Andy Warhol: Pop, Power and Politics


Andy Warhol is better known than the actual art works he produced and whilst this may fit in with his quest as one of the all time greatest self publicists-he was definitely among the first to understand and take advantage of an obsession with media figures- it detracts somewhat from the power of his artistic statement. This exhibition in the Scottish Parliament redresses that balance by showing that far from being a charlatan who used bright colours there is a depth and intelligence in Warhol’s work which despite being over exposed and deeply ingrained in our consciousness actually still resonates with validity twenty six years after his untimely demise.

 The connection with Scotland in this exhibition is the portrait of Scots philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who also lent his name to the prestigious Carnegie Hall. It is a portrait that has previously never exhibited outside the United States and as a dominant central work it commandeers a large portion of the wall it hangs on. Not that the works surrounding it are any less imposing or impressive.

 Other stand-out pieces in this well curated exhibition are German Social Democrat Willy Brandt looking more like a Hollywood film star than politician whilst artist and sculptor Joseph Beuys and his role as founder of the German green party is also represented. The famous ‘Mao’ also makes an appearance though here as a full size drawing rather than the more recognisable screen print.

Warhol’s sole entry into American politics culminated in a poster he designed for the Democratic party in 1972 when McGovern was a contender against Nixon for the Republicans. In a typical Warholian ruse the artist used a portrait of Nixon with the words ‘Vote McGovern’ below to great provocative effect. To give some idea of the political context of this  statement think of David Cameron’s face being used as an advert to vote yes to Scottish independence. Unfortunately Mc Govern lost out to Nixon whose administration never really forgave Warhol who found himself constantly being audited by the IRS during their tenure and beyond. In hindsight his warning showing what people were actually voting for- Nixon- proved itself prescient when tales about Watergate eventually leaked.


  Endangered species such as Siberian tigers and seas turtles are also on show as a representation of conservational politics as are royal figures including Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and our very own Elizabeth II.

 The Kennedy’s ‘Flash’ section is for me the most captivating work in the exhibition telling the well worn story as it actually unfolds in a wholly engrossing way without lapsing into morbid obsession. Related through a series of telex updates the text is interspersed with visual representation of Kennedy and his widow Jackie as the events of that four days which shocked and changed the world unfold. It is fascinating and even though the events and outcome are known it is as if you are caught up in the drama for the first time.

 This exhibition should help to clear up just how relevant an artist Warhol actually was for anyone who is still in doubt. Whilst his work always seemed to be simplistic it is this very simplicity which also made it complex as simply showing things as they were, the doubt and decisions to be made are all in the minds and eyes of the viewer.

 Andy warhol: Pop, Power and Politics is on at the Scottish parliament until November 3rd. To book free tickets click on the following link.

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