The Great Depression was a time of huge economic upheaval in the United States. Starting with the Stock Market crash in October the depression lasted for several years, well into the late 1930s. Farmers were further impacted by a severe drought that ruined crops in much of the American mid-west. The Depression was an important moment in American culture. Literature, cinema and art became a way for Americans to assert and affirm their values as a society and further celebrate and confirm an American cultural identity. The 1930s were known as the "Golden Age" of Hollywood as movies became a popular pastime for many families. I have included this as an important date for Warhol for several reasons. He grew up in a very poor immigrant family and I think the effects of that upbringing were influential in his art. His celebration of everyday items to the status of icons, such as the Campbell Soup cans shows the importance they had in American life, not only as a convenience or luxury item but also as a basic necessity for many families. His lifelong interest and obsession with celebrity also stem from this period when his mother would buy him magazines of movie stars to entertain him. I feel that this in part inspired him to see celebrity and stardom as a way out of the life of poverty not only for himself but for many Americans, who may also have been dreaming of better things to come.
Establishment of Black Mountain College
The establishement of Black Mountain College in 1933 was an important moment in American art and had a lasting impact on the types of art that Americans would embrace and go on to make. It was established initially as an experiment school that embraced liberality and believed that the study of art was essential to an education. Many influential artists taught at the school including Walter Gropius and Josef and Anni Albers. The rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany led to the closure of the Bauhaus, and influential school in art, architecture and design. Many of the instructors and students from the Bauhaus, such as Gropius, came to America and influenced not only art but American modernist architecture. Students of Black Mountain college include Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Cy Twombley, Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage. Rauschenberg and Cage in particular were very influential artists for Warhol. Not only did he aspire to be accepted by them as a fellow artist, their experimental art provided Warhol with inspiration for many of his own works.
Jackson Pollock Article in Life Magazine
August 8 1949
The Life Magazine article showing Jackon Pollock creating his famous "drip" paintings was important in establishing the rise of Abstract Expressionism in American popular culture. Although the movement started in about 1943, the article in Life magazine was a pivitol moment in the movement gaining more support from the public. The famous images of Jackson Pollock working on one of his "drip" paintings was considered important in changing a public perception about what the art was about and how it was created. It helped diffuse some of the mystery behind the creation of Abstract art as the public could see how this painting was being created. In addition Pollocks intense concentration, action pose and masculinity gave the art form an appeal in a post-war America that was still looking to celebrate and promote it's own unique culture to the rest of the world. Willem de Kooning is reported to have said of this article that it "broke the ice" for abstract painting. The popularity of the article for Pollock and other Abstract Expressionist artists came at a time when many Americans were still looking for art that expressed their own values as opposed to European art. Although this had been ongoing since the 1900's with other artists such Alfred Stieglitz, it was widely accepted that Abstract Expressionism was a uniquely American art form.
I included this article in Warhols timeline as Abstract Expressionism had a far reaching influence for many American artists, who either wanted to emulate the art or move away from it entirely. When Warhol was looking to move out of commerical art into being accepted as a legitimate artist, he painted two pictures of a Coke Bottle in black and white in 1963. One was painted in a clean style and outline, in imitation of commercial art. The other had drips and splashes and was painted in a more subjective fashion. It seems that Warhol, at this early stage, perhaps thought that the painting with the drips would be considered more "artistic" and accepted by galleries. His choice to go with the hard edged, more commercially stylized depiction was a turning point in his career.
August 29 1952
John Cage's famous work "4'33" had a lasting influence on Andy Warhol. Cage had attended Black Mountain College and was an instrumental artist in promoting and participating in the many "happenings" that were a precursor to performance art. This work was performed by David Tudor at Maverick Concert Hall near Woodstock New York where he sat at a piano for 4 and a half minutes without making a sound. The work has often been called a work on "silence" but as Cage has often said the work was actually about the sounds that occured while the audience was waiting for the music to start and was intended to encourage people to listen. Some critics have stated that this work was influential for Warhol in creating some of his film pieces such as "Empire" in 1964, where he filmed the Empire State Building over the course of an evening. The film itself is approximately 8 hours in length. While the film also appears to be about nothing, similar to "4'33" it could be said that Warhol was actually showing us how to look, that in the act of observation we can gain insight or see things we would not normally experience or perhaps take the time to experience. I think that work such as Cage's opened the door for Warhol to explore these moments of reflection and subjects that to others may seem banal. Much of Warhols work seems to celebrate both the extraodinary ( such as his interest in celebrity) and the mundane, and blur the lines between the two.
