Art & Culture

Andy Warhol's Queer Identity

Museum Ludwig in Cologne and a comprehensive biography of Andy Warhol take a new look at the famous representative of Pop Art
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Andy Warhol shaped an entire era with his personality and his art. Blurring the line between art and commerce, his work changed our perception forever. Warhol passed away more than 30 years ago, but his art still exerts a unique attraction. Who was Andy Warhol? And what makes the fascination for his work that lives on to this day? "Andy Warhol Now", a major retrospective at Museum Ludwig in Cologne and a monumental new biography entitled "Warhol - A Life as Art" by the American art critic Blake Gopnik give an answer.

Both emphasize two facets of the artist's identity that have been little illuminated so far: One is the central importance of Warhol's homosexuality for his life and work; the second one is his immigrant background as Russian parents' son. For a long time, Warhol was perceived as asexual, but Gopnik's biography now does away with that. With a wealth of new sources and interviews with contemporary witnesses, the 1,200-page work illuminates the social and political environment in which the artist moved, his close relationship with his mother and his queer identity.

Warhol, actually Andrew Warhola, was born in 1928 in the industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third son of Russian immigrants from the Carpathian Mountains. He grew up at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the US and punished with heavy sanctions. But Warhol also uses his otherness as a source of artistic energy. From 1949 he lived in New York, where he initially worked very successfully as a commercial artist and illustrator. In addition to commissioned work, his early artistic work consists of often personal, homoerotic drawings. Living in an artist's commune, he could finally live out his homosexuality. With his unmistakable screen-printed images, celebrity portraits and brightly coloured images of consumer goods, he becomes an icon of the new Pop Art movement. These are pictures that everyone knows to this day.

The exhibition at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne highlights how Warhol represented a diverse, queer counterculture. His displayed series "Ladies and Gentlemen", produced in 1975, is a good example. The paintings show anonymous drag queens in lascivious poses and pick up on the New York travesty movement of the mid-1970s. In his work, Warhol postulated diversity as a fundamental and existential factor of every society. Topics that remain highly relevant today.

"Andy Warhol Now" runs until April 18, 2021, at Museum Ludwig, Cologne. The app "Warhol and Friends" offers an interactive tour of the exhibition.

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