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Big Warhol Show Celebrates Kitsch, Bores, Dummies: Review

"Self-Portrait" (1967) by Andy Warhol. The six-foot-square acrylic and silkscreen on canvas is among 45 works by Warhol (1928-87) and 100 artworks by other artists in "Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years," which runs from Sept. 18 - Dec. 31, 2012, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Source: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS)/The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Bloomberg

The new Fall season is officially under way and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s full-tilt paean to Pop art, “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years,” opening to the public on Sept. 18, is the surefire blockbuster.

I suggest you skip it.

This cramped, predictable, ho-hum exhibition comprises 45 works by Andy Warhol, including Brillo boxes, the “Piss” painting, Campbell’s Soup Can and portraits of Marilyn, Jackie, Elvis, Mao and the Mona Lisa.

These iconic Warhols are shown alongside 100 artworks by his followers -- everyone from Robert Gober, Barbara Kruger and Bruce Nauman to Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman and Ryan Trecartin. Yet the show is not really significant for what it says about Warhol or his influence.

Beginning with the Met’s commanding banner on Fifth Avenue, moving through its Great Hall dominated by two large Warhol flower paintings, and on through the show and gift shop, “Regarding Warhol” announces a new era at the Met.

Ever since Philippe de Montebello retired as the Met’s director in 2008, many of us have wondered where the museum would be taken by its new director, Thomas P. Campbell (no connection to the Campbell Soup Company, which is a sponsor of the show and launched a series of Warhol-inspired cans at a Met luncheon).

Now we know.

Power Play

The show is a celebration of the artist as opportunist and of art as appropriation. With its lame contemporary portrait paintings, store-bought vacuum cleaners, text-based works, ceramic “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988) and bundled stacks of newspapers, “Regarding Warhol” is not so much an exhibition as it is a power play -- a paradigm shift.

Despite its consumer-chic installation and up-to-the-minute art including videos, “Regarding Warhol” feels embarrassingly provincial and out-of-touch.

A rehashing of decades-old received wisdom, it offers little insight or new information. That is, unless you didn’t already know that Takashi Murakami is the “Japanese Warhol,” and that reality TV is the most recent incarnation of Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame.”

The key to “Regarding Warhol” is Jeff Koons’s polychrome-wood sculpture, “Ushering in Banality” (1988). The presence of these cute cherubs pushing a stubborn pig signals that the Met has finally succumbed to kitsch.


Among the shows I can recommend is “Doris Duke’s Shangri-La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art” at the Museum of Arts and Design.

No exhibition can replicate the experience of architecture in situ. But MAD’s concentrated, opulent show -- Columbus Circle meets the Taj Mahal -- gets close to immersing viewers in the magnificent, eclectic Duke residence in Honolulu.

Including architectural drawings, lamps, glassware, textiles, jewelry and ceramics, it surrounds us with elaborately inlaid ivory and wood furniture, screens and doors.

These are all interspersed with lush, large-scale photographs -- shelter porn by Tim Street-Porter -- that bring the place and objects d’art to life.

‘Toxic Beauty’

Another worthwhile show is “Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore,” at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and Fales Library, where the activist/artist who died of AIDS in 2002 is being honored with his first retrospective.

Moore made entertaining videos, installations and surreal, highly detailed narrative paintings.

One depicts tiny buffalo roaming across an unmade bed, as barren as frozen tundra. Another shows a security guard tied down like Gulliver to a beach strewn with sex toys and drugs and populated by inquisitive, gay Lilliputians.

Inspired by Bosch, Norman Rockwell and Frida Kahlo, Moore embeds fake eyeballs in the surfaces of his illustrative, finicky paintings, whose atypical frames are often made of lamps, books, maps, deer antlers, branches, drugs and copper pipe.

The show, which also includes autobiographical ephemera, gives us a sense of a complete personality.

Unconvincing as a painter and dealing primarily in oddball, ham-fisted cliches, Moore is compelling as storyteller, activist and a crank.

“Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” runs Sept. 18 through Dec. 31 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-535-7710;

“Doris Duke’s Shangri-La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Art” runs through Feb. 17 at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle. Information: +1-212-299-7777;

“Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore” runs through Dec. 8 at two NYU locations: Grey Art Gallery, 100 Washington Square East. Information: +1-212-998-6780;; and at Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South. Information: +1-212-998-2596; http://www.nyu./library/bobst/research/fales.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Philip Boroff on Broadway.

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