Lifestyle review: Weary of Warhol

Andy Warhol – A Celebration of Life and Death
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Until 7 October

Star rating: 3/5

It’s hard not to notice there is a Warhol exhibition in Edinburgh, writes Mark Drinkwater. More than 20 giant Campbell’s soup tins adorn the pillars of the National Gallery of Scotland. On show inside is a broad range of work by the New York pop-artist from the 1950s up until his death in 1987.

One of the most influential artists of the last century, Warhol was undeniably ahead of his time. His timeless creations on display here – the repeated images of Marilyn and Elvis – ensured both artist and muse were immortalised by these iconic screen-prints.

Foretelling the reality TV generation, he famously said: “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” And yet his own influence was much more enduring, and one only has to walk down any of the local shopping streets to see advertisements and billboards emulating his gaudy pastiches.

The exhibition’s first room, Death and Disaster, shows a dark side to Warhol’s art, including images of tragic events reported in the news: a burning car, a gangster’s funeral, a shoe peeking from under a huge lorry tyre, and a suicide.

But whereas as a teenager I found his work profound and life-affirming, now I find it vacuous and soulless. There’s something saddening about the flippant manner with which he deals with death in much the same way as he deals with everyday objects such as Brillo powder boxes and Cola bottles. It’s that lack of humanity that’s hard to reconcile with the man who for years secretly volunteered to work in New York’s homeless shelters.

I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend seeing this exhibition as Warhol farmed out some of the artistry to his minions, so ultimately they’re pretty much all reproductions on show here. Save yourself some money or, if you must spend money on Warhol, buy a book of his work. It’ll also feature reproductions, but they’ll last a lot longer than the 15 minutes you’re likely to spend at the exhibition.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

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