A new show examining Andy Warhol’s Catholicism leaves his devotion open to question
Andy Warhol became king of pop art, in the Elvis sense, in the 1960s: but how much did his work owe to the Catholicism that infused his early life? That’s the question at the heart of “Andy Warhol: Revelation”, which opened at the Brooklyn Museum in New York this month.
Pop was a painting style, assertively anti-abstract, using motifs from commonplace, consumer culture, particularly US post-war consumer culture. Americans who never thought about paintings or art galleries were entranced by Warhol’s everyday soup cans, Coke bottles and surprisingly quite as substitutable entertainment “stars”. In fact the pop art movement had begun in 1950s Britain, with the Independent Group: its star was the intellectual painter Richard Hamilton, back when Warhol was just a “commercial” artist, though a soon to be “successful” one.
Pop art was the fuse for the colossal explosion of a bread-and-circuses (or circuses-and-politics) “entertainment” that first seemed popular and democratic but now seems populistic and despotic. Warhol, who was born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, was the fourth child of Catholic immigrants from what today is Slovakia. Ill health left him bedridden for many months in his boyhood, and in adolescence his coal miner father died in an accident. Through these adversities he clung to his mother, and she clung to the angels and saints.