The devotional Catholicism behind Andy Warhol’s postmodern work

I awaited the opening of “Andy Warhol’s Revelation” at the Brooklyn Museum with great anticipation. The exhibit, which “explores the artist’s lifelong relationship with his faith that frequently appeared in his artworks,” features both his own works and Catholic devotional items that he collected. Juxtaposed against the other collections on display in the museum, the exhibit highlights how Warhol’s keen attention to paradox makes him a paragon of what it means to live as a Catholic in a postmodern culture.

The term “postmodern” is ambiguous and often thrown around loosely. In historical terms, postmodernity can refer to cultural sensibilities or events that occurred after the Modern era ended around after World War II. PostmodernistphilosophyRefers to a particular school of thought that was prominent in France during the 1960s.

Postmodern philosophy begins with French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. It aims primarily to question certain accepted hierarchies and institutions, and truth claims. In the emblematic words of Derrida, “everything that has been said must be unsaid.” Postmodern philosophy also challenges the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationality and pure objectivity. These thinkers have played a significant role in shaping the sensibilities of numerous artistic trends since the 1960s—think of Warhol’s Pop Art, the Performance Art of Marina Abramovic, or the Installation Art of Allan Kaprow.

Warhol is a shining example of what it means for a Catholic to live in postmodern times.

The Brooklyn Museum exhibits rely heavily on postmodernist concepts to address issues such as identity, desire and injustice. This is how the installation outside of the museum by Nick Cave, which consists of the words “TRUTH BE TOLD” in black letters running along the wall, “question[s] the precarious nature of truth in our society” and “comment[s] on how words can be warped and distorted by those in power.” “Slipstream” is likewise a collection of pieces on the first floor of the museum that “seeks to hold space for individuals to find their feelings of fear, grief, vulnerability, anger, isolation, and despair—as well as joy, determination, and love.”

Many people have voiced their disapproval of the postmodernist movement. Jordan PetersonAnd Camille PagliaCatholics, too. Bishop Robert Barron. But for Catholics, “Andy Warhol: Revelation” might serve as a bridge between postmodern concepts and their religious beliefs. As a literary critic Wayne C. Booth once wrote, “postmodernist theories of the social self have not explicitly acknowledged the religious implications of what they are about. But if you read them closely, you will see that more and more of them are talking about the human mystery in terms that resemble those of the subtlest traditional theologies.”

It is true that postmodernism’s overwhelming emphasis on personal experience can run the risk of denying both God’s existence and the entire Judeo-Christian moral framework. This emphasis on personal experience can be helpful in helping us to recognize God’s existence as it manifests. Within Our own personal experiences. Postmodern culture does not necessarily have to lead us toward relativism and pure subjectivism—where truth is whatever I say it is, where one can possess “alternative facts.” Instead, postmodernism’s attention to paradox and unconventionality can serve to open up questions that lead us to rediscover objective spiritual truths.

Postmodernism can help us recognize the need to worship God in all its manifestations. Within These are our personal experiences.

It is hard to imagine anything more paradoxical or unconventional than the origin story of Christianity. An all-powerful God becomes an insignificant child, and an eternal deity gives away his life.

This is apparent in the Warhol exhibit’s entrance. The walls are covered in an expanded version of Warhol’s 1963 “Crowd,” which was a screen print of a newswire photo of the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday 1955. The Brooklyn-based collective created the expanded version. Flavor Paper, whose creative Director added an image Warhol wearing a striped shirt to the picture, making it look like the famous Where’s Waldo? books. Here it is Where’s Warhol?

This juxtaposition between Warhol and the crowd highlights Warhol’s own search for his identity. The screen print evokes the postmodern impulse to do away with social roles and expectations in order to “invent” our authentic selves. Warhol lets this urge to guide him, not to a vague and relativistic answer about his identity but to embark on a journey towards discovering his true identity in Christ.

The exhibit invites viewers to consider how Warhol’s belief in the incarnation shaped his attention to the beauty within both the mundane elements of our human experience and the more chaotic and complex parts of humanity. Warhol believed in an infinite God, who entered the physical world as a human to feed his soul, and who eventually gave himself up to death for the love of humanity. It was this faith that warmed Warhol’s passion for consumerism and death.

