One of the reasons Andy Warhol’s work has endured is because it’s democratic—it can mean whatever you want it to mean. If you look at, say, one of his silkscreen portraits of Marilyn Monroe, you might see a celebration of celebrity culture or an ironic comment on the same. You might see a simple provocation, a merging of “high” and “low” art, the crisis of postmodernity, a meditation on Marilyn’s “iconic” status, a striking experiment with colour, an attempt to engage with the artistic tradition of portraiture, or just a savvy businessman self-promoting. You might even see a picture of Marilyn Monroe. One senses that Warhol would have sympathized with any reading.
Shortly before the opening of Andy Warhol Revisited, a travelling exhibition of Warhol prints and paintings, we asked curator Ron Rivlin what the Marilyns mean to him. “I like the Marilyns because they’re so iconic,” he says. “People interpret art in their own way, just like music—some people like his art, some people don’t. For me, I love the fact that at first glance, I get it. It’s easy to digest. I’m not a fan of abstract art, really. With abstract art, it all comes down to the colour composition.”
Big colours and big canvases are what you’ll see at Andy Warhol Revisited, which brings together more than 120 pieces from Rivlin’s and other’s collections. Organized by Rivlin’s L.A.-based, Warhol-centric Revolver Art Gallery, the exhibition features work from across Warhol’s career (some soup cans, some Brillo boxes, even an abstract piece), but is strongest with its representation of the ’70s and ’80s. In these decades after the initial pop art explosion, Warhol redefined himself as a high-priced commercial artist (a room of “Socialite” portraits showcases some of the big, colourful silkscreens of the rich and famous he pumped out on commission) before returning to his pet preoccupations (his 1981 “Myths” series features Mickey House, Howdy Doody, and the Wicked Witch).
Rivlin, a Toronto-born entrepreneur, became interested in Warhol when he saw a Mick Jagger print in a friend’s collection. “He told me he paid $10,000 for it, so I said, ‘Oh, well, I can afford 10 grand, I’m going to get one,’” he said. “And I found out they were $60,000, and that was 10 years later.” He researched the Warhol market and gradually built a collection; his Revolver gallery is now a major hub in the thriving Warhol marketplace.
“All his pieces are large scale. If you collect art, you walk into the foyer and—boom—you see this big image. There’s a lot of impact because of the way the colours deliver themselves. Colour is a big factor for me, and Warhol was known for his ability to use them properly.”
Though he’s in the Warhol business, Rivlin says the exhibition is a labour of love. “I want people to come in and experience this. Is it going to be a financial winner for me? I’m going to lose money on this. But my objective is really, sincerely to expose people to Warhol, and hopefully intrigue them to learn more.”
Given his taste, how does Rivlin feel about some of Warhol’s more difficult work, like the experimental films? “I’ve never been a big fan of his films,” he says, “but I also do appreciate how he was an amateur filmmaker and he was able to put films together. And even when you see films from the ’60s, a lot of them are bad. Film as an art form in the ’60s wasn’t as perfected as it is today, with technology and big teams of people that make sure the risk behind the film is minimal. It’s all about box office, and I think back then, especially with Andy, it’s about the artistic value.”
He adds, “I prefer the mass-produced corporate system. I mean, again, face value: I like to understand it.”