Andy Wahol’s Los Angeles Artworld Years

Warhol silkscreening in The Factory

Like Andy Warhol, the LA Artwold is obsessed with Hollywood. It is courting Hollywood 24/7 to become collectors, to be part of the LA culture scene, not to merge high and low, pop culture and serious culture, but to be in the world of stardom that only Hollywood itself can offer. Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art’s new director, Jeffrey Deitch, has moved from New York City into a Hollywood Hills home that some of Hollywood’s most famous personalities have lived in. Several LA art collectors and dealers also have residences in historic Hollywood Hills homes.

Bernard Weintraub wrote that “Andy Warhol lived in New York, but Los Angeles was his spiritual home.” in his May 24, 2002 New York Times review of the Warhol retrospective in LA.

And here is Walter Hopps on how he came to show the work of Andy Warhol at the Ferus gallery:

“At some point, we may have also seen, in Warhol’s studio, work in progress that included one of his first Campbell’s Soup cans. Blum was running Ferus Gallery, but I still had ownership stock and had stayed involved. I said to Warhol, ‘Absolutely, I want to take some of this work for a show in Los Angeles.’ Warhol, who had never been to California, answered with some excitement, ‘Oh, that’s where Hollywood is!’ In the sea of magazines and fanzines scattered on the floor, so deep it was hard to walk around, were all those Photoplay and old-fashioned glamour magazines out of the Hollywood publicity mill. So a show in L.A. sounded great to Warhol. He agreed, and thus the multiple-image soup can show came to Ferus in 1962. Warhol missed that first exhibition of his Pop images, but he finally made it to California in September 1963 for the opening of the Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum and his own second Ferus show.”

Warhol's Campbell's Soup cans is now showing at MoCA in Los Angeles. This is the first time this work has returned to LA since its original exhibition in July of 1962 at the Ferus gallery. It returns just in time for its lessons to be used to fertilize the cultural landscape of Los Angeles.

From MoMA’s website: “When Warhol first exhibited these thirty–two canvases in 1962, each one simultaneously hung from the wall like a painting and rested on a shelf like groceries in a store. The number of canvases corresponds to the varieties of soup then sold by the Campbell Soup Company. Warhol assigned a different flavor to each painting, referring to a product list supplied by Campbell’s. There is no evidence that Warhol envisioned the canvases in a particular sequence. Here, they are arranged in rows that reflect the chronological order in which they were introduced, beginning with “Tomato” in the upper left, which debuted in 1897.”

Warhol's Gold Marilyn was created in August, 1962, just a month after his show at Ferus in Los Angeles. He immediately made this work in response to Marilyn Monroe;s suicide.

Warhol's Triple Elvis (1963) first exhibited at Ferus in LA, now part of the Fisher Collection at SFMoMA

Warhol said the following about his work in 1967: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am,” he told an interviewer. “There’s nothing behind it.”

Andy Warhol and Diviine at Studio 54. When does the party start and never stop in Los Angeles?

German art historian Heiner Bastian curated the 2002 Warhol retrospective, which was not initially intended to travel, for the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The May 24, 2002 New York Times reported that he said: “Warhol’s paintings are not about something,” he continued. “His work exists without an essence. The source is taken directly from life without any emotion.”

Andy Warhol is the most important artist to ever work in New York. Andy Warhol was a brilliant and supremely successful commercial graphic artist in New York in the late 1950’s when he realized he wanted to be an artworld artist. At some point afterwards he realized that if he used the already through the roof iconographic images of Hollywood Stars, he could propel his own art career into the heavens. Now the LA Artworld is using the idea of Los Angeles as the next in line to be given the art world baton. The same blue blood baton that was once in the hands of Rome, was awarded to Paris, which ran with it and kept it in its possession of it for 300 years, then New York ripped the baton of art out of Paris’ too sophisticated hands during the 1950’s (see How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, by Serge Guibault), and 60 years later, the baton is being handed over to Los Angeles  by New York, who sees LA today as New York was in the 1950’s. New York sees itself as being too high up on the hill and eating too high up on the hog to do the dirty work of creating genius art in 1950’s garrets that are so plentiful in Los Angeles. Los Angeles now realizes that it first showed Los Angeles’ art history to be as important as New York’s because it was the first white hot Los Angeles art scene of the early 1960’s that launched Warhol’s career. It was the now legend making Ferus gallery on North La Cienega, directed by high culture impresario Walter Hopps, that put Andy Warhol on the New York artworld map. LACMA didn’t even open until 1965. Cal Arts didn’t open until 1968. MoCA didn’t open its Grand Avenue building until 1986, yet LA showed Warhol in 1962. And MoCA in Los Angeles has had one of the powerful impacts in the arena of serious and substantive highly intellectually rigorous exhibition making, of any museum of its type in the world. And it did this with a miniscule budget and a small number of dedicated local visitors for well over two decades.

