No major artist has worked a gayer persona than Andy Warhol, but of course the Metropolitan Museum can't bring itself to say so outright in the opening text of their fun, lumpy, ultimately unconvincing new show Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. Instead, the curators cough out some bland morsel about "human sexuality in all its forms."
After that introductory choking, more silence, as room after room of commentary on sixty artists' work fails to acknowledge what alert viewers will see on their own: Following Andy's ascent, gay art -- not just gay artists, many of whom are included here -- reached a tipping point after which even straight artists began to reflect a gay sensibility. The curators can't even find the courage to say gay while discussing the aids art of Silence = Death Project and Gran Fury.
Because an (unspoken) arc of the whole show has been about the gay effect, it comes as a surprise to enter a late gallery titled “Queer Studies: Camouflage and Shifting Identities.” Although bland and boilerplate, the text is wonderful to see, but it's also confusing. This is where the queer begins? With Avedon? But not, in earlier galleries, Mapplethorpe? And not Jeff Koons' ceramic Michael Jackson and Bubbles?
Nevertheless art critic Blake Gopnik says the queer section is the best room in the show:
"Looking at a Warhol painting, you feel a mix of someone just being himself—the star-struck Warhol; Warhol rubbernecking at tabloid death—and someone wrapping that “natural” persona in complex artifice. The best room in Regarding Warhol gives a hint at the origins of his art’s double state. It sets Warhol in the context of art by and about gays and lets us see that the doubleness that’s in almost any Warhol may be there already in the simple fact of being gay in a homophobic world—where you’re seen as not just being gay but as playing gay too. Warhol couldn’t simply act however he wanted, be as limp-wristed as he chose; he was always also viewed as acting the “swish,” as being that character known as the Limp-Wristed Man. In his paintings, he doesn’t simply express a stargazer’s love of Marilyn, the way an outsider fan artist might. He also expresses an arch awareness of his own fandom, a remove from it, an awareness of the social performance it counts as. And he uses the artifacts of painting—the crudeness of silk screen, the harshness of unblended color, the vacancy of blank fields of paint, the endless repetition of subjects—to evoke the “unnatural” state of his tastes. He doesn’t merely depict Marilyn. Like a drag queen, he makes sure that we notice the way that he’s capturing her."
New York magazine's Jerry Saltz calls Regarding Warhol "a shallow, pandering fecklessness to the pseudo-extravaganza" with "the unusual distinction of being a very bad show with very good work." He's right insofar as the show is filled with masterpieces well worth your visit, and that the curators fail to make much of a point beyond Andy was influential.