- Introduction:Warhol’s Aesthetics
Often we can glimpse the worlds proposed and promised by queerness in the realm of the aesthetic.—José Muñoz, Cruising Utopia (2009)1
The essays in this volume show an Andy Warhol who was deeply engaged in the aesthetic, if we understand that word in its ancient Greek sense to refer to “the whole region of human perception and sensation,” as Terry Eagleton put it.2 Warhol, these essays propose, was fascinated by the ways in which the human sensorium was interfacing with new technologies of reproduction and mediation—indeed, with the vast set of processes that characterize mid-twentieth-century modernity in the United States (commodification, urbanization, the expansion of mass culture and its audiences, and the mass production of everything from food to cars and music) and the new object and image world created by these processes: “comics, picnic tables, men’s trousers, celebrities, shower curtains, refrigerators, Coke bottles—all the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried so hard not to notice at all,” as Warhol and Pat Hackett put it in POPism.3 The Warhol we read about here sought to understand the possibilities of sensing and feeling in this world, to explore the full range of “affections and aversions, of how the world strikes the body on its sensory surfaces,” with an emphasis, to be sure, on affections: pop art, for Warhol, is “liking things.”4 Here, we see Warhol exploring what kinds of experiences, affects, sensations, or modes of collective and singular being are possible in relation to amphetamines, the toilet, tape recorders, paintings, dogs, rock and roll, pussycats, dollar bills, the human face, strobe lights, shadows, and televisions.
In this respect, Warhol’s practice as an artist is neither cynical nor ironic, nor is it (as Marcel Duchamp and Arthur Danto have suggested [End Page 419] in different ways) merely a philosophical or conceptual provocation designed to question what art is or who can be an artist, although it often does these things, as well.5 Rather, Warhol is seen here to be thoroughly engrossed with the particularities of the different media he worked in. These particularities were often highlighted precisely when the perceptual experiences of one medium were translated into another: from strobe lights to cinema, drawing to printmaking, photography to painting, sound recording to writing, computation to disco to painting.6 That is (to borrow from Miriam Hansen describing Siegfried Kracauer), Warhol seemed to be most interested in a “configuration of intermedial relations in which the unstable specificity of one medium works to cite and interrogate the other.”7
Despite Warhol’s occasional public claims to the contrary, his work with and between media seems to have been specific and careful, a tendency that is elucidated in many of the essays in this special issue, including Homay King’s examination of the intersection of film and lighting practices in and around Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable; Tan Lin’s reading of Warhol’s Shadows paintings as themselves complex remediations of strobe lights, television, and information science; and Neil Printz’s discussion of Warhol’s unexpected reliance on drawing as the basis for his first silk screens, which took dollar bills as their subject. Gus Stadler tracks Warhol’s attention, not just to music, but to public and private sounds of all sorts, a project documented in a: a novel (1968). Lucy Mulroney’s essay focuses on Warhol’s pre-pop illustrated books, arguing that these publications collaboratively contributed to the production of queer codes and communities. Chelsea Weathers and Juan Antonio Suárez both investigate the prevalence of amphetamine use in Warhol’s Factory, and the ways of feeling and making it permitted. With an eye to the modes of experience enabled by the specificity of the American experience of mass culture and the commodity (as compared to the Soviet experience), Oleg Aronson examines how Warhol dramatized the “split between commodity and image” by “discover[ing] the site where they cannot coexist” (526): the human face. Anthony Grudin’s essay investigates Warhol’s lifelong fascination with animal lives and ways of being. And by offering us a...