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In search of Warhol’s “Cum” at Thaddaeus Ropac

by godlove4241
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LONDON — I searched in vain for something called “Cum Painting” by Andy Warhol. The date is fluid, around 1978, according to the press kit. Why not? Life is for living.

My journey begins just to the right of the first floor gallery door. I take a step or two back, to the center of the room. I stand in a cut of sumptuous swank Mayfair bathed in light, one of the finest interiors in 18th century London.

And that painting over there? The little room I’m looking at is in a gilt frame of faded luxury, come-buy-me-if-you-have-deep-pockets, and it’s just to the right of a gorgeous door with an outline pillared, with Corinthian capitals. The problem is that – I’m walking towards it now, boldly, feeling that I’m finally on to something tangible – the canvas looks completely unpainted.

So I stand up breathing closely and finally spot some small yellowish specks or blotches. This must be it, then, the sperm of Warhol, 50 years and some in the drying out! Or maybe it belongs to one of his friends. The press kit was a bit vague about where it came from.

welcome to Alchemy at Thaddaeus Ropac, in which a series of artists with famous names mix strange substances with results of varying interest.

Are these really deep mysteries? Or deeper mystifications? Alchemy – that desire, from time immemorial, to transform base metals into gold – has often been the driving force, the inspirer and the engine of post-war art, from Kiefer and Warhol to Beuys, from Sturtevant to Polke, Vedova and Rauschenberg.

This exhibition presents examples of works by all these artists, and leaves us asking questions such as these: To the idea of ​​the workshop as an alchemical laboratory, in which the artist-mage gazes in wonder and breath driven back into their bubbling crucible, for all its gnomic and bewitching promise, has it actually contributed to giving birth to works of lasting interest? Is the uncontrollable mystery of these disorderly peregrinations into the unknown much more than a shamanic posture?

Some of the less interesting works here are by Joseph Beuys, tedious little so-called ‘drawings’, nearly square or nearly rectangular, brushy and rust-colored, with pencil scribbles, many of them done on the back of the paper. hotel-head, and made to look a little less insignificant (and more salable) by being enclosed in huge frames. Unless you believe that every last little mark made by the shaman in the wide-brimmed hat is as valuable as lead transmuted into gold, you’ll find them visually appealing. And what about this work on a shelf entitled “Bathtub for a heroine”? He looks as exciting as his bald description sounds: “Bronze, immersion heater with lead.” And why do we give three dates for its realization (1950/1961/1984)? Did it keep falling apart?

Far better—insofar as they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously—are Robert Rauschenberg’s long copper sheets. The fact that these images seem to be hidden inside the material and emerge with some mysterious reluctance makes them rather wonderful.

Those aside, this show is an existential crisis writ large. The gallery description is full of pretentious bloat: philosophical ideas, catastrophe theory and more. But just how captivating are these works to watch, really? That’s the rub, Andy.

Andy Warhol, “Piss Painting” (1961), urine on linen, 42 x 72 inches (photo Ulrich Ghezzi; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / ARS, New York, 2023)
Sigmar Polke, “Katastrophentheorie IV” (1983), synthetic and natural resin on canvas, 200 x 160 cm (photo Charles Duprat; © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, 2023)
Robert Rauschenberg, “Copperhead-Bite V / ROCI CHILE” (1985), silkscreen ink, acrylic and tarnish on copper, 96.75 x 48.75 x 1.1 inches (© The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / ARS, New York, 2023)

Alchemy continues at Thaddaeus Ropac (37 Dover Street, London, England) until July 29. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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