Curator's Corner

Rethinking Classicism Part 5

By Karl Cole, posted on Aug 14, 2020

Let’s consider modern classicism in the United States for today’s Rethinking Classicism post. Andy Warhol created some of the most recognizable, iconic artworks of the mid-1900s Pop Art movement. Does easy recognition equal classicism? Perhaps not, but Warhol established a popular aesthetic that has had a lasting impact on American art, especially with the Appropriation art of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Andy Warhol (1928–1987, U.S.), Brillo Box (Soap Pads), 1964.
Andy Warhol (1928–1987, U.S.), Brillo Box (Soap Pads), 1964. Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on wood, 17 1/8" x 17" x 14" (43.3 x 43.2 x 36.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2020 Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (MOMA-S1072waars)


Warhol’s depiction of everyday consumer items, portrayed as they might be in billboards or posters, presented a slice of American life. His series of repeated objects created a kind of contemporary still life without the illusionary manner of Baroque or 1800s still life. His works were rendered without any personal input, predominantly in the silkscreen process that eliminated artist’s brush strokes.

Throughout his career, Warhol featured images from popular culture without intending social comment on the times, distancing himself from any personal narrative or judgement. He always chose subjects that he knew were popular and recognizable by the American public. In a way, he and the other Pop artists were redefining what was considered “fine art” subject matter.

As a former commercial artist, Warhol recognized the exploitative potential of silkscreened works of art to mass produce subjects such as Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962). With the help of numerous assistants, he was able to mass produce silkscreened images, thus puncturing one of the traditional perceptions of works of art as individual, stand-alone objects.

Warhol first explored sculpture in a witty exhibition of supermarket boxes at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1964, in which a group of Brillo boxes appeared. He replicated what would commonly be seen in supermarket storerooms using silkscreen on plywood.

Ironically, in his quest to depersonalize and redefine “fine art” in these anonymously replicated subjects, Warhol created pseudo-icons of American commercial culture. They were as much landmarks of where American society had arrived as were the somber colonial portraits of the 1700s that registered the status and importance of early Americans.