The earliest forms of art had made it’s mark in history for being an influential and unique representation of various cultures and religions as well as playing a fundamental role in society. However, with the new era of postmodernism, art slowly deviated away from both the religious context it was originally created in, and apart from serving as a ritual function. Walter Benjamin, a German literary critic and philosopher during the 1900’s, strongly believed that the mass production of pieces has freed art from the boundaries of tradition, “For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependance on ritual” (Benjamin 1992). This particular excerpt has a direct correlation with the work of Andy Warhol, specifically “Silver Liz as Cleopatra.” Andy Warhol’s rendition of Elizabeth Taylor are prime examples of the shift in art history that Benjamin refers to as the value of this particular piece is based upon its mass production, and appropriation of iconic images and people.
“Silver Liz as Cleopatra” is a piece completed by Warhol in 1963 and is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. This specific painting portrays actress Elizabeth Taylor as the lead role of Cleopatra, the highest grossing film of 1963. Silver paint, and silkscreen ink and pencil on linen were all used in union to achieve the final result. Here the recurring images of the queen of the silver screen resemble a strip of film or a number of inexpensive and quick snap shots from a photo booth. The representation of Hollywood stars in his works were not an uncommon subject for Warhol as he was infatuated with the world of celebrities. His ability to utilize the methods and techniques of advertising art in conjunction with silkscreening and lively vibrant colour created a style that was instantly identifiable and utterly unique. In regards to Benjamin, Warhol’s interpretation of Elizabeth Taylor is a clear example of the break away from traditional roots of where and why art was created.
In Walter Benjamin’s disquisition, Benjamin essentially foresees mechanical reproduction being the result of emancipating what art was originally intended for. Mass production had a large and forever altering impact on the authentic nature of art. The illusion of art being rare and not attainable to every member in a society was generated in order to maintain an image of value in the commodity system. Isabelle Graw in her 2009 publication “High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture” further establishes the explicit role the economy plays in art.
Benjamin expounds the idea of an object’s value being directly linked to the authenticity and accessibility to society. Things such as historical importance, societal views, and cultural identification all serve to determine a work’s value. Benjamin...