An iconic artist of the American Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol (Pittsburg, 1928 – New York, 1987) was one of the most influential artists on an international level in the period after World War II. Warhol not only changed the rules of the visual arts, but also, more generally, of communication, multimedia and publishing, as well as the notion of the artist as a public figure, and of the artwork as a consumer good and simulacrum of the collective imagination. Born to Slovak parents, from 1945 he studied design and the visual arts, and this union of information, art and commerce quickly became the fundamental core of his aesthetics. During his years working as an illustrator, Warhol took an interest in printing techniques such as the silkscreen process. This technique then became the principal means by which the artist revolutionized pictorial language, introducing the mechanical, impersonal and serial nature of the work’s creation into the grammar of contemporary art. Moving to New York, and having also worked as a window-dresser, in the early 1960s Warhol devoted himself exclusively to the visual arts, holding his first one-man exhibitions where he showed works that radically broke away from the period’s pictorial language linked to Abstract Expressionism.
Through works such as 100 Soup Cans, 100 Coke Bottles and 100 Dollar Bills, Warhol conceived a visual universe dominated by symbols of mass consumption (canned soup, Coca-Cola, the dollar), replacing the idea of art as an individual and interior form of expression with the concept that art is a kind of record of reality and the present. During those years, Warhol developed a technique that began with silkscreen printing (a process for printing and duplicating photographic images) and continued with the application of acrylic colors which were spread in rough patches to distinguish different versions of the same image. In this way, the artist generated friction between the uniqueness traditionally associated with artworks and the unlimited reproducibility of the photographic image.
Beuys by Warhol – the work that has joined the museum’s collection – was created by the American artist in 1980. It belongs to a series portraits of the German artist that Warhol conceived for the two artists’ encounters in Naples, which occurred on the initiative of the gallerist Lucio Amelio. A figure of fundamental importance for international contemporary art, Amelio opened his Modern Art Agency in 1965 in Naples, exhibiting works by the most innovative artists of the time, including Beuys and Warhol. Amelio’s gallery became a venue for debate and research, a meeting place for internationally wellknown artists who often had little in common. In those years, the political, philosophical, symbolic and radical nature of Beuys’s work constituted one of the most important experiences of socially oriented conceptual art, yet it was profoundly distant from Warhol’s investigation into the society of mass consumption and the media cult of celebrities. In the eyes of the art world of those years, the diversity of these two visions amplified the striking nature of the meeting made possible by the charismatic figure of Amelio, of which the series Beuys by Warhol represents perhaps the most extreme result. Warhol’s series of portraits dedicated to Beuys revolves around a photo that – while perfectly conveying the German artist’s perspicacity and psychological intensity (consequently producing a portrait that is very unlike the usual celebrity images associated with Warhol) – is subjected to the artist’s habitual silkscreen flattening and color variation in several versions. The work is both personal and serial at the same time, an encounter between American and European art that is just as topical today as it was back then.