“For the first time” (on Andy Warhol) – (2010)

Andy Warhol, “129 Die in Jet!” 1962 – Acrylic on canvas, 254,5 x 182,5 cm – Museum Ludwig, Cologne


In May 1978, school-colleagues of mine from the ‘Vorkurs’ of the “Schule für Gestaltung Zürich” took me to the opening of an exhibition. It was the exhibition “Andy Warhol” at Kunsthaus Zürich and it changed my life. It was not the first exhibition I went to of course, but it was the first time that I faced an artwork and was immediately concerned. For the first time I felt implicated, for the first time I was touched by art. I was touched by the artwork of Andy Warhol and, I remember, in particular by his work – 129 Die in Jet!. I was dazzled, I was happy. 129 Die in Jet! implicated me!

I will always remember this specific moment as a moment of grace and solitude. I felt included in the work, included in art. I realized that art – because it’s art – has the power of transformation. The power to transform each human being. I realized that art gives me the space to think on my own. From then on, art became for me part of the real – ‘the real’ but not the reality – and therefore I saw the possibility and importance of confronting the real. 129 Die in Jet!” was the artwork which made me suddenly focus on this conflict.

It was not a coincidence if “129 Die in Jet!” struck me so strongly because Andy Warhol said “yes” – he agreed with the social and economic reality. He agreed with consumer society. Andy Warhol is the artist of agreement. To agree means to confront oneself with reality as it is. To agree is the condition for a possible acceptance or refusal of something. I understood that one can change something only if one agrees. To agree does not mean to approve everything. Being in agreement is the condition that makes rejection or acceptation possible.

Only he who agrees can change things, said the author Heiner Müller. To agree requires being audacious. Audacious to think that art, because it’s art, is resistance. Art resists facts. Art resists political, aesthetical and cultural habits. Through its resistance, Art is movement, positive-ness, intensity, belief. Andy Warhol co-operated with reality in order to change it. So, Andy Warhol showed me that reality cannot be changed unless you agree with it. In his work there is a kind of loss of reality and it is precisely this loss which creates a new real in his work.

The image Andy Warhol painted in “129 Die in Jet!”, was taken from the cover of New York Mirror, June 4. 1962, the day following the Air France Boeing 707 plane crash, while takeoff from Paris Airport to Atlanta, Georgia. It was the world’s worst air disaster at the time. “129 Die in Jet!” was the first depiction of death in the work of Andy Warhol. To me, this work gives the sense of something futile and absolute. It reminds me that art, because it’s Art, is autonomous. Autonomy is what gives the artwork its beauty and its absoluteness. I also understood that art, because it’s Art, is universal. Universality means: Justice, Equality, the Other, the Truth, the One World. Andy Warhol created something new. With “129 Die in Jet!” I understood something new. I understood that to make something big does not necessarily mean it is important. I understood that it means to be committed to something. But simultaneously, an emptiness is created by this enlargement. Andy Warhol’s painting showed me that commitment and enlargement remove the meaning. He suggested another kind of meaning, a different meaning. Andy Warhol was my teacher, didn’t Andy Warhol say: “Don’t cry – Work!”?

Thanks to the work “129 Die in Jet!” I understood that art can create the conditions of implication – beyond everything else. I understood that I can only create or fulfill something if I address reality positively, even the hard core of reality. To me, it is a matter of never allowing the pleasure, the happiness, the enjoyment of work, the positive in creation, the beauty of working, to be asphyxiated by criticism. This doesn’t mean to react, this means to always be active. I understood that art is always action, art never is reaction. Art is never merely a reaction or a critique. It doesn’t mean being uncritical or not making a critique – it means being positive despite the sharpest critique, despite uncompromising rejection and despite unconditional resistance. It means not to deny oneself passion, hope and dream. Creating something means to risk oneself and this can only be done by working without analyzing while making. To take the risk, to have joy in working, to be positive, are the preconditions for making art. Only in being positive, can I create something that comes from myself. I want to be positive, even within the negative. This, I learnt from Andy Warhol.

Thomas Hirschhorn, 2010