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Two Marilyns

Andy Warhol
1962
acrylic, silkscreen ink, and pencil on linen
20 1/8 x 27 in. (51.12 x 68.58 cm)

Marilyn Monroe died in the early hours of August 5, 1962. A few weeks later, Andy Warhol began silkscreening Monroe’s face onto canvases. Using a portrait of the celebrated star taken from a publicity still, Warhol cropped tight around the edges of Monroe’s face and hair with a grease pencil. Warhol had only learned how to silkscreen a few months earlier, but already he was able to achieve his desired effect with the medium. Two Marilyns captures the tragic headline of Monroe’s death as if reporting the news. The silkscreened image deteriorates with each printing, acting as a physical metaphor for the waning of fame and the fading of memory. Warhol’s diptych of Monroe is of an icon losing her essence, becoming distorted by time and saturated retelling. The Two Marilyns that you see in front of you is the twenty-seventh version Warhol completed.

Andy Warhol is considered one of the most important figures in postwar art and has had an impact on almost every aspect of the art world. He, along with other pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, brought the imagery and techniques of mass commercialism into fine arts and broke up the stylistic hegemony of abstract expressionist painting in the 1960s. While Lichtenstein used hand-painted comics to develop a relationship between art and popular culture, Warhol focused on photography, silkscreen printing, and cinema to push his avant-garde imperatives. Alongside his art, Warhol’s persona and individual celebrity led to a contemporary status unlike any other artist. His studio, the Factory, became a flashpoint for 1960s counterculture, and was frequently visited by musicians and artists such as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and the Beat poets, as well as most of the New York art scene. 
 
Warhol’s silkscreens of the early 1960s are perhaps his best-known works. Drawing on themes such as celebrity, death, and commodity culture, the silkscreens are seen as metaphors for American culture and the fickle nature of fame in a capitalist society. Two Marilyns, 1962, and Twenty Jackies, 1964, exemplify Warhol’s mixture of the techniques of mass reproduction with the older, established painting genres of religious icons or portraiture. Warhol’s Marilyns and Jackies are symbols of their time, bound in their representations. Their relationship to mass reproduction makes these works of central importance to discussions of authorship, originality, and the possible end of art.
 
Warhol also used various programs of abstraction in his painting to mimic and comment on art of his era, especially abstract expressionism, as in Dance Diagram [3] [“The Lindy Tuck-In Turn Man”], 1962, Rorschach, 1984, and Camouflage, 1986, or his famous Shadows, 1978–79, and the Oxidation series. Dance Diagram [3], like the celebrities of the silkscreens, is topical to early 1960s, namely the revival of 1920s and 30s dance steps such as the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. At the same time, however, the work allows a deeper reading of the evolving nature of painting as a performative endeavor or, since the work is displayed on the floor, the changing relationship between painting and sculpture.