Research / BFI Working PaperFeb 01, 2021

Revising the Canon: How Andy Warhol Became the Most Important American Modern Artist

Quantitative analysis of narratives of art history published since 2000 reveals that scholars and critics now judge that Andy Warhol has surpassed Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns as the most important modern American painter. Auction prices suggest that collectors share this opinion. Disaggregated analysis of the published narratives by decade reveals that Warhol first gained clear critical recognition as the leading Pop artist in the 1990s, and then as the most important American artist overall in the 2000s. This rise in Warhol’s status appears initially to have been a result of his enormous influence on Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and others in the cohort that transformed the New York art world in the 1980s, and subsequently of his persisting influence on leading artists around the world who have emerged since the 1990s, including Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Ai Weiwei. Warhol’s many radical conceptual innovations, that transformed both the appearance of art and the behavior of artists, made him not only the most important American artist, but the most important Western artist overall of the second half of the twentieth century.

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