Over the long weekend, I went to see both of the Andy Warhol shows that are being staged in Washington right now, “Warhol: Headlines” at the National Gallery of Art and “Shadows” at the Hirshhorn. Taken together (and it’s easy to do, the museums are within a few minutes walk of each other), the shows expanded my sense of Warhol as an artist — and my sense of the age.
One of the things that struck me most about “Warhol: Headlines” was the extent to which our concerns repeat across the years. In a copy of the National Enquirer, then labeling itself the “liveliest paper in the world,” a headline declares that “Connie Francis Tells Why… Hollywood Took One Look At Me and Said ‘ Too Fat.'” In an episode of a television show Warhol produced, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s daughter interviews him about a recent trip to Afghanistan. He calls it the forgotten war, whips out Kipling. The conflicts never change, from Madonna’s nude pictures, to royal weddings and reproduction, to celebrity gossip, to the latest fulminations of the latest president. Sometimes, the extraordinary happens, and Warhol rises to the occasion, as when he intercuts reports of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and funeral, Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder, with prints of the late president.
But in “Shadows,” Warhol’s far and away from his pop obsessions, repeating a shadow on the wall of his office over and over again, in neon series that look like the eighties, in grays that look like the edge of the New England woods at sunset, in demonic reds, in one particularly memorable image, in green and black swirls that felt like a malachite cave. I could have stared at it for hours. So much of Warhol’s work is about surfaces that it’s easy to forget about the depths he’s capable of creating — and everything those surfaces conceal.