A new exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac London explores the relationship between Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys. It revisits the intriguing encounters between the two artists in 1979, showcasing a selection of Warhol’s outstanding portraits of Beuys and offering a rare glimpse into their artistic connection. Despite the Beuys portraits being held in international collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, this marks the first solo focus show since the 1980s.
The artist’s dialogue can be traced back to when the two giants first met during an exhibition opening at Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf, Germany. Described as having the ceremonial aura of rival popes meeting in Avignon by American writer David Galloway, the encounter was a crucial point of contact between leading representatives of European and American art. Subsequent meetings that year, including one during the installation of Beuys’s retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, laid the foundation for Warhol’s iconic portraits of Beuys.
Warhol used his Polaroid Big Shot to capture the now-famous image of Beuys, dressed in his distinctive felt hat and fishing vest. This image was the source for a series of screen-printed portraits created between 1980 and 1986. The earliest works were publicly presented at Galleria Lucio Amelio, Naples, in 1980, followed by exhibitions in Munich and Geneva.
The exhibition showcases Warhol’s experimental approach to materials, featuring paintings, unique Trial Proofs, line drawings, and editioned works on paper. Some works incorporate diamond dust, a testament to Warhol’s innovative use of materials. The Reversal Series, where tonal values are inverted, adds another layer to exploring Beuys’s arresting gaze. These portraits form a distinctive part of Warhol’s wide-ranging work, showcasing his fascination with repetition and technique.
Warhol’s reductionist approach transformed photographic source material into symbolic representations of his subjects, minimising the visibility of his artistic hand. The portraits capture Beuys’s head and shoulders against monochromatic backgrounds, employing gestural sweeps of variegated colour through silkscreen stencils. The exhibition also features Trial Proofs, unique prints created to experiment with variations.
Despite their aesthetic and philosophical differences, Warhol and Beuys shared a unique ability to render everyday objects unfamiliar. Warhol’s portraits, embodying a sense of emptiness and cleansing, served as a canvas for Beuys’s spirituality. The exhibition delves into their shared fascination with self-stylisation, bringing together two icons who, despite their differences, left an indelible mark on twentieth-century art.
Quoting Galloway’s poetic description of their meeting, the exhibition offers an immersive experience, giving viewers a glimpse into the ceremonial exchange between these two artistic luminaries. Thaddaeus Ropac’s presentation of Andy Warhol: The Joseph Beuys Portraits promises a captivating journey into the intersection of art, celebrity, and self-image, guided by Warhol’s unique lens.
Andy Warhol The Joseph Beuys Portraits 14 December 2023—9 February 2024 Opening Thursday 14 December 2023, 6—8pm Thaddaeus Ropac London Ely House 37 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NJ