#WARHOLWEDNESDAY - BLACK RHINOCEROS
‘I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could want to own.’
- Andy Warhol
Black Rhinoceros is part of Andy Warhol’s influential 1983 Endangered Species series. Following an impassioned conversation with his New York art dealers, Freyda and Ronald Feldman, Warhol produced this series of ten silkscreens to communicate the urgency of the wildlife conservation crisis occurring during the 1980s.
The series depicts the most endangered species from across the world as defined by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This Act banned trade involving endangered animals, however, despite this legislation, numbers of black rhino, for example, dropped by 96% between 1970 and 1995. Black Rhinoceri have a large horn that is more valuable than its weight in gold due to perceived medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities in Asian markets, making them very susceptible to poaching.
This project was personal to Warhol’s own interests. While he never publicly advocated for animal rights he chose to address these issues through his art, using his celebrity status to raise awareness and funds for the issue.
Heralded as the founder of Pop Art, he carried over his signature ‘Pop’ techniques of silk-screening and bold colours to his animals. The visual similitudes between his animal prints and his prints of superstars such as Marilyn Monroe and Chairman Mao elevated these endangered species to objects of popular culture. However, while the prints echo each other in bright colours and standardised size, they are not multiples of the same image. Warhol here draws attention to the rarity of each of his depicted species, giving them the same ‘star treatment’ he gave to the likes of Monroe and Mick Jagger.
Warhol left a continuing legacy when he highlighted the sanctity of wildlife preservation in this series. Artists such as Ai Weiwei have since similarly used art to promote animal rights and conservation, famously stating that ‘animals have been victims of humans for far too long.’
Before he died in 1987, Warhol bought 15.1 acres of beachfront property in Montauk, Long Island. He left this pristine area of land to the Nature Conservancy following his death, writing ‘I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could want to own’. This action speaks volumes of the importance of environmental concerns in Warhol’s life.
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