Beyond Soup Cans: Check Out Andy Warhol’s Charming Book Art
In 1967 Random House published a book by Andy Warhol. The American artist had spent most of the 1960s gaining notoriety for his large-scale silk-screen prints of Campbell’s soup cans and Marilyn Monroe’s face, but the book, Andy Warhol’s Index (Book) was neither a famous person’s memoir nor a best-of collection of works. It was something more unusual: a multi-sensory pop-up, pop-out, novelty book that contained a record, a balloon, and disappearing ink. “Think ‘Pat the Bunny’ for adults,” wrote a recent reviewer.
Andy Warhol’s Index (Book) became famous, partly because Warhol was so famous when it published, but it’s hardly the only book in the artist’s oeuvre. Warhol had a long and varied relationship with the publishing world, starting in the 1940s, when he worked on a never-finished children’s book about a Mexican jumping bean. From 1953 to 1960, Warhol was an unknown, creating dust jacket designs for New York City publishing houses like Simon & Schuster and Doubleday. In his later years, Warhol put out books on photography and writing, with his own name on the cover.
Warhol by the Book focuses entirely on Warhol’s fascination with—you guessed it—books. The exhibit, up now at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, features more than 130 artifacts from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. These range from that Mexican jumping bean book, which Warhol worked on while he was a student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, to published works like 1975’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and Back Again). In the years between, alongside doing commercial dust jackets, Warhol also worked on a plethora of book projects with other artist and writer friends. These zine-like projects were often self-published, and according to press material from the Morgan, slightly incoherent, “as if the books were expressions of a secret language between two friends.”
In the art, however, you can see early traces of the work that would make Warhol famous. His calligraphic drawings feature saccharine motifs like angels, stars, and butterflies. These icons become slightly sarcastic when they’re used over and over again, like a stamp. Warhol does this in the early book designs, employing the grid as a design tool, much as he would in later, better known works. That said, these projects were hardly practice sketches. Warhol was a master of experimentation, and an avid user of new and emerging media. (Remember his polaroids?) Books are hardly new media, but they’re highly mutable. This exhibit at the Morgan—up for just a few more days, until May 15—makes it clear that Warhol knew that better than most.