Andy Warhol Retrospective At Fabbrica Del Vapore In Milan

Andy Warhol: The Advertising Of Form

A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit the Andy Warhol retrospective at La Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan. For me and my friend Ali, who accompanied me, it was an opportunity to spend a morning immersed in the artistic universe of Andy Warhol, who has always been one of my favorite artists and whose work I had already seen on display at MoMa in NYC.

It had been ten years since the last art exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol in Milan (his works have been showcased in the city on several occasions in the past decades), and for this retrospective there were more than 300 works by the artist, many of them previously unseen. The exhibition reconstructs the various historical periods in which he was a protagonist of the art scene, spanning the fields of fashion and visual arts. It starts from the period of the 1950s, in which Andy Warhol began a brilliant career as a graphic designer, through the 1960s, in which much of his most famous artistic production takes place (Campbell’s Soup Cans date from that period of time, but also portraits such as that of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor). The 1970s and 1980s were a decisive and very interesting time for Andy Warhol’s career, as I am currently having the opportunity to read in The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett and published by Penguin Classics; through Warhol’s voice you get to have a glimpse at the famous personalities of the era, including fashion designers, socialites and contributors to Interview, a pop culture magazine founded by the artist himself and still on newsstands today. In the Diaries, Warhol kept track of his personal expenses, expressed his opinions and feelings about many events of those years, characterized by hard work, parties and social events, as well as important collaborations with legendary artists such as Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. I have almost finished reading Andy Warhol’s Diaries and I highly recommend them to everyone because I enjoyed their humor, the way they were structured, and his view of the 1980s Manhattan social scene. They are very long (more than 1100 pages) but I find them compelling in many different ways.

Cake, 1956(silkscreen ink and watercolor on paper)
Marilyn series, 1967
Flowers series, 1973

In the 1950s Andy Warhol made his debut on the New York art scene; a graduate of the Carnegie Institute in his hometown of Pittsburgh, he moved to Manhattan to begin his career. His talents were immediately expressed through his early work as an illustrator and advertising graphic designer for magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New Yorker, sparking a revolution in the world of advertising (a medium increasingly present in people’s daily lives) and transforming the work of art into a consumer product.

One of Andy Warhol’s first exhibitions was organized in 1956 at the Bodley Gallery in New York, where he presented a series of fine drawings depicting the faces of colleagues and friends of the time.

In the 1960s his studio, known to all as The Factory, became a hub of creativity for New Yorkers, especially for the city’s artists, stars and wealthy people. This is also the era when Andy Warhol made fourteen portraits of drag queens, who became transgressive pop icons of his own creation, after meeting and photographing them in some famous New York nightclubs such as Club 82 or The Gilded Grape. Part of the Ladies and Gentlemen series, these portraits are in the same style as Andy Warhol’s early famous works such as Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, turning marginalization into celebrity. The famous Cow series made between 1966 and 1976 depicts a cow repurposed in various shades of color and is displayed in the retrospective halls as well.

The early star portraits reached an incredible level of notoriety particularly in the 1970s and, as Warhol reports in his Diaries, many celebrities commissioned portraits from him from which he derived his main source of income, bringing back a genre that had gone completely out of fashion.

Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1958
Sofu Teshigahara, 1976
Ladies and Gentlemen (Broadway), 1975
The Cow series, 1966-1976
Self-Portraits, 1977

Speaking of fashion, Andy Warhol established a strong connection with the fashion world from the start, when early in his career he began creating illustrations for famous fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Vogue. He later befriended and portrayed some of the most prominent fashion designers such as Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Diane Von Fürstenberg and Yves Saint Laurent. Warhol was also a close friend of the famous American designer Halston; not only did he produce his portrait but also a major advertising campaign and several posters on paper, which constitute one of the most concrete examples of the fusion of art and fashion. In this way, Andy Warhol appropriated the advertising poster as a medium, exploiting its commercial power and enhancing its artistic value.

The artist can be considered an heir of Toulouse-Lautrec, the inventor of the modern poster aesthetic (my art teacher during high school was a great admirer of Toulouse-Lautrec so I have had the opportunity to study him in more depth and would also like to attend a future exhibition of his work), and through the serialization and continuous repetition of images Warhol has made an immense artistic contribution to the world, thanks in part to his brilliant use of color.

I loved the fashion section of the exhibition, with portraits of designers and advertising campaigns made by Andy Warhol, including the Shoes series and the Diamond Dust Gem work; this section is followed by a fantastic light installation with pop art colors, where Ali and I had fun taking a few selfies.

Light installation with pop art colors
Halston, 1982
Giorgio Armani (1981) and Valentino Garavani (1974-78)
Gem, 1978 (screenprint and collage with diamond dust)
Diamond Dust Shoes, 1980

Also incredibly stunning is the reconstruction of Andy Warhol’s Factory (which I had a hard time photographing because we visited the retrospective on a Saturday morning and there were a lot of people around), with walls decorated in silver paint and tinfoil, a perfect homage to the famous place that attracted artists and affluent New Yorkers in the 1960s (on the walls are also some of Warhol’s early works, such as the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album cover, among the most important cover artworks he produced).

The final section of the exhibition presents some of the artist’s most celebrated works; self-portraits, works from the Ads Portfolio such as the BlackGlama series with the 1986 portrait of Judy Garland and the one of James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause, (1985), the Mona Lisa (Reversed Series) from 1978, a corner devoted to digital art (which Warhol became passionate about after attending the presentation of Amiga 1000, Commodore’s first multimedia personal computer) and an installation featuring Brillo Boxes, exact copies of commercial packaging silkscreened by Warhol, including the “Brillo Box Dress” (silkscreen ink on fabric), made in 1964.

Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), 1985
Reconstruction of Andy Warhol’s The Factory
Close-up of The Factory
The Rolling Stones album cover art (Sticky Fingers, 1971)
James Dean (1985) & Judy Garland (1986), BlackGlama series
Commodore Amiga 100
Brillo Boxes and dress, 1964
Mona Lisa (Reversal Series), 1978

Both Ali and I thoroughly enjoyed the retrospective and it was enlightening to see much of Andy Warhol’s immense artistic output. I was, however, disappointed not to be able to see live the 1979 BMW M1 hand-painted by Andy Warhol (who applied six kilos of color to it in just 30 minutes); the car took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the same year, placing sixth in the rankings. It had been allowed on display by BMW, one of the exhibition’s main partners, but was withdrawn after some radical environmentalists covered it entirely in flour last November (this had already happened at other museums around the world, where organized groups had vandalized works in the name of environmental protest). Since the car is worth 10 million euros and any damage to it was to be assessed, the exhibition organizers probably preferred not to display it again.

However, I hope to have a chance to see and photograph the car in the future because from the photos I have seen on the web, it is a true artistic masterpiece!

The incredible amount of Andy Warhol’s works on display makes up for the absence of the BMW M1, to which a didactic part is dedicated anyway, so I recommend the retrospective to all pop art fans; there are also animated tours with activities for the little ones.

Andy Warhol: La Pubblicità della Forma (The Advertising of Form) has been extended until April 10 and can be visited at La Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan (Via Procaccini 4). For hours and rates, you can visit the official website:

All pictures are my own.

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