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Nothing happening: Warhol and the negative dialectics of subversion

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Andy Warhol is associated with pop art, which is often thought of as an American, populist, commercial, superficial and ahistorical cultural form. Yet both Warhol and pop have historical and intellectual influences that are European, elitist and political. These influences remain largely unexamined, although something of them is registered in a common critical sense that Warhol's art satirizes capitalism. This paper seeks to reconsider Warhol's work with reference to neglected aspects of it. However, it does not simply aim to overturn or reverse received opinion about this work, by, for example, casting it as singularly profound or capitalistic. A negative dialectic will be employed to demonstrate that Warhol's art is both current and backward-looking, American and European, glib and philosophical, right wing and left wing. Negative dialectics will be explained in the process with reference to Adorno, Warhol and others. This will be done in order to show that all of the oppositions mentioned are active in Warhol's work but also that none of them are synthesized in it.

Keywords: Warhol; avant-garde; capitalism; dialectics; modernism; transatlantic

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: London Metropolitan University.

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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