Art review: Andy Warhol at Honor Fraser Gallery
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Silkscreen paintings and prints of military camouflage were among the last works made by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in the year before his death. Few if any were shown during his lifetime. Like much of his work from the 1970s and 1980s, they are pleasant but decidedly wan iterations of the once-bracing art-about-art that characterized his great 1960s Pop paintings.
At Honor Fraser Gallery, 15 canvases in various sizes, all dated 1986, join 12 works on acid-free cardboard -- unique 1987 trial-proofs for a series of prints -- plus three drawings in apparently different stage of finish. Varied camouflage patterns are rendered in colors ranging from monochrome blues and greens to vivid arrays of hot pink, bright orange and assorted rainbow hues.
The Day-Glo camo seems designed to disappear within an acid-rock fever dream.
Since the works accurately depict the designs of actual pieces of military cloth that the artist bought at an Army-Navy surplus store, the silk-screens are simultaneously figurative and abstract. The dappled format of interlocking organic colored shapes encourages you to check off a familiar list of established art historical references: Monet’s waterlilies, Picasso’s Cubism (“It is we who created that,” the Spaniard reportedly said when he first saw camouflage during World War I), poured paintings by Morris Louis and more.
But the references constitute not much more than a clever parlor game, at which Warhol was adept. When he marshaled it in the ‘60s, using conventional popular imagery to represent unconventional avant-garde art ideas that the general public either disliked or ignored, he bridged a yawning cultural gap. Given the strategy’s success, he simply kept repeating it until his death.
The best feature of ‘Camouflage’ is how it functions as ambiance, obscuring art by creating visual background noise. Warhol was William Morris for the post-industrial Arts and Crafts generation, these works anticipating the commercial camouflage wallpaper now available at big-box home improvement stores coast to coast. -- Christopher Knight
Honor Fraser Gallery, 2622 La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-1091, through Feb. 5. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.honorfraser.com