The East Wing has been sprinkled with stardust. A quartet of great names – classics as well as contemporary masters – are displayed together giving you the opportunity to meet both Marilyn in multicolour, monochrome masterpieces, iconic self-portraits and a Hollywood diva behind the facade.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is arguably the most influential artist of the last half of the 20th century, in large part because his flat images communicate so effectively. There are no details, no individual brushwork, to get hung up on. Warhol exploits the simultaneously empty and mysterious icons of pop culture and reproduces existing images – from Campbell’s soup cans to Jackie Kennedy, Chairman Mao and Coca-Cola bottles. The artistic execution provides no insight into the artist’s interiority. They are about the world outside the pictures.
Catherine Opie (born 1961) is known as the voice of subcultures. Born in Los Angeles, she has made the city her base for years. The 50 photographs on show here were shot in the Beverly Hills home of Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011). Whether a star like Taylor is really part of a subculture is open to discussion. But her world is certainly on the periphery of most people’s understanding of homeliness. Taylor died during the making of the series. Her implicit presence changed, and the work now appears as a monument to a life. Amid the glitzy fashion-magazine surfaces, Opie lovingly allows the private and the vulnerable human being to emerge.
Cindy Sherman (born 1954) presents us with a variety of female figures that are all, technically, representations of herself. But not as self-portraits or disguised as famous female figures. Instead, Sherman activates a number of role models that we seem recognize even though we have not actually seen them before. A sort of modern-world icons waiting for someone to take them on. Sherman has been hugely important as a female critic of a male-dominated art, film and media world. With great irony and melancholy, she challenges and explores the male gaze on women – and the world.
The career of the French artist Yves Klein (1928-1962) was as intense as it was brief, lasting essentially from 1956 to 1962. Klein’s art introduces us to two central and conflicting movements: action and immense calm. This calm radiates from the monochrome canvases, but also very much from the effect they have. We search the three monochrome surfaces for action and direction, but there is none. Even when Klein rolls paint-covered bodies on the canvas or burns his paintings with flamethrowers, he controls every movement. Contemplation and action tie his intense and richly coloured works together, like two doors leading to the same place.