The following review of Andy Warhol's show at the Rowan gallery in England first appeared in the Guardian newspaper on March 9, 1968:
Andy Warhol, says the catalogue; "born Philadelphia 1930, lives in New York". That is all. The last item is right, the second is questionable, the first in its implications problematic. According to some sources he was born in 1927, which would put him on the unglamorous side of 40. No matter, as long as it is Andy we have before us, but here the difficulty arises: no one shows less of himself in his art.
Note the paradox. We all know about him - telly, colour supplements, art magazines, word of mouth. What do we know about him:? We know about his endless films about sleeping, about the Empire State, about the Chelsea Girls (I can claim to have seen the untruncated three-hours-plus of that one; sheer devotion to duty); we know about multiple soup can pictures and carrier-bags, about paintings mechanically derived from photos of people; disasters, disastrous people; about gas-filled silver pillows that float around. And what do we know about him? Nothing.
The Rowan gallery is showing a selection of his photo-based, silk-screened faces. Two sorts: criminals, taken from the rough half-tones of the New York police gazette, full-face and profile, also four unposed snapshots. And, Marilyn Monroe in a series of 10 prints, the same photo used 10 times in different colour combinations.
They are the Most Wanted Men. The enlarged half-tone fascinates visually. Close to, it resembles some complex constructivist programme of varyingly intense spots of paint and of intervals on a grid. We draw away and are surprised at our conceptual agility. With the most immediate of compulsions wee translate a dot cluster into tone and tone into features and features into personality. They look like television actors, French intellectuals, the man next door, a headmaster. Only one of them looks thuggish and he has a ghastly bruised eye, more thugged than thugging.
On the other wall, the most wanted woman. Her at least we know: her name evokes a swarm of film and newspaper images, sportive and sad. Yet, looking at Warhol's reproductions of that familiar face, we lose the familiarity. Each version is different because of the colour and tone values and the way the register is allowed to drag a little. They are Marilyn but they contradict each other and we lose sight of her behind the suave and garish surfaces. In the end it is as though she has been exorcised from her own public image, and suddenly the twinges we all felt at her death seem narcissistic.
Whether Warhol himself at any point touched any of these pictures does not matter: in some way or other he made them exist, and they touch us. Or strictly, they are there for us to enter into dialogue with or not, as we wish. He has said "Someday everybody will think just what they want to think, and then everybody will probably be thinking alike." His pictures invite us to think what we will - a mass media Bruegel, he holds up mirrors.