Andy Warhol was the ultimate arbiter of the hip and cool in the 1960s. The rich, famous, exotic and bizarre all gathered at his Factory with the heroin-influenced sounds of the Velvet Underground as their soundtrack. It was a gritty scene where drugs, sex and glamour were rampant, but one in which everyone wanted to be a part. A reclusive young man who dreamed of fame and fortune, Warhol systematically recreated himself as the pinnacle of hip. He came to be the center and pulse of both the avant-garde and high society. Warhol was the consummate American celebrity who like so many celebrities was also the consummate arriviste.
Like Warhol, the Volkswagen Beetle is one of the signature images of 1960s America and is strongly associated with the counter-culture movement that dominated that era. Once seen as a dowdy and pragmatic vehicle, whose form followed function, it became a signifier of the sexually liberated and cool 1960s. The cool of the Beetle was a man-made sensation created by the ad agency DDB who introduced it into the US market. Launching what has become one of the best-known ad campaigns in advertising history, DDB forever changed the face of advertising. Presenting hip and ironic ads, the Beetle was transformed from a proletariat vehicle into a fabulously faddish car the world over.
Like Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans, the VW Beetle is depicted as a portrait. Giving human dimension to the car and imbuing it with his extraordinary sense of style, Warhol transformed his VW Beetle from a still life into a prototype of cool. It is appropriate that some of Warhol's last images from the 1960s would be portraits of the Beetle. VW Beetle is an homage to one arriviste from another.
Photograph of Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol and Chuck Wein, The Sunday Times Magazine, February 13, 1966