In the first few months of 1963, the Mona Lisa was viewed by virtually two million human being in new York and also Washington DC. Shipped to the United states on a diplomatic mission – escorted by the French culture minister and received by President man F. Kennedy – the painting did small to assuage Franco-American tension about NATO and also nuclear proliferation, but the visit certified Lisa del Giocondo"s status as the smiling confront of high art, as iconic together any modern-day movie star.

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Several months earlier, one up-and-coming pop artist called Andy Warhol, well known for painting customer goods, turn his attention to celebrities including Elvis Presley and also Marilyn Monroe. Rather of painting their portraits through hand, he adapted a technique from advertisement printing, in which a photographic image might be transferred to canvas through pushing paint through a mechanically-produced silkscreen template. Any photo might be replicated, consisting of those in newspapers, favorite resources for Warhol since they reinforced the partnership of his paintings to fixed media. The newspapers might even provide him ideas, suggesting popular subjects. And in the winter of 1963, couple of subjects were more popular than the touring Mona Lisa.


Nobody would certainly mistake Warhol"s Mona Lisas for the Renaissance original. Leonardo da Vinci finessed La Gioconda"s visage with multiple layers of translucent pigment, applied over months through fine sable-hair brushes. Warhol might produce her likeness in mere minutes, a silhouette instantly recognizable together a smear of black paint. He made multiple versions in miscellaneous sizes. Numerous were diptychs. His most ambitious to be a five-by-six grid referred to as Thirty Are better Than One.

The title was as sly as his paint was cunning. Thirty are much better than one, at least in Warhol"s dealing with of Leonardo"s portrait. Recognizing that the Mona Lisa had end up being a celebrity akin come Marilyn Monroe, that proposed that fame to be a commodity, and also that the countless replication of a celebrity"s challenge made that so. His industrial process mimicked the mechanism whereby people end up being products, and also the end-result revealed the degree to which consumers are active participants, mentally pour it until it is full in sufficient details to recognize Warhol"s raw silkscreen with Leonardo"s sfumato portrait. In Thirty Are far better Than One, the Mona Lisa is lessened to a pattern, choose paisley or toile de jouy: perfectly flat, possibly infinite.

Warhol provided Marilyn Monroe the exact same treatment, screening her face repeatedly indigenous edge to edge the his canvas, yet his repetitions the the Mona Lisa to be the many provocative expression of his disquieting vision. Uneven Monroe, who messy life was broadly chronicled, Lisa del Giocondo was well-known only by her appearance. A solitary image was the whole basis of her fame. Every surface, no substance, the Mona Lisa to be the design celebrity – and perfect model because that deconstructing celebrity in the 1960s.


In art historical terms, Warhol"s copies fall under the group of appropriation, a subgenre dating back at the very least as far as 1919 – once Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on a Mona Lisa postcard – in which legitimate artists technically come closest come forgery. Though not created under false pretenses, functions of appropriation art are essentially derivative. Like forgeries, they profession on borrowed status. Their meaning emanates indigenous an absent original.

In various other words, appropriation artists suitable the forger"s modus operandi for artistic purposes. And virtually always, as in the case of Warhol, those functions are subversive. For instance, in the so late 1970s Sherrie Levine began rephotographing above photographs by pedestrian Evans and also Edward Weston, calling into question "the concept of originality," together she said Arts magazine in 1985. Appropriation is a form of critique, a mode of questioning. However Warhol was practically unique in his ability to question much more than just the work he appropriated.

Thirty Are much better Than One is not really about the Mona Lisa or even about art, however rather involves the tortuous connection between society and media, a relationship beginning to play the end in his own life together he came to be the very first meta-celebrity. In a sense, the Mona Lisas and Marilyns and also all the paints that complied with were only props in that lifelong performance, just as counterfeited canvases are just the physical manifestation of a forger"s swindle. Fame to be Warhol"s true medium, which that subverted by insisting the he was just like everybody else. "I think it would certainly be so good if more people took up silkscreens so the no one would understand whether my photo was mine or who else"s," he stated in a November 1963 ARTnews interview. (The adhering to year, the appropriation artist Elaine Sturtevant did simply that, recapitulating his imagery by get loan his own silkscreen templates.) by 1968 Warhol was predicting a future in i beg your pardon everyone would certainly be well known for fifteen minutes, a nightmare hybrid the democracy and also individualism he personally collection out to establish by casting anyone the met, regardless of talent, in his unscripted movies. Choose the best of conmen, Warhol manipulated people"s desires and also beliefs – do us inquiry ourselves together all great art should – however unlike real forgers such together Elmyr de Hory and Han van Meegeren, the did that all out in the open, for everyone to see.

Warhol showed that legitimate art might be as an effective as the counterfeit. He proved the level to which the forger"s art can be appropriated, the mantle of tension reclaimed. However his success also exposes the methods squandered by other serious artists, who might potentially have actually gamed the system yet never also tried, preferring instead to create angst-ridden baubles to it is in risklessly ogled in museums.

Art has actually a many to learn from forgery. If artistic task online and also in the street are any kind of indication, radical modern-day artists awareness the failings of previous generations. Some room attempting to consist of for past indolence. One of the many notorious, recognized only through the pseudonym Banksy, has puckishly taken up wherein Warhol left off. "In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes," he wrote in 2006 – spraypainting the words on an obsolete TV set – if tauntingly keeping his identity masked.

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To this day, Banksy remains recognized only by his exploits, consisting of his own Mona Lisa appropriation, La Gioconda wearing a yellow smileyface: century of Western art distilled to a perfect cliché. In 2004, Banksy smuggled his painting right into the Louvre, illicitly attaching it to the wall with double-sided tape. Within minutes it was found and hustled from see by museum staff. However the anxieties the elicited cannot so conveniently be effaced. Wherein does society belong? What can art express? Who"s one artist?

Forged: Why Fakes space The great Art Of our Age, by Jonathon Keats, published this month by Oxford university Press. Part II the the excerpt will certainly be published tomorrow.>

Follow Jonathon Keats top top Twitter… and purchase a copy of Forged: Why Fakes space The great Art Of ours Age ~ above Amazon.