granted that he does, his work—in all its range, from Marilyn's face to electric chairs—assumes a startling consistency. His landscape of the American artifact, and the event-as-artifact of the news photo, has a dense and theatrical immediacy. He has in effect christened an area of American experience that had no name in art before.

Being Someone. Painting a soup can is not in itself a radical act. But what was radical in Warhol was that he adapted the means of production of soup cans to the way he produced paintings, turning them out en masse—consumer art mimicking the process as well as the look of consumer culture. This was a startling act of confrontation. Here, Warhol was saying, is the world you inhabit but do not see. High art is your escape route from its crudities. But why escape? Why not accept it as your cultural ground, he demanded, since "pop art is liking things." Says Andy with utter sincerity: "I want to be a machine" —which to him means never to make choices. Warhol's machinery is that of a receiving station.

Next to Picasso and that camping St. John of the Cheque, Salvador Dali, Warhol is the supreme example of the artist-as-celebrity. "In the future," he once remarked, "everyone will be famous for at least 15 minutes." Warhol's own 15 minutes has been very long. His fame is self-replicating: like a perpetual-motion machine, it grinds on amid the iridescent cavorting of his superstars and the thump of heavy, if rigged auction prices ($60,000 from a Swiss dealer for a Campbell's soup can recently). It has reached the point where Warhol is not so much famous for doing something—he rarely turns out any paintings beyond a few commissioned portraits a year, and no longer directs his own films—as for being someone named Andy Warhol.

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