February 26–October 2, 2016

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Shadows (1977–78) by Andy Warhol, a monumental artwork of 102 large format, silkscreened panels that reflect some of Warhol’s explorations with abstraction through his signature palette of bright and cheerful hues, which characterized a large part of his work.

At 50 years old, Andy Warhol, the irreverent Pop Art icon, and chronicler of an era, embarked upon the production of a monumental artwork titled Shadows with the assistance of his entourage at the Factory. The work formalized earlier explorations with abstraction, seen the previous year in the Oxidation, Rorschach, and Camouflage paintings.

The canvases, which were primed and coated with acrylic paint prior to the printing of the image, show Warhol’s signature palette of bright hues with cheerful excess. While the color palette used for the grounds of Shadows includes more than a dozen different hues, certain colors that are characteristic of his larger body of work—the translucent violet of Lavender Disaster, 1963, or the aqua green of Turquoise Marilyn, 1964—are present. Unlike the surfaces of earlier paintings, in which thin layers of rolled acrylic paint constituted the backgrounds onto which black pixelated images were silkscreened, the backgrounds of the Shadows canvases were painted with a sponge mop, whose streaks and trails add “gesture” to the picture plane. Seven or eight different screens were used to create Shadows, as evidenced in the slight shifts in scales of dark areas as well as the arbitrary presence of spots of light.

The “shadows” alternate between positive and negative as they march along the walls of the gallery. Despite the apparent embrace of repetition, Warhol’s “machine method” is nothing but handmade. A significant and intriguing fact about Shadows is the irreproducibility of its assumed reproduction, a point that problematizes his aesthetic of “plagiarism” and positions Warhol’s project as one that is primordially pictorial.

Andy Warhol, the chronicler of an era, was known for admitting his “fondness for dull things,” which by the early 1960s corresponded to his use of photographic reproductions of found imagery culled from newspapers, magazines, and image archives. In 1978, at age 50, Warhol embarked upon the production of a monumental body of work titled Shadows with the assistance of his entourage at the Factory. These 102 silkscreened canvas panels formalized earlier explorations with abstraction. To locate the radical implications of Warhol’s Shadows, one must begin with the work’s form: this series was conceived as one painting in multiple parts, the final number of canvases determined by the dimensions of an exhibition space. In the first exhibition 83 canvases were installed edge to edge, a foot from the floor, in the order that Warhol’s assistants hung them.

The 102 canvases, all of them on view at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, show Warhol’s signature palette of bright hues with cheerful excess. The backgrounds of these canvases were painted with a sponge mop, the streaks and trails left by the mop adding “gesture” to the picture plane. Seven or eight different screens were used to create Shadows, as evidenced in the slight shifts in scales of dark areas as well as the arbitrary presence of spots of light. The “shadows” alternate between positive and negative imprints as they march along the wall of the gallery.

Despite the apparent embrace of repetition, Warhol’s “machine method” is nothing but handmade. A significant and intriguing fact about Shadows is the irreproducibility of its assumed reproduction, a point that problematizes his infamous aesthetic of “plagiarism” and positions Warhol’s project as one that is primordially pictorial. Far from replicas, each Shadow corresponds to a form that reveals, with precision and self-awareness, its space, directing the viewer’s gaze to light, the central subject of the series. In focusing on the shadow to devise light—that is to say, sparks of color—Warhol returns to the quintessential problem of art: perception.