Andy Warhol Red Lenin (F & S II.403)Facts | History | Meaning
Catalogue Title: Red Lenin (F & S II.403) Year: 1987 Size 39 3/8″ x 29 1/2″ 100 x 74.9cm Medium: Screenprint on Arches 88 Paper. Edition: Edition of 120, 24 AP, 6 PP, 10 HC, numbered in pencil and signed in pencil by Frederick Hughes, executor of The Andy Warhol Estate, on a stamped certificate of authenticity.
Andy Warhol Red Lenin (F & S II.403)Meaning & History
‘politics.. Combines two of the themes that interested Andy most..politics and fame.’ (Bob Colacello).
Red Lenin is a screenprint executed in 1987, a portrait of the infamous dictator of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin. It is. a red-coloured counterpart to another screenprint in black. Created more than half a century after the leader's own death and in the final years of the USSR, the work is an example of Warhol’s ability to an appropriate a historically loaded image and place artistic form, rather than political engagement, at the fore.
Warhol had already demonstrated an interest in the aesthetic of socialism in a portfolio devoted to the symbol of the Soviet flag, his Hammer and Sickle series of 1976. That such symbols could have hold such weight, and be instruments of coersion and control, was a preoccupation of Warhol’s. Maintaining a careful political distance, the artist instead focusses on the magnitude of influence, rather than the particularities of the political leader or symbol at hand; ‘politics.. Combines two of the themes that interested Andy most..politics and fame.’ (Bob Colacello).
Warhol’s vivid red background, in which Lenin’s suit dissolves inconspicuously into negative space, creates the impression of his face floating, looming over the viewer as he did over the people under his own subjects. The scarlet colour represents not only the red flag of the Soviet Union and Communism, but a sense of foreboding and even bloodshed. The dictator's hand rests upon a book, perhaps emblamatic of Lenin’s dogmas outlined in his own writings.
The image from which Warhol’s portrait is based is upon a photograph taken by Pavel Zhukov held in the Central Lenin Museum in Moscow. Notably, even this original photograph was doctored and manipulated from its original form: the original depicted Lenin alongside other Soviet peers. As was custom in the leadership, once members of the party were deemed to have betrayed them, they were erased from all photographs. In being a propagandistic photograph - Zhukov was the chief photographer of the Petrograd military district – another facet of this portrait is the violence enacted behind the lens of the image. Imposing and intimidating, official photographs such as these, as well as idealised paintings of Lenin were ubiquitous, creating a cult of personality of epic proportions. Warhol’s screenprinting reproduction, articulated in haunting colours, lays bare this violence whilst simultaneously highlighting the essence of the image in and of itself. The seeming nonchalance with which Warhol reappropriates a controversial leader, stripped from historical and social context, paradoxically embodies a resistance against censorship of art which the Soviet union sought to enforce, one that adheres to the dictum of art for art’s sake rather than realism. As an artist contemporaneous with the Cold War, Warhol’s American commercial and capitalistic sensibility is the most obvious and bold rejection of soviet dogma.
At this final stage in Warhol’s career, the artist’s Lenin portraits are a distinguished and bold exclamation before the artist’s passing, clear evidence that his power to shock and create arresting imagery had not faltered over decades.
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