27 Aug Art History: Andy Warhol’s Anti-Nixon Campaign
Words By Blake Gopnik
Deborah Kass’s pro-Hillary portrait of Donald Trump (above) has been getting some attention lately, and Kass and her fans all know that it’s a deliberate appropriation from Andy Warhol’s pro-McGovern portrait of Nixon (below). But I wonder if Kass also knows that there’s another item in the same evolutionary series: A pro-Johnson portrait of his opponent Barry Goldwater, drawn in the run-up to the 1964 election by Ben Shahn, possibly the greatest single influence on Warhol’s pre-Pop work.
Warhol probably doesn’t strike most people as an engaged political figure, but from his student days on he was involved with left-wing ideas. Aside from trying to torpedo Nixon, he quietly supported any number of progressive causes; his archives are full of their thank-you notes.
Another thing that many people probably don’t quite realize: Despite his reputation as one of the great original makers in art, Warhol was at least as important as one of art’s great appropriators. He was a devoted follower (and collector) of Marcel Duchamp, past master of the borrowed image, and he happily lent a hand – and his silkscreens—to Sherry Levine, the younger appropriation-art pioneer. Warhol’s talents as a pictorial sponge and even thief are as important as any skills he had in making new imagery. Let’s not forget that almost all his signature Pop pieces—the Campbell’s Soups, the Marilyns, the Brillo Boxes, the Flowers—existed in another form first.
So when Kass riffs on Warhol, she isn’t only riffing on an image he produced; she’s riffing on his riffistry. (Warhol work © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), N.Y.; Kass work via Instagram)