Wednesday, September 20

Household Names

Watching the Andy Warhol documentary on television right now reminds me of my list of artists who I think are household names. Here in New York we’re surrounded by art and culture everywhere—Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, for example, appears on MoMA advertisement on subway cars across the city—but for most of America, art never comes up in people’s daily lives.

I’ve come up with a list of seven—I call them the Magnificent Seven—whose names, I think, are instantly recognizable (if not their art) by almost anyone. Despite the disdain for modern art by the masses, five of these artists worked in the twentieth century.

1. Andy Warhol. The man was a celebrity. As a kid in the 1980s with no real knowledge of art apart from a couple visits to the local art center, I remember The Andy Warhol Diaries being talked about, and I remember the news of his death in 1988, as well as the Sotheby’s auction of his personal belongings a few months later. I think many people instantly recognize his work, despite being watered down in the advertising world.

2. Salvador Dalí. The classic showman and weird guy, a sensationalist and promoter. Dalí was probably one of the most talented artists in the Surrealist group, and his notoriety only grew after Breton expelled him from the movement. More than anyone else, Dalí is Surrealism.

3. Pablo Picasso. The artist who painted ugly pictures whose bald head and womanizing tendencies is well documented. For many, I think his brutal but groundbreaking work represents the negative attitude many have toward modern art. With Jackson Pollock, Picasso is who people point their fingers to when they say, “My kid could do that.”

4. Vincent Van Gogh. The myths always overshadow the art, but that doesn’t fail to keep the museum turnstiles clicking. His museum in Amsterdam is a college stoner’s pilgrimage. I never was a fan of Van Gogh, but no doubt his work is influential—for better or worse—and he carries the torch as the premier tortured, romantic artistic genius.

5. Claude Monet. His work shows up on posters and coffee mugs everywhere. Monet’s pictures, once radical in the nineteenth century, now soothe patients in doctor waiting rooms.

6. Leonardo da Vinci. Dan Brown’s book, of course, boosted Leonardo into the spotlight. But he never really disappeared from this spotlight. The Mona Lisa is universal, and Leonardo is the original renaissance man.

7. Michelangelo. The frescos in the Sistine Chapel and David—these are the holy grails of tourists in Italy. Like Leonardo, he’s also a renaissance man, though arguably more rough an artist than the refined elegance of his competitor.

Art-historical heavyweights such as Rembrandt, Raphael, Manet, Matisse, Pollock—they don’t make the cut here. I’d love to somehow put these seven to some kind of test.


de Selby said...

What about William Wegman? Or maybe he's an example of someone whose name, despite the fact his work has been widely seen (and liked by many), is not generally remembered (in most households).

Anonymous said...

I never thought of him before. If you said "William Wegman," people wouldn't get it. But if you said "The guy who photographs the dogs on the calendars," people would then know. I like Wegman's work a lot too, but he doesn't have that name recognition that the others do.

Anonymous said...

Ansel Adams is probably the only photographer that falls in this category. No one knows who William Wegman is. Imainge holding up a picture of him (not his work) and asking someone who he is. Blank stares, blank stares. Ansel Adams would at least get a "He looks familiar; isn't that Gandalf?"

Anonymous said...

I'd put Ansel Adams in the same category as Matisse or Rembrandt. People with more "cultural" inclinations would surely recognize his name, but he's far from household.

Thinking about Wegman again--the recent retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum was fantastic. Reproductions of his work are actually in more households than any other artist. College freshman stoners with Dali posters may be a close second. Warhol's probably hanging in more museums worldwide, but that's based on how fast the Factory cranked out his paintings and prints.