The devotional Catholicism behind the postmodern work of Andy Warhol

I was waiting for the opening of “Andy Warhol: Revelation”At the Brooklyn Museum with great impatience. The exhibition, which “explores the artist’s long-standing relationship with his faith that frequently appears in his works,” features both his own works and objects of Catholic devotion he has collected. Juxtaposed with the other collections on display in the museum, the exhibition highlights how Warhol’s keen attention to paradox makes him a model of what it means to live as a Catholic in a postmodern culture.

The term “postmodern” is ambiguous and often used loosely. Postmodernity in the historical sense can generally refer to events or cultural sensitivities that emerged after the modern era, which ended roughly after World War II. Postmodernist philosophy refers to a specific school of thought that rose to prominence in France in the 1960s.

Starting from French philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, postmodern philosophy aims primarily to question the basis of certain hierarchies, institutions and commonly accepted claims of truth. According to Derrida’s emblematic expression, “everything that has been said must be unsaid”. Postmodern philosophy also questions the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationality and pure objectivity. These thinkers have played an important role in shaping the sensibilities of many artistic trends since the 1960s – think Pop Art by Warhol, Performance Art by Marina Abramovic, or Installation Art by Allan Kaprow.

The show reveals Warhol as a paragon of what it means to live as a Catholic in a postmodern culture.

Most of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibits use postmodernist concepts to address questions related to identity, desire, injustice, and suffering. Therefore the installation outside the museum by Nick Cave, which consists of the words “TRUTH BE TOLD” in black letters running along the wall, “question[s] the precarious nature of truth in our society ”and“ how[s] about how words can be twisted and twisted by those in power. “The wake“Is also a collection of exhibits on the first floor of the museum which” seeks to provide individuals with a space to find their feelings of fear, grief, vulnerability, anger, isolation and hopelessness, as well as joy , determination and love. “

There are many outspoken critiques of the postmodernist movement, including Jordan peterson and Camille Paglia, as well as Catholics like Bishop Robert Barron. But for Catholics, “Andy Warhol: Apocalypse ”could serve as a bridge between postmodern concepts and their religious beliefs. As a literary critic Wayne C. Booth once wrote, “Postmodern social ego theories have not explicitly recognized the religious implications of what they speak of. But if you read them carefully, you will see that more and more of them speak of the human mystery in terms that resemble those of the most subtle traditional theologies.

It is true that postmodernism‘s overwhelming emphasis on personal experience can run the risk of denying both the existence of God and the whole Judeo-Christian moral framework. But this accent can also help us to recognize the need for God as it manifests itself. in our personal experiences. Postmodern culture does not necessarily have to lead us towards relativism and pure subjectivism – where truth is what I say it is, where one can have “alternative facts”. Instead, postmodernism’s attention to paradox and nonconformism can serve to open questions that lead us to rediscover objective spiritual truths.

Postmodernism can also help us recognize the need for God as it manifests. in our personal experiences.

After all, what could be more paradoxical and unconventional than the founding story of Christianity itself: an almighty God becomes a helpless child; an eternal deity gives up his very life.

The entrance to the Warhol exhibition is a testament to this possibility. The walls are covered with a larger version of Warhol’s 1963 “Crowd”, which was a silkscreen print of a press photo of the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday 1955. The larger version was produced by the Brooklyn-based collective. Scented paper, whose creative director added an image of Warhol in a striped shirt, reminiscent of the famous Where’s Waldo? books. It’s here Where’s Warhol?

This juxtaposition between Warhol and the crowd highlights Warhol’s own search for his identity. The screen printing evokes the postmodern impulse to shed social roles and expectations in order to “invent” our authentic selves. Yet Warhol allows this impulse to lead him not to a vague relativistic response to who he is, but rather to embark on a journey to discovering his true identity in Christ.

The exhibition invites viewers to consider how Warhol’s belief in the Incarnation shaped his attention to the beauty of both the mundane elements of our human experience and the more chaotic and complex parts of humanity. Warhol had faith in the Infinite God who humbled himself and entered the physical realm as a human, who offered himself as bread to eat, who ultimately allowed himself to be killed out of love for mankind. Was it this faith that fanned the flames of his obsession with consumerism and death?

Warhol allows this impulse to lead him on a path to discovering his true identity in Christ.

