I just like to do the same thing over and over again. Every time I go out and someone is being elected president or mayor or something, they stick their images all over the walls and I always think I do those.... All my images are the same... but very different at the same time... they change with the light of colors, with the images and the moods...Isn't life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?
–Andy Warhol, 1982
On the occasion of Andy Warhol's memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on April 1st, 1987, John Richardson referred to the artist's spiritual life as 'the key to his psyche.' For the two thousand people in attendance that April morning: art world luminaries, film and rock stars, and the international jet set, Richardson's portrayal of Warhol was in all likelihood a surprise given the social and public façade masterminded by Warhol himself. Warhol was in fact the pious son of immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia, and the antithesis between Warhol the artist and Warhol the spiritual man is central to the production of his late canvases: the Last Supper series.
Growing up in the Ruska Dolina neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Warhol inhabited a world of first-generation immigrants expected to replicate the traditions of the homeland. Chief among these was the obligatory attendance of religious services. In the case of the Warhola family, Sunday routines revolved around the liturgical ceremonies held at St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Church, the epicenter of an immigrant community united by a common faith. The ubiquitous presence of gilded Byzantine icons and crucifixes, compounded with other domestic religious imagery, namely the commercially available reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci´s Last Supper (1495-1498), informed much of Warhol's fascination with the venerated image. By the time he graduated and moved to New York City, these early visual cues became internalized into a lifelong—and most private— commitment to spirituality.
Detail of the Last Supper (Christ 112 Times) Yellow reincorporates the grid composition and seriality introduced in his early Pop paintings. Amongst these, Warhol's Marilyn X 100 in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art presents an interesting point for formal comparison. Cropped from da Vinci's grand composition, Christ's head and Marilyn's star portrait are both the fetishistic subject of Warhol's aesthetic gaze. Both emphasize commoditization through the repetition of a single image to a grand extent. Albeit, where the Detail of the Last Supper (Christ 112 Times) Yellow alludes to the consumption of a religious icon through a vastly reproduced image, the Marilyn X 100 refers to Warhol's violation of traditional art hierarchies, replaced with a fluid dialogue between high and low art forms; ultimately subverting the idea of painting as a medium of invention and originality.
Both Detail of the Last Supper (Christ 112 Times) Yellow and Marilyn X 100 are on a grandiose scale that references the mural size of da Vinci's masterpiece. For Warhol, size was never accidental and was meant as a compositional element equal in significance to content. For the viewer, the physical response to an enormous canvas is imposing, emphasized by the power of a repetitive image. These are works that require the spectator to step back in order to appreciate the grand scale of the composition as a unified coherent whole wherein accurate perception of its details becomes secondary. Once the successive rows and columns are abstracted, they are lost in a repetitive echo.
In the Detail of the Last Supper (Christ 112 Times) Yellow serialiaty is conveyed with a sense of mutability and transience, both central strategies operating in Warhol's enterprise. Where advertisers and movie studios have long used visual repetition to drum product names and celebrities into the public consciousness, here "repetition does not imply energetic competition but rather a complacent abundance," an iconography of plentitude. (The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York, revised ed. 2004, p. 260) The figure of Christ as subject is not simply transferred from the realm of high art into popular culture. Rather it is appropriated from a classical popular image and re-contextualized to meet Warhol's technical and aesthetic requirements.The result is the transformation of Christ into a harmony of black and yellow imagery bearing little resemblance to the original painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Nonetheless, the image of Christ retains an overwhelming spirituality in spite of its seemingly detached treatment; a reminder that we should never take Andy Warhol at face value. As John Richardson noted in Warhol's eulogy, "there is much more to know beyond his obsessions with fame, glamour, and coolness."
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Munich, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Andy Warhol: The Last Supper, May - September 1998, p. 62, illustrated in color
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, Andy Warhol/Jean-Michel Basquiat, July - August 2003, cat. no. 258, p. 298, illustrated in color
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cast a Cold Eye: The Late Works of Andy Warhol, October - December 2006
80 x 421 in. 203.2 x 1069.3 cm.
Jane Daggett Dillenberger, The Religious Art of Andy Warhol, New York, 1998, fig. 68, p. 98-99, illustrated in color
Estate of the Artist
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above