Andy Warhol, the chronicler of an era, was known for admitting his “fondness for dull things,” which by the early 1960s corresponded to his use of photographic reproductions of found imagery culled from newspapers, magazines, and image archives. In 1978, at age 50, Warhol embarked upon the production of a monumental body of work titled Shadows with the assistance of his entourage at the Factory. These 102 silkscreened canvas panels formalized earlier explorations with abstraction. To locate the radical implications of Warhol’s Shadows, one must begin with the work’s form: this series was conceived as one painting in multiple parts, the final number of canvases determined by the dimensions of an exhibition space. In the first exhibition 83 canvases were installed edge to edge, a foot from the floor, in the order that Warhol’s assistants hung them.
The 102 canvases, all of them on view at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, show Warhol’s signature palette of bright hues with cheerful excess. The backgrounds of these canvases were painted with a sponge mop, the streaks and trails left by the mop adding “gesture” to the picture plane. Seven or eight different screens were used to create Shadows, as evidenced in the slight shifts in scales of dark areas as well as the arbitrary presence of spots of light. The “shadows” alternate between positive and negative imprints as they march along the wall of the gallery.
Despite the apparent embrace of repetition, Warhol’s “machine method” is nothing but handmade. A significant and intriguing fact about Shadows is the irreproducibility of its assumed reproduction, a point that problematizes his infamous aesthetic of “plagiarism” and positions Warhol’s project as one that is primordially pictorial. Far from replicas, each Shadow corresponds to a form that reveals, with precision and self-awareness, its space, directing the viewer’s gaze to light, the central subject of the series. In focusing on the shadow to devise light—that is to say, sparks of color—Warhol returns to the quintessential problem of art: perception.
Andy Warhol: Shadows is organized by Dia Art Foundation
New York Magazine 5 Feb 1979, Pags. 9-10
Painter Hangs Own Paintings
By Andy Warhol
On Tuesday I hung my painting(s) at the Heiner Friedrich gallery in Soho. Really it’s one painting with 83 parts. Each part is 52 inches by 76 inches and they are all sort of the same except for the colors. I called them “Shadows” because they are based on a photo of a shadow in my office. It’s a silk screen that I mop over with paint.
I started working on them a few years ago. But I get the most done on weekends because during the week people keep coming by to talk.
The painting(s) can't be bought. The Lone Start Foundation is presenting them and they own them.
Someone asked me if I thought they were art and I say no. You see, the opening party had disco. I guess that makes them disco décor.
This show will be like all the others. The reviews will be bad—my reviews always are. But the reviews of the party will be terrific.
I had the painting(s) hung at eye level. Any lower and people would kick them, especially at the party. The only problem with hanging the show was the gallery floor. One end of the gallery floor is one foot higher that the other.
But the kids helped me, and when we finished we all had lunch. I ate a pickle and drank some Evian and then some Perrier Jouet.
The gallery looked great. It’s a simple, clean space. My Mao show was bigger, but this is the biggest show I’ve had in New York City in a long time.
After we were finished, I took a walk with some friends. We stopped by at Ivan Karp’s gallery, O.K. Harris. He told me that there are a lot people now doing shadows in art. I didn’t know that.
Then we crossed the street and went in to Holly Solomon’s Gallery. I always like to see if the art across the street is better than mine. “
Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries (NY: Warner Books, 1989), pp. 198
“Cabbed down to Heiner Friedrich gallery on West Broadway (5$). Fred wasn’t there yet. Ronnie and Stephen Mueller were there hanging pictures. The show looked good. The gallery’s so big...
When I got home Mrs. Menil had called and left a message that she was very touched by seeing my show at Heiner’s gallery.“
Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries (NY: Warner Books, 1989), pp. 199
Thursday 25 January, 1979
“Philippa invited René Ricard—her Dia Foundation just signed him up for benefits as the first poet—so he arrived at 65 Irving and was saying that my work was just “decorative.” That got me really mad. And I’m so embarrassed, everybody saw the real me. I got so red and was telling him off..., and everybody was stunned to see me so angry and out of control and screaming back at him.”
Donna De Salvo, Andy Warhol Retrospective (London: Tate, 2001), pp. 50–51.
“For an artist who at the time was identified with his paintings of celebrities, and who had so successfully exploited provocative, referential content, the Shadows must have appeared as an anomaly. The Shadows have been discussed as existential statements, as everything and nothing, as something fleeting, changeable and as intangible as real shadows. They have also been characterized as commentary on the very act of painting. But invariably, they have been positioned, along with the Rorscharchs, Camouflage and Oxidation paintings, as a late career development... Each of the visual strategies operative in these paintings is the same of those used some seventeen years before. As with the earlier silkscreen paintings, although we at first believe each canvas to be the same—a belief emphasized here by the repeated pattern of the shadow—they are not. Our eye moves instinctively from canvas to canvas searching for additional information.
Difference is created through colour and the bravura brushwork made with a mop and silkscreen. The combinations of colour, and the changing arc of the shadow, conspire to create a mesmerising and hypnotic field. There is a sense of sheer transcendent beauty.
Julian Schnabel, ‘Shadow Paintings’ in exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Shadow Paintings, 1989.
“The way he used the screen as an additional brush is the printed emblem of his behavior. And his decision to select and to act without interpretation, without explanation, was the utter denial of the sentimental. No other painter has come close to this radicality of gesture and self-denial… These paintings hover as the shadow of life’s edge. These paintings are Andy Warhol’s touch, his distance… There is a lot in them, all of the images of Andy’s paintings have passed through the light and shadow of these paintings, bolstering up and heralding in this vision of the existential.”