The Andy Warhol Diaries: Netflix Series Is A Candid Portrait

Andy Warhol is one of the most broadcast, duplicated, misperformed and magnetized artists of all time. We have all heard many stories to the point of nausea: The Factory, the 15 minutes, the Brillos, the Campbells, the Marilyns and the Elvis. Andy Warhol is everywhere. Well, the Andy Warhol we think is Andy Warhol.

Almost exactly 35 years after the death of the famous pop artist, Netflix has released Andy Warhol’s Diaries, a new documentary that scratches beneath the surface of the artist’s enigmatic life and work. Ryan Murphy’s six-part series is led by the bestselling book of the same name, compiled by editor Pat Hackett through a series of transcribed calls with the artist over more than a decade.

Images courtesy of Netflix

Warhol had a worldview that ended up shaping a whole new one, where celebrities were icons, depth disguised as superficiality, and mass consumerism was high art. Andy Warhol was misunderstood. But this misunderstanding was engineered, perpetuated by the artist through artfully deployed red herrings around her sexuality, her approach to work and her depth of thought – it’s Warhol’s mystique, and it remains insatiable.

Andy Warhol’s Diaries – tender and haunting – lifts the curtain on the ever fascinating (and indistinguishable) life, work and loves of Warhol, told in his own voice (well, a specially programmed AI version – it seems the artist has finally realized his wish ‘to be a machine’).

Through interviews with friends such as Debbie Harry and Rob Lowe, and artists Glenn Ligon, Jamie Wyeth and Julian Schnabel, it sheds light on Warhol’s prophetic vision of culture as we know it today, steeped in fame, self-obsession and image saturation, but also increasingly fluid views on sexuality and creative collaboration.

Three contemporary artists inspired by Andy Warhol

Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X (Version 1) #12000, Vinyl-based paint, silkscreen ink and gesso on canvas. ©Glenn Ligon; Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Chantal Crousel, Paris

American conceptual artist Glenn Ligon first saw Warhol’s work while on a school trip to Soho, New York. Although now one of the leading voices of his generation, at 16, becoming an artist was not yet on the agenda. “I don’t think I knew what it was about, but somehow I knew it was important. It seemed like fun in a way. It was glamorous too,” Ligon says in The Andy Warhol Diaries. “Seeing Warhol kind of triggered a certain longing. So even in my 16-year-old brain, I knew I was seeing something extremely powerful. Some kind of breakthrough.

Ligon’s much-cited essay don’t pay attention to it, appears in the catalog for the Whitney Museum’s 2018 exhibition ‘Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again’. This is a critical review of Warhol’s 1975 series Ladies and gentlemen, which features nearly two hundred portraits of transgender women of color. “Did Warhol know ordinary black people”? Ligon asks, questioning the liberties Warhol took in describing these individuals. Despite his criticisms, Ligon noted his appreciation for Warhol’s work, partly in deceptive depth as an artist, and his “brilliant” use of color. In 2000, he explored the power of color with stunning effect in the series Coloring, for which children were asked to color pictures of black icons in coloring books from the 1970s. Without understanding their historical gravity, children freely deploy color. In Malcolm Xthe civil rights leader is pictured with a white face and wearing blue lipstick, blush and eyeshadow.

Deborah Kass

Deborah Kass, Deb blue2000, silkscreen and acrylic on canvas © 2022 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Kavi Gupta Gallery

The flat shapes in pop colors, the grids of familiar faces, the variations of a play of colors; Deborah Kass’ early work has Warhol’s visual language in its veins. But there is a twist, an important one. Kass focused on skillfully appropriating and reworking the iconic styles of leading 20th century male artists. Part searing criticism, part homage, her interest was in confronting the glaring omission of leading women in art history and in society at large.

In 1992, Kass began her “Warhol Project,” in which she flipped the pop artist’s ubiquitous celebrity paintings, revising those groupings with self-portraits and images of her own heroines, such as Gertrude Stein, Barbra Streisand and Cindy Sherman.

Deb blue, at first glance, looks like a piece from Warhol’s 1960s “Liz” series depicting actress Elizabeth Taylor. But this painting, like many others, thwarts the spectator’s complacency towards Warhol’s work, inimitable if it is, it is not exempt from reinterpretation.

Drawing on and reframing the visual language of the past, Kass asks us to envision an alternate history in 20th-century art, in which the work of female artists was as iconized as that of men, and the “tragic muses had autonomy. As she told filmmaker John Waters in 2007, “I’ve always wanted to use art history almost like a ready-made.”

Jeff Koon

Jeff Koon, New Hoover convertibles1984 ©Jeff Koons

Koons made a USP by sucking up art history – executed in literal terms with his 1980s vacuum cleaner readymades, and in a Duchampian vein, revising it into something entirely new.

Through Koons’ cut, glued, and reimagined motifs from pop culture and art history, we can identify the parallels between Warhol’s era and our own; the mass consumerist, voyeuristic, self-obsessed banality reflected in, and often on the surface of his work. Like Warhol, it’s not so much about the artist, but about us.

At first glance, the parallels between Koons and Warhol are easy to draw: they are both from Pennsylvania, they both work in visual hyperbole, in liberal depictions of sex, flowers, fame, have a general appeal and mask depth with banality. . But Koons only openly referred to Warhol in one piece: Hulk Elvis I (2007), in which the Marvel character Hulk is positioned in the same position as Warhol’s Double Elvis (1963), itself a riff on a publicity still for the 1960 film Blazing Star. §

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