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JOEL Joel's Blog

Andy Warhol - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi


Andy Warhol - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi 4I was in the playground at Union Square with my boy where a long time ago Andy Warhol's old "Factory" was across the street and where recently a statue of him was erected nearby on Broadway.

I don't think it's coincidence that the rise of Andy Warhol and Pop Art came at a time when industrial arts and woodworking began its decline in schools. Warhol might represent a future of disposable, poorly made objects of the moment. Woodworking is the direct opposite. If something takes craft and materials to make, it's not something you want to get rid of. We all talk about making furniture that our kids and maybe grand-kids will have. I don't think any of us plan to build a room full of stuff only to have some decorator tell us next year that we have to get rid of it because it's not "now." You can only do that with disposable stuff. Andy Warhol - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi 5

What's amusing of course about the whole thing is:
1: I'm not sure if the statue is permanent. It certainly doesn't look that way.
2: Unlike the Factory itself, which has been long gone for years, the Decker building in which it was housed is doing well, and the pre-Pop Art carvings that decorate the exterior still give bored parents in playgrounds something interesting to look at. Good design will outlast the hip and trendy every time.

Andy Warhol - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi 6N.B. (The factory was only in the Decker building from 1968 - 1973, after which it moved a few feet away to the NE corner of Broadway and 17th Street, which is also visible from the playground. It's also an old building but it isn't as interesting as the Decker building.)

N.B. Thanks to the farmers market at Union Square which started in 1976 and grown, Union Square has gone from being a cheap dodgy neighborhood with discount stores to a upscale area jammed with lots of tourists and locals. However, in the 19th century Union Square was a major focus of the city, and the headquarters of Tiffany & Co. before they moved uptown. The original store, which had one of the most prominent interior spaces of its time, has recently been converted to a glass covered condominium.
Join the conversation
05/05/2011 r francis
I think you are confusing Andy Warhol's intentions and aesthetic practice and his personal appreciation for craftsmanship and excellent historical models. His intention was to become a machine with all the negative connotations for handwork that that meant. It is ironic that you have been caught in his irony so completely - he would have been amused (faintly). His apartment and estate sale will give you an idea of the complexity hidden behind the passivity.
Check this article
05/05/2011 Tom Buhl
Joel, I appreciate the observations. Spent some time myself observing while at various playgrounds with my daughter back in the time. Also enjoyed the bit of neighborhood history. Fun stuff, thanks.
R Francis,
I'm judging the guy by what he produced and his influence. He was a complex guy, most creative people are.
05/06/2011 joseph curran
Not to be a stick in the mud but who looks anyway? I was in art school at the time. Never cared much for his ideas or his art. Moved into construction and found an even greater lack of attention to detail let alone design or craftsmanship. But thats our culture, it's forgetable. People spend more time looking at their cell phones than into the eyes of their fellow man. Most folks don't know who he was or who they are for that matter. That's why the crafts are so important today. We've lost all contact with the Great Life Force. Don't have a clue. At least through woodworking we can touch the vail and for a moment glimpse our origin.
05/09/2011 Cedric Martin
This is a great post Joel. True that Warhol had intentions of making clever observations on modern society, but too often irony is mistaken for intelligence and creativity when in fact its usually nothing more than a thin layer of veneer, offering an eye catching image with little substance below. The sincerity in craft and folk art is what seems to be lacking most in a world of disposable products. I find it fitting that your observations were made by the farmer's market. Fortunately, people have become more aware of the value of simple wholesome food and hopefully this gets passed on to an appreciation of local, organic, sustainable objects. Continuing with this metaphor I would equate the work of craftsmen such as Nakashima, Krenov and Maloof to a third week of August heirloom tomato and Warhol as nothing more than a can of Campbell's tomato soup.
05/10/2011 David Miller
Usually I enjoy what you have to say about craft and design, but here you have missed not only the point of Warhol’s work but also what Pop Art and modern art in the 50’s and 60’s was all about. To grossly simplify, it’s fair to say artists were appropriating the means and methods of consumer culture in order to comment on them. Remember the soap cans? The artwork isn’t disposable but of course the real products are. Your comments remind me of the kind of greetings contractors and subs hail me with when I come on construction sites. “Here he comes with the funny papers”. As if design is worthless, ideas trash, and creative concepts mere fantasy. Real men just ‘build it’. Bla! You’re lucky I’m not an interior designer. Then I’d really rip you a new one for what you said about their work. And what does any of this have to do with the decline of woodshop classes? You are right about the Decker building though. It is very pretty in a fussy, prim sort of way. So who DESIGNED the Decker building? John H. Edelmann. Architect. 1893.
Let me try again.
What I found amusing is that here is a building that housed the single most important pop artist and one of the most important artists of the mid-late 20th century. But there is no evidence of it. The owners of the building kept the original detail of the building. Why? In my view no matter what the message of Pop Art is, it was meant for the here and now, which has passed, and average people like myself would much rather look at something well made, than dated hip and trendy.
Maybe the medium IS the message? And what people respond to for real, once the shock of the new is worn out, is craft and the things that are well made and designed. There might be some hidden meaning in the designs of the Decker building, and maybe in Pop Art too, but that's not what I respond to and I think most people don't either.

N.B. - Contractors and Subs have been complaining about architects since the beginning of the profession - don't let it get you down.
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