Monday, January 19, 2009

Transubstantiation - Mass Culture

Re: Walker, J.A., 1996. Art in the Age of Mass Media

  1. the changing of one substance into another.
  2. Theology: the changing of the elements of the bread and wine, when they are consecrated in the Eucharist, into the body and blood of Christ (a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church).

Not a word that one might expect to come across in a didactic treatise on Mass Culture. (Walker: 1996) In the context of the chapter "Art uses mass culture" I suspect Walker uses the word in its non-theological sense. As he is suggesting that Popular Culture was transformed (transubstantiated) from trash into expensive high art by attracting the approval of cultural bastions such as the Tate.

However, he could well have used the word in its theological sense given the God like standing of Warhol in the world of popular culture. And his ability to transform the exclusive into the commonplace whilst at the same time elevating the mundane to the iconic. Surely a miraculous process. Did Warhol look upon his art in religious terms?

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper (Dove), 1986

There is a consensus of opinion that given Warhol's religious beliefs (Roman Catholic) his work may have had a more religious context that generally realised. In an essay "Transubstantiating the culture: Andy Warhol's secret" James Romaine (an American art historian) (Romaine: 2003) discusses Warhol's secret religious obsessions and how this was revealed in his work. His iconic images of the pop saints Marylyn, Elvis and Jackie, were attributed to his interest in looking at painted icons in church as a boy. Significantly if not ironically he spent the last year of his life reproducing another childhood icon, one of Christianity's most famous and ubiquitous images, "The Last Supper" (Haden-Guest: 2000) a reproduction of which hung on the wall of his family's home and as a prayer card in his mothers missal. He produced at least 40 variations on the image. His memorial service was held at St. Patrick's cathedral in New York. (Christies: 2009) You could speculate that Considering that Warhol died from complications associated from a simple gall bladder operation did he have a premonition of his imminent demise.

I suppose it is possible to draw comparisons between the fanatic fervour and conformity of mass culture with that of religion.

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986
Andy Warhol, Detail of the Last supper, ca 1986

Christies, 1997. Andy Warhol (1928-1987) | Last Supper | Post-War & Contemporary Art Auction | late 20th Century, Paintings | Christie's. Available at: [Accessed January 19, 2009].

Haden-Guest, A., Magazine Features - Warhol's Last Supper. Available at: [Accessed January 19, 2009].

Romaine, J., 2003. Andy Warhol - Transubstantiating the Culture. Available at: [Accessed January 19, 2009].

Walker, J.A., 1996. Art in the Age of Mass Media 3rd ed., Pluto Press.