‘And if the one ‘master painting’ is good, they’re all good’: Andy Warhol Paints the Money-Form

Investigator: Dr. des. Marlon Lieber

Focusing on Andy Warhol’s Pop Art, this project is interested in the knowledge conveyed in and through aesthetic form. It is common to focus on the content of Warhol’s paintings and prints as illustrations of a “fetishization” of consumer items; hence, Fredric Jameson could argue that Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes are “clearly fetishes” on “the level of content.” The implication is that fetishism designates an affective attachment to certain objects that causes individuals to falsely attribute quasi-supernatural powers to them; in short, fetishism, in this common reading, refers to a failure of knowledge (of the “real” characteristics of objects, the social relations involved in their production, etc.). I will argue that this, however, fails to do justice to the figure of thought underlying these assessments—the critical theory of fetishism found in Marx’s Capital—which is, contrary to what is often assumed, not primarily interested in denigrating a form of “false consciousness.” Instead, it poses the question which forms of knowledge are appropriate to a way of organizing social relations in which social relations are mediated by things: most importantly, by money. In my analysis, I will turn to Warhol’s ambition to produce a “master painting” that is “good” regardless of its “subject.” This master painting, I argue, performs a function structurally homologous to the money-form in the critical theory of modern socio-economic relations by producing a formal equivalence in abstraction from any concrete content. Thus, Warhol’s understanding of aesthetic form can itself be read as a source of knowledge of social forms.