Protests have become a global trend. So says the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But activism isn’t always a threat. Rebellion has long been the story of great painting. (I’ll get back to this).

But, sad to say, there are artists whose subversions abuse the privilege. I’m thinking of the celebrated renegade of the 60s, Andy Warhol. He made the news last week when Heritage Auctions sold his Pop Art version of Sandro Botticelli’s 15th-century painting “Birth of Venus” – an insurgency if there ever was one - for $325,000.

His reason why

Heritage Auctions’ website crowed that when Warhol put his Pop Art spin on Botticelli’s painting, he “re-contextualized the classical image for contemporary audiences.”

Why was that necessary?

In 2018, the Uffizi Museum - home to “Birth of Venus” - reported strong visitor reactions to the work, including racing hearts and loss of consciousness.

ArtDaily, reporting the sale at Heritage Auctions, classed Warhol’s work as “The King of Pop Art’s indelible interpretation.” But his interpretation is nothing to brag about. Warhol turned her into a dippy, glitzy movie starlet with dye-streaked hair and a blank television stare by modernizing the mythic goddess's classic look.

Warhol missed Botticelli’s point about Venus’ state of mind as she headed to Earth. You can see her wistful, sad awareness that her arrival is an impossible dream. Her very lightness of being adds to the dream-like air.

And while her birth is a pagan tale, Botticelli’s image has a holy purity, made apparent in the pale light of morning yet untouched by daily life on earth.

Protest of a second kind

Of course, Botticelli was a rebel, too, for putting thoughts and feelings back into artmaking taken out in the Middle Ages. The mindless look of Venus in Warhol’s print makes clear that when he saw Botticelli bringing back the humanist values of ancient Greece, where even the gods were rendered in the image of man, he said to hell with it.

I rush to say that Pop Art had its place in the ‘60s when it rebelled against the messy inwardness of Abstract Expressionism. It was no accident that Warhol used silkscreen to reproduce imagery repeatedly for the most stale, impersonal look.

Warhol said it himself, using words cited in the 2018 Book “Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again” by Donna De Salvo.

He wanted to be a “machine - blank and cold.” Talk like that has me pining for the Zen-like calligraphy of Robert Motherwell, who pioneered Abstract Expressionism.

Where’s Munch’s 'Scream' when you need it?

Motherwell was my teacher, so I'm probably biased, but looking at Warhol’s “Birth of Venus” makes me long for the wide range of emotions that the Abstract Expressionist’s work imparts. Pop Art’s slick shallowness is enough to send those of us who normally shrink from the emotional excesses of Expressionism running straight for it - for relief.