Warhol understood how the idea was framed was what produced the fame.

Warhold could see that how one frames was the name of the game. Now Los Angeles is in the frame and wants the fame to never end.

The arid Conceptual Art made in New York in the 1980’s has been remixed by the Conceptual Art coming out of LA since the 1990’s. LA’s Post-Studio Art logic has been shattered by this and been reconstructed under the tidal wave of Art Basel and especially the regal artworld tastes on display at Art Basel Miami Beach, the latter of which announced the return of narrative and abstract painting with its start in 2002, brought into vogue by the rise of ferociously intellectual painters such as Luc Tuymans of Belgium. Charles Saatchi’s 2005 the Triumph of Painting show in London blew the lid off of Painting as much as any show on earth. Peter Doig and Martin Kippenberger, Kay Althoff, Marlene Dumas were among several star painters who were broadly celebrated. This first decade of the 21st century has also seen the rise of the African-American artist into the heights of the artworld, with Los Angeles based painter Mark Bradford being the trailblazing leader on the international artist. The birth of new schools of painting –  such as the Leipzig school, with the formidable, strange narrative paintings by Neo Rauch and his students, and the concurrent collapse of the pounding beat of critical theory, which still dominates the Biennial circuit, but not the art market, has caused a literal sea tide directional shift in the international artworld. This has freed up artists to reawaken their narrative picture making drives, and with this, the notion that painting is a demonic enterprise, that narrative art needs to be crushed; that art must be “emptied out” of narrative to be untainted by the grand master narratives of history, which themselves were supposedly eradicated from the earth once the layers of false consciousness left over from the European Enlightenment project were eliminated.


The decades old narrative of Los Angeles being the place of forgetting, of having no past and erasing all of its history is still true; yet it is also true that Los Angeles cares about its past, and wants to get it down on paper, once and for all time. Proof of this is the Getty Museum’s paying for the Pacific Standard Times, Los Angeles art history from about 1945 to 1980, with some of the exhibitions framing their shows in more recent times. Both the Pompidou in Paris and the Louisiana Museum outside of Copenhagen have done remarkable exhibitions on the history of the LA artworld. Yet Pacific Standard Time — with over 60 exhibition venues, will mark a coming to consciousness about the Los Angeles artworld.

Bob Dylan in Warhol's Factory with a Warhol "Elvis"

Tennesse Willians talking with Andy Warhol. I can only imagine what stinging provocations came out of Williams mouth toward Warhol.

Andy Warhol was also a Hollywood film director. He shot screen tests and made several films, some of which could fall into the Structuralist Cinema camp, such as his 24 hour film of the Empire State building titled EMPIRE.

Former LACMA curator Henry Hopkins on Walter Hopps and Irving Blums discovery of Andy Warhol:

“In the Fall of 1961, Walter Hopps and Irving Blum… co-proprietors of the now legendary Ferus Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles–were in New York together scouting for young talent. The two of them made arrangements to visit Warhol’s studio… Neither of them could relate to this new, subject-based art since they…were absorbed in Abstract Expressionism and the new “Beat” aesthetic of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. A few months later, Blum was again in New York as the guest of collector and art supporter Ed Janss, who wanted Irving to look at a Giacometti that he was considering for purchase. An inevitable visit to the then “hot” Leo Castelli Gallery took place where Ivan Karp, a dedicated searcher, showed Blum the work of another new comic book artist Leo was planning to take on, Roy Lichtenstein… So, it was off to Warhol’s loft once again where Blum expected to see more “comic book” art, but instead was confronted by thirty-two small paintings of soup cans each seemingly identical in every way except for the name of the soup: Chicken Noodle, Beef Barley, etc. The paintings represented every flavor of Campbell’s Soup on the market. When Irving asked Warhol about this new direction, Andy simply told him that there was this other artist (Roy Lichtenstein) who was painting comic strips better that he was, so he shifted to soup cans. This was the limit of their philosophical discussion.

Perhaps it is time now for yet another assessment of the career arc of Andy Warhol, which has caused over one hundred different books about him to be written, and this does not include exhibition catalogs.

This sculpture of Andy Warhol is in front of Warhol's Factory studio in Union Square on 17th and Broadway.

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles based artist and writer Vincent Johnson
Biography July 2011
Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Soho House, Los Angeles, Palihouse, West Los Angeles, Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, Locust Projects, Miami, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming are projects in Europe and Los Angeles. He will also be participating in at least one Los Angeles art fair this coming fall.

Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  He studied with Mike Kelly, Jack Goldstein, Stephen Prina, Liz Larner, Chris Williams, Mayo Thompson (formerly of Art&Language), and Liz Larner. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America and many other publications.

Soviet Space (2009) by Vincent Johnson (Private collection, Los Angeles)

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