Monday, July 4, 2016

The Consumerist Quality of "Liz" by Andy Warhol (1964)

Elizabeth “Liz” Taylor was a renowned actress in the 1950s and 1960s, the time of consumerism and culture of the masses in the United States. Through her years of filmmaking, she evolved into a glamorous movie star and icon of the lavish Hollywood lifestyle. The public followed every development in her personal life and engaged with the stories of her scandals and successes. Andy Warhol, a pop artist during the 60s, recognized the influence of media and consumerism on American society and began producing art of popular icons that could be mass-produced to challenge the Western culture of consumerism at the time. In 1964, he created a print of Taylor, called Liz, using bright and bold colors in his distinct style. Located at the Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum in Amsterdam, this work strives to comment on the consumerist quality of Hollywood and the film industry and the effects this Hollywood lifestyle had on Taylor’s life as individual and a celebrity.

Liz by Andy Warhol

The print is a portrait of Taylor based off of photographs taken of her in the early 1960s, the peak of her stardom. Warhol plays with the coloring of the piece in an extremely similar way that he did with his more famous Marilyn Monroe prints, which used bright, solid colors to unnaturally pigment the faces and highlight different features. The background of the print is bright red, alluding to her commercialized sexuality as part of her fame and image. Her lips are similarly red in the print, as she often wore red lipstick as part of her distinct style. Both uses of red in the print express Taylor’s sexual power that was, at the time, commercialized in the media and in movie roles. In the work, Taylor’s eyes are highlighted blue, drawing the viewer’s attention as an invitation to meet her gaze. Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes have held significance to her look since the beginning of her career. Her expression seems rehearsed, but her eyes in the portrait reveal something else. Taylor’s gaze extends past the viewer, expressing her desire for more meaningful roles and a life free from the scrutiny of the public and her film contract. Overall, the portrait has a graceful elegance that exudes the confidence and allure in how Taylor lived her life. Upon first glance, this image can be so easily commercialized because of its perfection, but underneath the surface it depicts Taylor’s desires to live outside of the consumerist limelight.

Taylor’s life was always on display for the public to indulge in, especially after the transition from more controlled publicity in classic Hollywood to the paparazzi madness in the 60s. Between tabloids, news stories, and magazines, Taylor’s life has been pruned for the consumer in a very public manner. In making her the subject of one of his pieces, Warhol is capitalizing on her consumerist attribute; Warhol’s success in pop art derives from the ease that comes with mass production of print art. Warhol has the ability to mass produce a piece that is already a subject of mass production, but Warhol’s manufacturing of Taylor’s image portray her in an ideal light, where she is at her best and not caught in the midst of a scandal, for example her numerous affairs. This is a mass production of beauty and the Hollywood ideal. Warhol’s print exemplifies the person-turned-icon element of consumerism with Taylor in the 1960s and provides commentary on the ease of celebrity commercialization.

Although this piece clearly places a primary focus on Taylor and her commercialization, it also serves as a representation of the consumerist culture of Hollywood as a whole. Hollywood depends on profits from movie production to thrive. In doing this, Hollywood creates icons out of movie stars and celebrities through commercialization in order to make an even larger profit. Throughout Taylor’s career, she felt pressured by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), her contracted film studio, to craft a particular image for herself and take certain roles, even if she disliked the characters. In this way, her life was stolen from her, so it could be more marketable in the eyes of MGM. Through the use of Taylor as face of consumerism and icon of the film industry, Warhol poses the question of whether this is acceptable. His work centers on challenging the ideals of consumerism and Western culture. In this particular work of Taylor, he is confronting Hollywood’s actions that have turned celebrities into objects of consumption.

Warhol’s piece as a whole serves as a social commentary on the American consumerism by presenting a person, Taylor, as an object of their consumption. Warhol recognized the objectification of film stars and other various celebrities at the time and ironically pointed out this aspect of consumer culture in the 1960s by creating a piece of art that can easily be duplicated for mass consumption purposes. Any Elizabeth Taylor fan would want this print in their rooms because of her celebrity status and of the allure that so often accompanies fame and beauty. Warhol created this work to draw attention to the impacts of consumerist culture. Taylor’s life was both made and stolen by the film industry. She never would have been as successful as she was if her life was not publicly available, but there was a trade off. Every action she made was in the public eye, and that was something that she was forced to be conscious of and live with throughout her life. Warhol understood the implications of consumerism on her life. He successfully, and ironically, challenges the consumerist characteristic of the film industry in 1960s American society through the illustration of Elizabeth Taylor as an individual and icon of Hollywood.

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