Sharon Lorenzo checks out the Warhol exhibit at The Whitney Museum, New York.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

It has been 31 years since the death of Andy Warhol, and the Whitney Museum’s curator, Donna de Salvo, has mounted an extensive installation devoted to the depth and breadth of his transformative career. Born in Pittsburgh to parents from Slovakia, he attended Carnegie Mellon University and graduated with a degree in design in 1949. After the tragic death of his father from liver cancer, Andy moved to New York City with his mother Julia with whom he lived until his own untimely death in 1987 at age 59 of cardiac arrhythmia. Starting as a graphic designer then emerging as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Warhol is noted for both his content and technological innovations that launched a trajectory of influence on successive generations of contemporary artists working in film, photography, and the graphic arts of all kinds.

Whether it was a record album design or a window installation on Fifth Avenue, Andy was the genius who took us to the next level of looking. From his Brillo box to his soup can, electric chair to coca cola, each product was made into an artistic icon. In this age of artistic appropriation, I wondered if the manufacturers were irritated by the way he helped himself to their designs. Quite the contrary, they were flattered by the appropriation and marveled that their images went from the grocery store to the auction houses. Under our current legal regime, this kind of fair use is allowed because Andy would take the image and add color, shape, line and dimensions, making each one a “transformed new work of art.” This is why Holland Cotter of the New York Times said his work was “ exalted, transcendent and sublime.”[1]

Portrait of Mao Zedong, ( 1893-1976) Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen, 1972.

In this portrait of Mao, we see Warhol at his best, painting a fifteen-foot work, currently in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. He transferred a photo image of the leader onto a lithographic press, then hand painted it with polymer paints, using bright colors to emphasize the image.  Warhol made 28 copies of this work, and one was sold at auction for $12.6 million dollars in March of 2017. (You can buy a paper copy on line from ETSY for $32.00 plus shipping in case you have to have one!)

Warhol befriended Jamie Wyeth, the son of Andrew who was an artist himself in New York and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. They did reciprocal portraits of each other in 1976, an intriguing way to see how Warhol was interpreted by one of his peers.

1976 Andy Warhol, Portrait of Jamie Wyeth
1976 Portrait of Andy Warhol, Jamie Wyeth
1976 Opening at the Coe Kerry Gallery in the Hirschhorn Museum with Wyeth and Warhol

Warhol was openly a member of the gay community in New York but maintained his Catholic faith his whole life. The Whitney show includes a very complex work that Warhol did using a camouflage cover over the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Some have noted that this was a testament to the Aids epidemic and Warhol’s effort to get public support for medical coverage for those affected by same. Reflecting on mortality, it is indeed an irony that Warhol himself died shortly after completing this work.

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper Series, 1986, acrylic and polymer on silkscreen

Whether in the midst of New York City or in the fields of Pennsylvania, Warhol took interest in each piece of flora, fauna and memorabilia that came his way. We will always remember the 1986 iconic cow series that sold like hot cakes at the Leo Castelli gallery where all the “A team” in New York just had to have one in their collection. Warhol left an indelible mark on our world making us look at our art environment in a new way each and every day. There is an entire museum dedicated to his legacy in his home town of Pittsburgh, Pa. with 3000 works of art in that location where they can be seen in annual rotations.

Andy Warhol, Cow Series, 1966, Polymer and Silkscreen on canvas

This exhibition will be traveling to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in May 2019 and then the Art Institute of Chicago in October 2019.

 

The Whitney Museum, New York

November 12, 2018- March 31, 2019

[1] Holland Cotter, Meet Warhol, Again in This Brilliant Whitney Show, The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2018.