This work is accompanied by a photo-certificate signed and stamped by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Andy Warhol’s 1980 Diamond Dust Shoes is among the most striking examples of that series, epitomizing the pop master’s career-long fascination with glamour and consumer culture. Depicting women’s shoes since his inauspicious beginnings as a commercial artist and illustrator, Warhol’s familiarity with—and fondness for—the objects is obvious. Unlike his earlier work though, these shoes were not commissioned; they represent a fond farewell to the hedonistic, glitzy ‘70s on the eve of the more tight-laced and conservative ‘80s. Elegiac and celebratory in equal measure, Diamond Dust Shoes lovingly evokes the just-departed Studio 54 era, in which Warhol’s magisterial presence over the New York club scene went uncontested. A seminal work bridging Warhol’s dazzling 1970s output with his more subdued ‘80s paintings, Diamond Dust Shoes is both a monument to an era and a scene, and a stunning example of Warhol’s Diamond Dust series, more broadly.
Glistening like a star-filled night sky seen through a kaleidoscope, Diamond Dust Shoes boasts a compositional straightforwardness that encourages the viewer to bask in its immersive, tactile surface. Clearly legible and sharply defined, the four shoes—one red, one blue, one yellow and one lilac—seem to float above the rich background. The red and blue high-heeled shoes are a pair, both laid on their sides. The toe of the blue shoe just barely touches the sole of the red, obscuring a tiny sliver of the lilac shoe’s toe. The yellow and lilac shoes, seen from above, are from different pairs. The yellow, patterned shoe points toward the top of the canvas, its evident pattern difficult to perceive after the silkscreen process. The lilac shoe faces downward, a rounded toe and large wreath-like ring on the sole giving it a more casual, flat-soled appearance. The interplay of the four shoes, masquerading as a chance assortment, reveals the breadth of Warhol’s compositional genius.
Warhol partially returns to serial imagery, here painting numerous examples of a single commodity, without utilizing the strategy as he had in the ‘60s. The Diamond Dust Shoes series, then, marks a culmination of Warhol’s career up to that point and anticipates a further return to classic form in the ‘80s, which saw Warhol revisit, to great acclaim, self-portraiture, serially repeated imagery and a more pared down approach to color. In fact, Warhol would monumentalize those visual hallmarks in the ‘80s, producing massive self-portraits and epically scaled repetitions. In this way, Diamond Dust Shoes is the first such example of Warhol revisiting and enlarging previous ideas. In this case, though, the subject hails from Warhol’s earliest days as a professional artist, before The Factory, the recognition and the fame that came with it.
Introduced to diamond dust in 1979 by printer Rupert Smith, Warhol experimented with the material before deciding it lacked the dazzle he expected. After some tinkering, Warhol decided to replace the diamond dust with pulverized glass. First using the glass for his black-on-black shadow paintings from 1979, Warhol began using it on his last ‘70s portraits, giving Joseph Beuys and Georgia O’Keeffe the diamond dust treatment. In late 1979 or early 1980, Warhol conceived the Diamond Dust Shoe series, bringing together the luxuriousness of the ‘70s Society Portraits with the subversive wit of the ‘60s object paintings. Likewise, the series furthered Warhol’s career-long tradition of material innovation, begun when, in the early ‘60s, he abandoned the brush in favor of the silkscreen and squeegee.
Throughout his career, Warhol relentlessly experimented with new modes of representation. The ‘60s found him radically reversing a core tenet of painting—that it be hand painted. Similarly, his sculptural output of the same period aimed to resemble ordinary boxes of canned fruit and other goods as closely as possible. In the seventies, Warhol updated his silkscreen process to include, once again, hand painted elements in the form of background brushstrokes typically used to delineate a one-color silkscreened subject’s features. His Reversals series, too, marked a material innovation, where Warhol fundamentally reneged on the original premise of the entire silkscreen series. The diamond dust pictures represent his next great advancement, wherein he sought to push his machine-made aesthetic to new heights, introducing a level of precision and glistening perfection theretofore unrealized in his paintings.
In the same way that Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup paintings represent the budding mass consumerism of the ‘60s, his Diamond Dust Shoes stands as a monument to the ‘70s. Known mainly as an era marked (for members of Warhol’s scene, at least) by extravagance, hedonism and glamour, the ‘70s were also a hotbed of artistic innovation and societal unrest. As the Vietnam War wound down and Watergate gripped the nation, conceptual art began to reign supreme, supplanting Pop and even Minimalism as the decade wore on. Warhol, for his part, hunkered down and turned toward those around him, resulting in the two great series, the Society Portraits and Ladies and Gentlemen. Diamond Dust Shoes conceptually joins those two series, democratizing the concept of glamour and paring it down to its most essential form.
The shoe, for Warhol, anonymizes beauty and allows him to explore its implications, while moving away from the portraiture that had occupied him for more than a decade. Diamond Dust Shoes, perhaps the finest example of that series, finds Warhol at the height of his powers, molting the shell of the ‘70s and transitioning into what would be his final decade. In a career marked at once by an unmistakable visual brand and consistent innovation and change, this work evidences both at once. A quintessential Warhol picture, Diamond Dust Shoes is Warhol at his best, using simple, immediate imagery to create a layered, evocative picture that both recalls the triumphs of an era while looking ahead toward what would be the home stretch of his legendary career