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Title:The Bonwit Teller Window: homoeroticism and gender play in Andy Warhol's early pop exhibition
Author(s):Ostrander, Dana
Advisor(s):Weissman, Terri
Department / Program:Art & Design
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Andy Warhol
Bonwit Teller
commercial illustration
fine art
Pop art
Abstract:In April of 1961 Andy Warhol exhibited five of his early Pop paintings in the Bonwit Teller window on East 57th Street in New York City (Fig. 1). Juxtaposing fashionably clothed mannequins with paintings inspired by popular culture, the display represents a transitional moment in Warhol’s career. By 1960 Warhol had begun to decrease his commercial output in pursuit of a career as a gallery artist, taking up painting in lieu of illustration. The resulting paintings offer an unusual assortment of influences, combining commercial subject matter derived from comic books and tabloids with a painterly style reminiscent of the prevailing Abstract Expressionist tradition. In spite of their artificial construction, these visible brushstrokes, blotches, and drips construct a pretense of spontaneity and contingency. In the course of several months, such gestural marks would be removed from Warhol’s work entirely. His initial impulse to include them, however, can be at least partially attributed to the financial success and mainstream acceptance of the stereotypically masculine, heterosexual action painters. While most Abstract Expressionist artists appealed to standards of heteronormativity, the sphere of commercial illustration – particularly that which featured fashion, female goods, and conspicuous consumption – was widely considered feminine and therefore homosexual. In this paper, I will argue that Warhol’s integration of commercial content and fine art style, his parodic deconstruction of gender binaries, and his smuggling of homoerotic imagery into the heteronormative space of the Bonwit Teller window create a liminal zone where such opposites can be manipulated and merged. Consequently, the April 1961 display is neither gay nor straight, neither low culture nor high brow, neither female nor male. Instead, it is all of these things at once.
Issue Date:2013-05-24
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Dana Ostrander
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-05-24
Date Deposited:2013-05

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