Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution

Art Review from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Friday 15 January 2016.

Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution image Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution image Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution image Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution image Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution image Warhol, Weiwei, and the Digital Revolution image

An exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria compares the legacies of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei, but it's about much more than two iconic Pop artists. It's about a shift in ideology, as capitalism's once seductive Cult of Consumerism makes way for the people's Digital Revolution.

If the 20th Century’s passion for Warhol’s work tells us one thing, it is that the era idolized the religion of consumerism. His artistic media were not just paint and film, they were also the concepts of iconography and semantics. These artistic tools were mastered so powerfully by advertising firms and the Hollywood dream machine. These are the techniques in which Warhol was trained, when he worked as a professional illustrator early in his career.

Although we are only 16 years in to the 21st Century, compared to Warhol, Ai Weiwei is already, deservedly, recognised as one of the century’s defining voices of Pop Art. And like Warhol, his work addresses the power of the dominant regime. However in China the regime utilizes a different kind of marketing, more commonly known as Propaganda.

Where Capitalism, enthroned in the temple of marketing’s glossy media, persuaded us to indulge in pleasures performed through the ritual of buying – in the 21st century far more serious, global and basic human needs are of concern to unified voices across nations. These voices are speaking very loudly, and en masse, through the new, distributed, publically-owned media of the internet.

The Information Economy is replacing the Consumer Economy. Physical objects are no longer our desire, we now desire the freedom to access information, to express our opinions, and to live safely in the world, free from fear of terrorism, by militia, religion, corporation or government.

The internet has been responsible for a revolution of ideas.

When ideaologies shift rapidly, it’s understandable that some people find the change in values at first too confronting to embrace. Recently, Lego refused to sell a bulk order to dissident Weiwei for this exhibition. After much public protest over their censorship, they later backflipped and changed their policy to allow bulk orders without first questioning customers about the “thematic purpose” of the request, instead asking customers to clarify that the LEGO Group does not support or endorse the project.

Online protests broadcast that the company’s policies were censoring freedom of expression, and LEGO complied by evolving those policies to prioritize human rights.

The Cult of Consumerism exploited a lack of access to information. It exploited societies with limited education, because the uneducated will purchase without question.

But through the internet we have broken down international borders, learned about other cultures, and revolution after revolution continues to tumble age-old dictatorships, from the rise of environmental and economic sustainability in the west, to the emergence of women’s rights in the middle east, to the fight for democracy in the far east – year after year each web blog, each Guardian special investigation, each Al Jazeera, each Wikileak, each Occupy protest, each anonymous vindication, each Malala Yousafzai, each Aung San Suu Kyi, each Ai Weiwei, they help us to see the hypocrisy of unjust leadership.

The exhibition on show at the National Gallery of Victoria is about much more than two pop artists, it’s about the end of an ideological era.

In the 20th Century, we may have been blinded by the light of the Industrial Revolution – but now, in the 21st Century, we see the light. A light backlit by the power of the Digital Revolution.