If so, this belief is most evident in its reproductions of popular brand labels. From the famous Campbell’s soup cans to Heinz ketchup cans, Warhol finds beauty in the packaging of these products. At the same time, the viewer gets the feeling that Warhol finds the pleasure of consuming these things finished and ultimately tasteless. The exhibition space juxtaposes the Heinz boxes with screen-printed reproductions of images of black civil rights protesters being attacked by police dogs. The placement of the coins indicates Warhol’s intuition that a society built on capitalist power and the will to consume is deadly.

Likewise, in “The Last Supper (Be someone with a body)” he criticizes his own fixation on juvenile male beauty and on his own health and fitness by overlaying the image of Jesus consecrating the Eucharist during the Last Supper image of a young muscular fitness model. It is as if his consumption of the body of Christ filled the void left after the passing pleasure of contemplating the beauty of a young man.

Warhol’s fascination with the paradox between the sacred and the profane, the natural and the artificial is indebted to his camp sensibility. Although difficult to pin down, the camp is generally characterized as a celebration of artifice, irony, the unconventional, and what is generally considered to be in bad taste.

Warhol’s fascination with the paradox between the sacred and the profane is due to his camp sensibility.

Camp has its roots in the decadent aesthetes and writers of the turn of the century, many of whom converted to Catholicism. The work of such figures as Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and Joris-Karl Huysmans is caught in the tension between the extremes of self-indulgence and devotion to God, sin and holiness. It has been condemned by some as irresponsible, even immoral. But the fact that the camp does not claim not being bad can open the door to searching for what is truly true, good, and beautiful.

By intentionally exposing what is contrived, unnatural, and even sinful, and not pretending otherwise, the camp functions like a negative film strip. It forces us to ask ourselves if there is anything real, true, or even sacred beyond the artifice.

Warhol’s exaltation of glamorous female icons is typical of the camp. His “Jackie”series, serigraphs in blue tones of a veiled Jackie O. at JFK’s funeral, evokes Marian imagery. Her “Marilyn Diptyque”shows a series of brightly colored serigraphs of Marilyn Monroe slowly fading into dull black and white prints. His depictions of them mimic the Byzantine iconography of Mary displayed in the iconostasis, or icon screen, of his family’s Ruthenian Catholic parish. These odes to goddess-like celebrities are always tinged with a sort of darkness, highlighting how celebrity worship must always come to an end.

His “Jackie”series, serigraphs in blue tones of a veiled Jackie O. at JFK’s funeral, evokes Marian imagery.

The large quantity of pieces and their thoughtful layout in the Brooklyn Museum exhibit are to be commended. It was also impressive to find among his works of art his baptismal certificate, the crucifix that hung above his mantle and his collection of holy cards and kitsch reproductions of Catholic art and statues.

The museum’s commentary on the pieces (curated by José Carlos Diaz) seemed to dwell on the allegedly irreconcilable tension between Warhol’s homosexual attraction and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Judging by the depth and honesty of his works, it seemed to me rather that the church’s teachings on chastity strengthened rather than weakened his artistic sensibility and keen attention to paradox. Although known for his voyeurism and pornographic art, Warhol was also famous for his commitment to celibacy. We can perhaps assume that he made this choice out of self-loathing or “Catholic guilt”. But again, his works seem to oppose such simplistic readings. Instead, it implies that her choice to remain celibate was rooted in real beliefs about faith, beauty, and the body.

I walked away from “Apocalypse”with a new appreciation of how faith in the Incarnation can enable us to engage with our postmodern culture in a more nuanced way than simply rejecting or assimilating it. In Warhol’s work, the beauty of Christ is not something totally separate from the human attraction to the artificial, the sinful, and self-indulgent. Rather, Christ reveals how all of his creation is a beautiful gift, even though our ways of engaging in it may be imperfect or selfish.

Although known for his voyeurism and pornographic art, Warhol was also famous for his commitment to celibacy.

God does not force me to choose between good and evil, but calls me to offer him all my being, my virtues, my weaknesses and my strange peculiarities, and thus become one with him.

For many people, the global questioning of social norms by postmodernism can lead to the point of denying that there are real answers to life’s most vital questions. But pushing postmodern artistic sensibility to its most extreme limits, Warhol asserts that to be truly authentic is to seek to live in communion with its creator.