Cow 11A is one of four distinct prints in Andy Warhol’s Cow Series. Warhol published the portfolio in 1966 for the opening of his show at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. He used the colorful, and strangely ecstatic cow prints as a wallpaper for his exhibition.
Andy Warhol’s Pop Art career generated a great deal of controversy for its bold style and avoidance of abstract representation. Another significant element of the uproar surrounding Warhol’s art lies in the things he chose to depict. Warhol challenged the world with the idea that something made recognizable by advertisements and supermarkets could (or even should) be the subject of artistic expression.
Legendary art dealer Ivan Karp called cows “a durable image in the history of the arts,” suggesting Warhol paint them. This meant that the Cow portfolio was a departure from Warhol’s earlier work. Warhol’s earlier pieces redefined art by asking the viewer to reconsider common notions of artistic value. Expanding on that mission, the Cow prints show a Warhol who has developed a unique and identifiable style, and is willing to use this style to redefine traditional artistic subjects.
By broadening the horizons of what is incorporated into the Pop Art movement, works like the Cow portfolio give Warhol’s style a newfound sense of universality. Warhol’s style of artistic production intentionally blurred the line between art and commodity. Similarly, his celebrity portraits successfully translated a person’s image into a mass produced silkscreen: a marketable product. Cow 11Asuccessfully did the same with the image of a natural subject, even one Ivan Karp described as “wonderfully pastoral.” Perhaps Warhol’s commodification of the cow reflects the fact that the cow itself is absorbed into consumer culture as a commodity, often being raised in massive farms for human consumption. This would be an overlap, both stylistically and spiritually, with his depiction of other, more obvious commodities, such as Campbell’s soup –in which the cow is sometimes an ingredient.
Cow 11A, however, does not depict the cow as a foodstuff. This particular print contains perhaps the most understated coloration in the portfolio. Warhol offsets the hazy blue background with a vivid brown, reminding us of storybooks and nursery rhymes. The end result is playful, recalling one’s bond to nature, and our elemental affinity for the subject. Ultimately, Cow successfully depicts all the things that caused Ivan Karp to suggest the subject in the first place. Warhol’s treatment of the cow thus evokes a certain perfection and mastery of his work. He alienates the cow with experimentation, while simultaneously allowing it to emerge as nothing less than itself. While retaining the Pop Art aesthetic, and becoming absorbed into Warhol’s business-oriented philosophy, the Cow remains a familiar image.
The Cow portfolio was Warhol’s first wallpaper project, which would become one of his defining media. He lined many of his shows with bright, eye-popping depictions of endlessly varying subjects against vivid backgrounds, but the Cow always remained one of the most recognizable wallpaper styles in his arsenal.