It’s no longer enough to like our favorite artists’ works. By putting on Hopper’s fedora, Picasso’s striped shirt, Warhol’s wig or Kahlo’s colorful couture, we want to become their avatars.
By Blake Gopnik
Jan. 30, 2023
The Musée Picasso in Paris, home to a vast trove of its namesake’s masterworks, is offering a striped Breton shirt that makes it easy to adopt the great Cubist’s signature look for a mere $70 or so.
On a web page for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, in Washington, you can buy high-top sneakers covered in the “infinity net” pattern that is an artistic trademark of Yayoi Kusama, the 93-year-old Japanese art star. They cost $360, and the Hirshhorn shop has sold 44 pairs.
The gift shop at the Whitney Museum of American Art displays a $118 Hopper hat, a felt fedora that’s an almost perfect match for the one in Edward Hopper’s most famous self-portrait, which the museum owns.
If visitors are willing to spend that kind of money to dress up like a favorite artist, that’s because today’s art-loving public finds as much inspiration in creators’ personas as in the works they create.
Jennifer Heslin, director of retail operations at the Whitney, said that over her quarter-century in museum marketing, she’s seen visitors become ever more interested in goods, like the museum’s Hopper hat, that give them “a connection to that creative impulse” in the great artists who act as role models.
One of the world’s many immersive “experiences” dedicated to Vincent van Gogh sets itself apart from all others with a virtual-reality component that gives the chance to be “fully immersed in the mind” of van Gogh. An immersive built around Frida Kahlo can proudly proclaim that it is “presented without reproductions of the artist’s paintings” so that it can dwell instead on “the incredible story behind the legendary artist.” It’s been popular enough to get programmed in 15 cities worldwide.
Six decades ago, Andy Warhol helped set us on this course, for good or ill, when he first made his persona count for as much as his paintings or films. The creation that truly changed the whole future of art was the living sculpture called Andy Warhol, forever updated to suit the times it was in.