Warhol allows this urge to guide him on a journey towards discovering his true identity in Christ.

This belief is most evident in Warhol’s reproductions of labels from popular brands. From the famous Campbell’s soup cans to the Heinz ketchup boxes, Warhol finds beauty in the packaging of these products. Warhol’s enjoyment of these things is finite, and therefore the viewer feels it. The Heinz boxes are juxtaposed alongside screen prints that depict images of Black Civil Rights protestors being assaulted by police dogs. The placing of the pieces points to Warhol’s intuition that a society constructed upon capitalistic power and the drive to consume is lethal.

Similarly, in “The Last Supper (Be Somebody with a Body)” he critiques his own fixation on youthful male beauty and on his own health and fitness by superimposing the image of Jesus consecrating the Eucharist at the Last Supper over the image of a young muscular fitness model. It is as if his consumption of Christ’s body fills in the emptiness left behind after the temporary pleasure of gazing upon the beauty of a young man.

Warhol’s fascination with the paradox between the sacred and profane, the natural and artificial is indebted to his camp sensibility. Camp is a celebration of artifices, irony and the unorthodox, even though it can be difficult to pinpoint.

Warhol’s fascination with the paradox between the sacred and profane is indebted to his camp sensibility.

Camp is rooted in the Decadent writers and aesthetes of the 20th century, many who converted to Catholicism. Joris Karl Huysmans and Charles Baudelaire are examples of this tension. Some people have condemned it as irresponsible and even imprudent. Camp is not a fake. Not Bad things can be a way to find the truth, goodness and beauty within you.

Camp works as a negative film strip by intentionally showing what is artificial, unnatural, or even sinful. It forces us to question if there is something more real, true, or sacred than the artifice.

Warhol’s exaltation of glamorous female icons is typical of camp. His “Jackie”Series of blue-toned silkscreen prints by Jackie O. during the funeral of JFK. They evoke Marian imagery. His “Marilyn Diptych”This shows a brightly colored series of Marilyn Monroe silkscreen print slowly fades into dull black and/or white prints. They are reminiscent of the Byzantine iconography depicted in the Mary of the Bible. iconostasis, or icon screen, of his family’s Ruthenian Catholic parish. These odes to celebrities who are goddess-like are always tinged by some sort of darkness to show how the celebrity cult must end.

His “Jackie”Series of blue-toned silkscreen prints featuring a Jackie O. at JFK’s funeral.

It is a credit to the Brooklyn Museum for the thoughtful arrangement of these pieces. It was impressive to see among his works of art the baptismal certificate and the crucifix, which hung above his mantle, as well as his collection of holy cards.

The museum’s commentary on the pieces (as curated by José Carlos Diaz) seemed to dwell on the presumedly irreconcilable tension between Warhol’s same-sex attraction and the Catholic Church’s moral teachings. Judging by the depth and honesty of his works, it seemed instead to me that the church’s teachings on chastity strengthened rather than weakened his artistic sensibility and keen attention to paradox. Warhol was not only well-known for his pornographic art and voyeurism, but he was also a master of the paradox. Famous for his devotion to celibacy. One can perhaps presume that he made this choice out of self-loathing or “Catholic guilt.” But again, his works would seem to point against such simplistic readings. It suggests that his decision to remain celibate was based on real convictions about faith and beauty, as well as the body.

I walked away from “Revelation”A new appreciation of how faith in Christ’s incarnation can help us engage with postmodern culture more than just rejecting or assimilating, will allow us to have a better understanding. In Warhol’s work, Christ’s beauty is not something wholly apart from the human attraction to the artificial, the sinful and the self-indulgent. Christ, however, reveals that all of God’s creation is a beautiful gift.

Warhol is best known for his pornographic art and voyeurism, but he was also well-known for his dedication to celibacy.  

God doesn’t force me to choose between right or wrong. He calls me to give my whole self, my weaknesses, and strange idiosyncrasies to him and to become one with him.

For many people, postmodernism’s wholesale questioning of social norms can lead to the point of denying that there are any real answers to life’s most vital questions. But in bringing the postmodern artistic sensibility to its furthest limits, Warhol affirms that to be truly authentic is to seek to live in communion with one’s maker.