Now, hang on a minute… A catalogue raisonné of a man who produced hundreds of almost identical screen prints? More to the point, a man who wasn’t even responsible for many of “his” works – taking already extant images and objects, and delegating his legions of Factory assistants to reproduce them on his behalf? Well, yes. Warhol’s fondness for delegation means that, in recent years, a small industry has grown up to differentiate between genuine works by the blond-wigged one and those by other hands. (Q: When is a Warhol not a Warhol? A: When an agency called the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board says so. It’s not a very funny joke – particularly when your prized mid-period Warhol turns out to be by someone else.) Phaidon’s catalogue raisonné project is therefore not as redundant as one might at first assume.

This second volume (technically the third and fourth volumes, since, like its predecessor, it comprises two books in a matching slipcase) has, appropriately for the subject-matter, a great deal of surface slickness. Both books and slipcase are faced in the brown paper of commercial packaging, with an industrial design that evokes Warhol’s replica cornflake crates and Brillo boxes. It is an undeniably stylish piece of bookbinding, which would be widely admired when placed on the shelf – but is there any substance beneath the surface? Is there anything to be gained, for the casual reader, from looking at 477 slightly different versions of Flowers, say, or a myriad of Jackie Kennedys in varying sizes?

Of course, the same question could be applied to individual works by Warhol. Is there anything to be gained, for example, from looking at a room filled with hundreds of those Brillo crates? For one thing, the repetition symbolises mass-production, a concept central to Pop Art aesthetics. This theme is visible in everything from Warhol’s silver Coke bottles to his Cow Wallpaper installation. But while the point of mass-produced objects is that they are identical, Warhol’s repetitions play on the differences as much as the similarities. This can be seen most acutely in the pictures – such as the multiple Marlon Brandos or Jackies – where an image is silk-screened several times onto a single canvas, bringing to the foreground the gradual deterioration of quality which results from varied application of ink or pressure. Photos in this book indicate that the series paintings were originally exhibited together to produce a similar effect; entire walls were hung with replicated images to emphasise the subtle variations. The catalogue raisonné, then, may well be the closest we will get to seeing these works all together, as they were intended.


First published in World of Interiors issue 264. Reproduced with permission.


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