1955 - 1959
One of Robert Rauschenbergs most famous works is the combine "Monogram". It consists of a stuffed Angora goat that Rauschenberg found and purchased and various found items including a tire placed round its mid-section. It is mounted on a wooden platform on casters. Additionally paint is applied to the goats face in gestural strokes recalling ( or perhaps parodying) the painterly dabs and splashes of Abstract Expressionism. Rauschenberg mostly created his combines from combing the streets for cast off and found items that he then assembled into sculptural like objects. The application of paint was meant to further blur the lines of both painting and sculpture. Rauschenberg along with artists such as John Cage and Jasper Johns are credited as Neo-Dadaists, building upon the ideas espoused in Dada of the ideas of chance in creating art. However unlike Dada, who were revolting against art and society in protest of WWI, the Neo-Dadaists were interesed in pushing the boundaries of fine art and what materials, subjects and ideas could be considered as art. Rauschenbergs incorporation of every day items or "junk" was very influential on Warhol. I included "Monogram" as it is an interesting combination of the every day and the unusual. I feel that this was inspirational for Warhol who addressed similar ideas in much of his work, although he worked in a cleaner style more in line with his commercial back-ground. While I would not say that Warhol was a Neo-Dadaist, his work does have a similar combination of the ordinary or banal and the absurd that shares many similarities with this movement.
Assassination of John F Kennedy
November 22 1963
The assassination of John F Kennedy was an important historical moment in American history. He is still one of the most well known and influential figures in American popular culture, and in his lifetime was one of the first presidents to be regarded in the same respect as other celebrities such as pop singers and movie stars. The Kennedys were at the time considered by many in popular American culture as their equivalent of the British Royal Family. At the time of his election John F Kennedy was the youngest president elected and it was felt that he was part of ushering in a new progressive and prosperous decade for Americans and the American way of life. I chose to include this event on Warhol's timeline as Kennedy shares many similarities with other celebrities such as James Dean or Marilyn Monroe who died tragically young, and have in a way been "canonized" by the public. Warhols silkscreen portraits of Marily Monroe and other celebrities have been compared to religous icons. Iconography was an important part of Warhols childhood as he attended Catholic service with his mother. It has been noted by some art critics that there is a dialogue in much of Warhols work with Catholism. It seems to be a comment or exploration by Warhol of the American fetishism of celebrity figures in popular culture, a trend that was on the rise in the 60's. I have also noted that Kennedy's death was a devasting period for many Americans and that in part the shock and subsequent feelings of loss in much of the public helped pave the way for the desire for the upbeat and fun culture of the mid to late 60's and in some ways showcased by the bright colours and playfulness of Pop art.
June 29 1969
The Stonewall Riots were a series of riots by the LGBT in the Greenwich area of New York City that are considered a pivitol point in the movement for equality and rights for those who identify as gay or transgender. They were in part a reaction against police targeted raids of LGBT friendly establishments such as the Stonewall Inn. While some progress had been made in the establishment of rights for the LGBT community, many activities, including public demonstrations of affection were illegal. The riots were sparked by an unannounced raid on the Stonewall Inn by police and the ensuing manhandling of patrons. While it was not the start of the Pride movement or iaided n further establishing rights, it is considered an important event as more people in the community started to come together to actively lobbey against discrimination and for universal acceptance. I included this event on Warhols timeline for a few reasons. Warhol was homosexual and often addressed themes of homosexuality and underground gay culture of the period in some of his work. This includes the series "Ladies and Gentlemen", which were screenprint portraits of transgender people and drag queens. While Warhol is often noted for his silkscreen portraits of celebrities, this series focused on a community that was still largely unknown. One of the portraits was of activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was also active in the Stonewall Riots. I feel that while Warhol himself may not have participated as an activist that his choice to create these portraits was his way of participating and commenting on the movement.