GH (5 3 38 / leipzig)

We All Look The Same

His subject was fame;
he courted the famous
whose fame is their name,
proclaiming: Do name us.

His first name was Andy,
patricians, not plebs,
came in for him handy,
especially celebs.

He counted the minutes––
some fifteen––of fame;
beyond Andy’s limits
we all look the same.

Ken Johnson (“Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Subject for Warhol, ” NYT, March 28,2008) writes about an exhibition of portraits of Jewish subjects Andy Warhol made in the early 1980’s:
What was Andy Warhol thinking? In 1980, when his critical reputation was at a low ebb, he produced “Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century.” The series of 40-inch-square silk-screened canvases appeared at the Jewish Museum that year, and critics hated it. A reviewer for The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “Jewploitation.” The Village Voice critic said it was “hypocritical, cynical and exploitative.” Hilton Kramer of The New York Times wrote, “The way it exploits its Jewish subjects without showing the slightest grasp of their significance is offensive — or would be, anyway, if the artist had not already treated so many non-Jewish subjects in the same tawdry manner.”…The subjects of the series were more than just celebrities. All were people of great accomplishment. Besides the four mentioned above, they include Louis Brandeis (the first Jewish Supreme Court justice): the theologian Martin Buber; Franz Kafka; Gertrude Stein; Albert Einstein; and the Marx brothers Groucho, Chico and Harpo (making the 10 an actual dozen) . What the series reflects, however, is the distinctively modern experience of knowing many famous people but rarely knowing in any depth what they are famous for. Lots of people know the name Gertrude Stein, but how many have actually read anything she wrote? I’ll bet Warhol himself never read Martin Buber or knew anything about Brandeis’s legal philosophy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never read Kafka or Freud. The issue for Warhol is not what his subjects did and not Jewishness in general. His real subject was fame. He was interested in famous people simply because they were famous. The difference between the 10 great Jews series and, for example, Warhol’s 1964 series “Thirteen Most Wanted Men” is less significant than what they have in common. Both are, above all, about publicity.


by gershon hepner

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