From objects of mass consumption to Pop icons, from advertising slogans to everyday news events, Andy Warhol's work primarily draws from the pool of the familiar and consistently makes use of subjects with high recognition value. That he would choose to make use of the cross as subject matter at some point in his career comes therefore as no surprise. The cross, the Campbell's soup cans, the Marilyn Monroe portrait, and Leonardo's Last Supper share widespread presence in all media. They have become part of the "total and permanent visual memory, and their common criterion is nothing more than the superficial formal characteristic of being instantly recognizable" (J. M. Plotzek, "Behind the Surface," Andy Warhol: Crosses, exh. cat., Köln, 1999, p.13).
The cross has also become a mass-produced object, sharing with the rest of Warhol's visual repertoire the quality of limitless availability. Echoing his trademark process of silkscreening the image over and over, Warhol was fascinated by industrial mass-production, which created in supermarket quantities the small wooden crosses used for the preparatory assemblages and sketches of the present work.
The Christian sign's identifying symbolism becomes lost in the Warholian device of repetition across the picture plane. Contemplating the present work, the viewer is taken by its awesome scale, but the symbolic load one would expect from the cross is diluted in its multiplicity, allowing the work to avoid religious resonance. "Repetition and replication result in the devaluation of the content. Warhol's paintings underscore the importance of the sign of the cross by using it as a motif of collective memory and, at the same time, they demonstrate the process through which precisely this quality is lost by being worn down in permanent confrontation" (ibid, p.18).
The present work evokes the anonymous military cemetery, where modern warfare buries its casualties and marks them with stark rows of sober serial crosses. In this view, Crosses aligns itself with the artist's Deaths and Disasters series. It emanates a solemnity similar to the artist's car crashes or electric chairs in empty rooms. The work's potential symbolism is underlined by the fact that Warhol first exhibited Crosses next to his Guns and Knives series in 1982 -- an unholy trinity succinctly commenting on the dark side of American life and death.
Commentators have often disregarded Warhol's keen interest in formal abstraction. We may only bring to mind Suprematist theory, which sought to transform the utilitarian material aspect of life through new forms. Kazimir Malevich, spearhead of the suprematist movement, also used the cross in several of his pictures of the late 1910s. Like Malevich, in Crosses Warhol uses that sign for its pure concrete form, bearing in mind that the painted shape leads an independent and unique life on the canvas and has its own expressiveness. On the grand scale of Crosses, the grid-like structure of the 12 yellow crosses becomes a decorative pattern, arranged in a geometric yet dynamic order. Playing with spatial motion, Warhol arranged the yellow shapes, suspending them on the dark background to create a picture of abstracting monumentality and bright ethereality.