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The Business Artist: How Andy Warhol Turned a Love of Money Into a $228 Million Art Career

The Business Artist: How Andy Warhol Turned a Love of Money Into a $228 Million Art Career

An installation view of "Andy Warhol Enterprises" at the Indianapolis Museum of Art .

ARTINFO | Andrew M. Goldstein

January 03, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS—"Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art," Andy Warhol famously said. “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Having gotten his start as an immensely successful commercial artist selling product illustrations to advertisers and department stores, Warhol bent the American consumerist system to artistic ends throughout his career — embracing capitalism at a time when many in the creative sphere viewed it skeptically, if not with outright hostility. Now a new exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art called “Andy Warhol Enterprises” has seized upon a recent resurgence of interest in the artist’s work to closely examine just how Warhol treated business, commerce, and, above all, money in his art and life.

At an economic moment when the art market is booming — with a Warhol painting selling for $63.4 million at Phillips de Pury last month — as the rest of the country struggles through a grueling recession, wealthy businessmen have been demonstrating extraordinary confidence in art as a liquid financial asset. Warhol, it could be said, took the opposite approach — he saw business as a dependable artistic asset. To discuss the ways in which the Pop artist approached this sweeping subject, ARTINFO executive editor Andrew M. Goldstein spoke to the exhibition’s co-curator Sarah Urist Green, who organized the show with art critic Allison Unruh.

The exhibition catalogue shows Warhol as a shameless self-promoter, even appearing on Japanese film ads like the cliché of Bill Murray’s character going to sell Japanese whiskey in “Lost in Translation.”

That’s perfect, right? But he was doing that from the beginning. Something we didn’t have an image of in the catalogue but that was always in my mind in developing the show was the classified ad he put in the Village Voice in 1966 that said, “I will endorse with my name any of the following” and then it was just a list of all of the things he was happy to endorse, which included “anything.” So he was a bit of a whore, as it were, from the beginning. One of the ideas that we have really tried to work against in this exhibition is that there was a turning point in Warhol’s career — this idea that before he was shot there was a certain integrity to his work and after a turning point it all dissipated and he became a servant to celebrities and society members. I don’t believe that that is true. He even said later in his career, “I was always a commercial artist.”

That is so interesting because that recent biography of him, “Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol,” ends when he was shot in 1968, essentially condensing the last two decades of his career into a few paragraphs, largely dismissing it as commercial work.

I know. It’s a great book, it’s excellently researched, has great material, but it just ends! He was shot in 1968 but he didn’t die until 1987. It is really incredible that that perception persists — I mean, it is really prevalent, especially, of that generation. This exhibition is one of several in the past few years that is re-examining his later work including the “Last Decade” show and “Pop Life.” These other exhibitions are looking at his later work in a fresh light. But I feel sometimes that the members of Warhol’s own generation, or the people who were there, were sometimes clouded in their judgment and unable to see the irony of his later work.

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