Skip to main content

Andy Warhol's beach house in the Hamptons is up for sale. Warhol and his filmmaker friend Paul Morrissey purchased the Montauk compound (currently owned by J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler) in 1972, paying $225,000 for 20 acres that today are worth $85-million. Given that Warhol's seminal "One Dollar Bill" painting just sold at Sotheby's for a record £20.9 million, that still seems a real bargain, but as it's still out of the budget for the average art aficionado, consider getting the wallpaper instead.

Brooklyn-based wallpaper company Flavor Paper is producing wall coverings of Warhol's screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, as well as rolls of Elvis, Queen Liz and a number of other iconic images from the artist that went viral before virality did. The late populist would probably appreciate this tribute and several others like it at the moment: a current gallery show in Toronto and another in Aspen, where those endlessly repeating Marilyns feature prominently. Artistic and commercial repetition may have served Warhol well, but the trick – in the worlds of art and fashion – is starting to feel dated.

In the mid-1960s, Warhol was at the philosophical (and practical) intersections of ideas about art, commercialization and mechanical reproduction and how craft and culture were determined by their relationships to crass business. But he was certainly not the first to consider these notions. It's been over 100 years since the British textile designer William Morris and the Viennese artist collective Wiener Werkstaette sought to unite fine and applied arts through the design of everyday items like ceramics, jewellery, millinery – even wallpaper. As far back as the 1910s, painters Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell screen-printed linens using the principles of fine, applied and decorative arts, allowing them to reaching a wider audience while making a living.

There's a major exhibition on now at London's Tate Modern of the work of Russian-French artist Sonia Delaunay, whose vividly geometric "simultaneous dresses" were utilitarian art pieces designed around the movement of the female body. Delaunay's work was crucial to the development of the fashion-meets-art tradition that produced Warhol. It's an approach that blossomed when fabric technology advanced after the Second World War, when exiled artists were looking for work, and consumers and designers were craving anything visually dynamic after the deprivations of the war.

Enter Warhol. He used limited mass production, but slowed mechanical reproduction down enough to make it seem special – and sprinkled with the party glitter of celebrity. This influenced Yves Saint Laurent's pop art 1965 "tribute" to Piet Mondrian, which in turn presages Prada's collaboration with comic-style artist James Jean for its dreamy, trippy romantic "Trembled Blossoms" fabric from 2008. A more recent echo is Canadian illustrator Donald Robertson's big bold lips for the fabrics in Giles Deacon's spring collection last year (as well as his lipstick packaging for Flare magazine's collaboration with Smashbox this summer).

Like so many things these days, the art of textile design has been subsumed by branding. Most of the real textile art work today is quiet, if not invisible, done in-house. When we do take note of it, it's in nominal collaborations in which artists or their estates perform an act of double-branding – take Japanese octogenarian Yayoi Kusama's polka dots on Louis Vuitton, contemporary L.A. painter Rosson Crow's flora and fauna on textiles for Zac Posen or former Disney animator Gary Baseman's illustrated figures for Coach.

Lately, there's been a glut of Keith Haring iterations: on Nicholas Kirkwood, on Tommy Hilfiger, on Converse. This comes just three years after Raf Simons's so-called big brilliant idea for his Dior haute couture debut, which was to translate contemporary artist Sterling Ruby's work onto fabric: fine, but only in a universe where the effect of sloppy tie-dye on an otherwise plain (though handmade) haute couture dress is somehow worth a five-figure price tag. When Yves Saint Laurent borrowed from Mondrian in 1965, the idea seemed revolutionary. So did Warhol's multiple Marilyns, making it hard to resent his lazy days enjoying the spoils at Montauk. Now that modern art is such a recognized visual vocabulary, repeating the same idea over and over again just seems plain lazy.