From the ‘American Sublime’ (at Tate Britain) to the beautiful at Tate Modern. The comments of UK leading critics have been many-thonged. ‘It’s a dumb deal: Andy Warhol was a lot smarter than Tate Modern’s disappointing retrospective lets on’, said Waldemar Januszczak (Sunday Times). ‘Warhol made it OK to love shopping. To drink Coke, and adore Disney…Warhol prefigured our world perfectly’. Jonathan Jones (Guardian Weekend) says the exhibition ‘reveals his celebrations of the flamboyantly ordinary as the defining works of the American era’. John McEwen (Sunday Telegraph) says the exhibition ‘did not convince me that he is of Matissean importance – the second half is a huge anticlimax – but it does show he was of the old masterly school’. Laura Cumming (Observer) regrets that ‘he declined into self-parody but in his prime Andy Warhol was the saviour of classic modernism.’ Henry Hitchings in the Times Literary Supplement says, ‘The present retrospective’s avowed but finally unsatisfactory sense of priorities denies Warhol his full conceptual range’: this is surely, by definition, a major deficit for ‘The Retrospective’ as it is billed. And Hitchins rightly points out that the 1989 New York MoMA retrospective (less confidently billed as ‘A Retrospective’) comprised 460 exhibits whereas Tate Modern only offers half as many. The fact is that Warhol has forced us to redefine beauty as a commodity in terms of the sacramental rites of consumerism. Not even Duchamp got there before.
American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880
In the opening column of the curator Andrew Wilton’s excellent catalogue summary, The Sublime in the Old World and the New he refers most appropriately to President Thomas Jefferson’s famous government scientific expedition, carried out by Captain Lewis and Lieutenant Clark. Two years were allocated to the quest for the true course of the great Missouri River, tracing it up from its confluence with the Mississippi at St Louis to its source in the Rocky Mountains, to cross the continental divide and then to follow the Columbia River to its Pacific exit.