Despite its subtle and not-so-subtle ravishments, a Warhol canvas is expressively vacant. “There’s no place for our spiritual eye to penetrate it,” the art historian Neil Printz has said of the work. “We’re just thrown back on the surface.” That’s true, though the effect is more dreadful than that. What made Warhol so perishingly cold was the implication that the “spiritual eye” never existed in the first place. Warhol, one observer put it, “wanted to be Greta Garbo, he wanted to be Marilyn Monroe,” and to better convert himself into an icon, he withdrew behind an affect as lifeless as one of his Marilyn paintings. The deadpan rigmarole was total. It functioned as an anti-elegy. It said that nothing was lost, that nothing of depth or value had been surrendered to the image.

Stephen Metcalf. Is it Warhol who is “expressively vacant”? Or is it the world that he so faithfully represents? Imagine if Warhol, a faithful Ruthenian Catholic, had been born not in Pittsburgh but in the Carpathians two hundred years ago: Would you expect that an artist of his gifts, so culturally placed, would produce “expressively vacant” work?