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Vermont Quarterly

Fresh Take on Pop Art Icon

Warhol's Working Class book cover

DEPARTMENTS/
THE GREEN

Fresh Take on Pop Art Icon

MEDIA |  What would the late Andy Warhol make of the social media age? Snapchat moments and Instagram pics direct from The Factory? 

Daring to speculate on the vision of an 89-year-old Warhol armed with an iPhone, art historian Anthony Grudin says, “He would have been deeply excited by, enchanted by, mystified by all of these new possibilities.” 

Apt terminology in this regard—“amateur cultural participation”—is a phrase the UVM associate professor of art history discusses early in his 2017 book Warhol’s Working Class, published by The University of Chicago Press. Today, that could describe the high school kid whose cell phone video of police brutality goes viral or a comedian who finds her first audience via YouTube. 

Decades before this revolution, Warhol was carving a similar path. 

“I think of him as one of the first people to really glimpse and get excited about this new possibility,” Grudin says. “I think that is at the core of his achievement and his importance as an artist.  He sees the early stages of this opening through all of these relatively cheap reproductive technologies he loves to experiment with—Polaroids, tape recorders, video recorders, silk screens, even the personal computer.”

Warhol’s Working Class is an outgrowth of Grudin’s research at the University of California, Berkeley. Setting out to write a comparative discussion of minimalism and pop art, he became deeply intrigued by Warhol, particularly in regard to class issues. Warhol was one of very few modern artists from a working-class background, Grudin notes. His father worked construction; his mother cleaned houses; Warhol was born into “the abject poverty of a Pittsburgh ghetto.” But his achievement as an artist would vault him to a place among the glitterati, the rare millionaire artist and the rare individual who experienced life at both ends of the class spectrum. 

Grudin breaks new ground with his discovery and examination of a marketing campaign by Macfadden Publications, an odd moment in early sixties consumer culture. It came at a time when national brands (like, say, Campbell’s Soup) were losing ground to generics and store brands. Macfadden, publisher of pulpy magazines such as True Story, argued that the future of national brands depended on the masses of working-class consumers who would remain loyal because of the perceived higher status of name brands. That same demographic defined Macfadden’s readership. Seeing an opportunity, they made their pitch to potential advertisers with tough-to-miss, full-page ads in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Chicago Tribune

The first Macfadden ad appeared Aug. 14, 1961. A few months later, Grudin notes, Andy Warhol began painting soup cans. 

While it’s impossible to directly connect dots between those two events, they’re indicative of the times and the milieu around consumerism and class within which Warhol blazed his trail. And they add another dimension to a critical consideration of the artist’s life and work. While scholars have looked at performance of gender, sexuality, and race in regard to Warhol, this focus on the performance of class introduces a fresh perspective. 

Grudin notes that a more egalitarian art world, allowing for expression across class lines, isn’t necessarily comfortable or welcome. He says, “That provokes a lot of anxiety in people, and it also provokes responses to that anxiety—people who come along and say, ‘you’re scared of what us ‘low-lifes’ are going to do with this access; let us show you what we’re going to do. It will be scary. It will be rough. It will be weird.’ That’s part of Lou Reed, part of punk rock, and definitely part of Warhol.” 

BRIEFS |

Samantha Hunt ’93 published The Dark, Dark, a collection of short stories, with Farrar, Strauss, Giroux in 2017. A New York Times review notes, “Hunt at her best is a lot like the uncle of one character, who is described as ‘so good at imagining things’ that ‘he makes the imagined things real.’ Hunt’s dreamlike images operate in service to earthbound ideas.” A three-time novelist, this is Hunt’s first short story collection. 

Robert Lacey ’93 examines an underappreciated tradition in American political thought with his most recent book, Pragmatic Conservatism: Edmund Burke and His American Heirs (Palgrave MacMillan).  He argues that modern liberals, who favor evidence-based reforms that strike a balance between tradition and innovation, are the true conservatives in America today.

Howard Frank Mosher G’67, celebrated novelist of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, passed away in January 2017. His last work, a book of short stories titled Points North, was released early this year by St. Martin’s Press.  “Mosher’s rich language makes art from both history and the quotidian, from bigotry and courage to fishing flies and brook trout…” writes Publishers Weekly.  

Kerry Landers G’05 recently published Postsecondary Education for First-Generation and Low-Income Students in the Ivy League: Navigating Policy and Practice (Palgrave Macmillan). The book is grounded in an ethnographic study of twenty low-income students in their senior year at Dartmouth College and follows up with them four and twelve years post-graduation. Landers is assistant dean of graduate student affairs at Dartmouth. 


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