“If you’re not trying to be real, you don’t have to get it right. That’s art.” – Andy Warhol
This will be my first blog post and foray into an exhibition on — wait for it — MODERN ART, and (gasp!) an exhibit not at the Met!!! The latest blockbuster exhibit to hit New York museums is a retrospective on Andy Warhol at the Whitney Museum of Art! Titled Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, it is the first retrospective exhibition that has been organized by an American museum in nearly thirty years! Even though I am more of a classicist at heart as I studied the “oldies” – what I affectionately call the artists that stretch from the Old Masters to the Impressionists – I do have an interest in modern art! Since most of my knowledge and interest in modern and contemporary art has been self-educated, I thought this exhibit would be an excellent opportunity to delve deeper into the life and works of one of the most recognizable and influential American artists in history.
The exhibition is included with purchase of a museum ticket, and an audio guide is offered at an extra charge which features commentary from Jeff Koons and the exhibition curators. The exhibit spanned not one, not two, but THREE floors of the Whitney, throughout dozens of galleries. Prepare for walking, some stairs, and lots of crowds! I went on a Monday in the middle of the afternoon, and it was packed!
The exhibition begins in Warhol’s early artistic years, after he first moved to New York in 1949. Titled “Warhol before Warhol”, the segment focuses on his work as a successful commercial illustrator through the 1950’s. It was at this time that Warhol recognized the potential of images and photographs that could be changed through manipulation, reproduction, and wide distribution, the exhibit noted. One of the first works in the exhibit, and certainly the most recognizable, are thirty-two prints of the Campbell’s Soup Cans that are on loan from the Modern Museum of Art. I have seen quite a few prints of the Soup Cans that were being displayed separately, but it was so amazing to have seen them all together like this for the first time! The galleries continued with “Hand-Painted Pop” which features drawings and sketches on paper, and “Mechanical Reproduction” – hello Coke bottles!
As the exhibit continued, I found myself in the “Silver Screen” section, which was the section I was most excited to see! Besides the Campbell Soup Cans, his celebrity pop art portraits are probably Warhol’s most recognizable works of art. Works such as Silver Liz, loaned from a private collection, the Marilyn Diptych on loan from the Tate, and my personal favorite: Thirty are Better Than One, a silkscreen print featuring thirty prints of Mona Lisa, can all be found in this segment. Because of the popularity of the works in this section, it was definitely the most photographed; I was lucky to have gotten the solo shots that I did!
Through the next gallery called “Death and Disaster”, displayed are Warhol’s works that focuses on some of the contradictions of 1960’s America. The subject matter takes a dark turn from a colorful Marilyn Monroe in the previous gallery, to images of suicides, car crashes, and acts of police brutality. Included here is Warhol’s portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, which combines three images of the former First Lady, taken from the events that surrounded the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The first was taken just before the shooting, the second during his funeral, and the third as Lyndon Johnson was being sworn in as president. What follows were segments such as “Most Wanted Men” – another favorite of mine from the exhibit, “Ladies and Gentlemen” – a series depicting members of the 1970’s drag and trans community, “Mao” – his pop art version of the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and “Collaborations” which featured two paintings he worked on with up-and-coming artist and Warhol’s personal friend, Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The last section that I visited was from Warhol’s later artistic years during the 1980’s, before his untimely death in 1987. His experimentation with size, abstraction, patterning, and cropping are clear. Featured in the last room of the fifth floor exhibition space are two monumental works of abstraction: the Camouflage Last Supper and Sixty-Three White Mona Lisa’s. They are both over 25 feet wide, and are set on opposing walls in a long and somewhat narrow room. I love whenever artists find inspirations from their predecessors, and Warhol took two of the most iconic and reproduced paintings in history (thank you, Leonardo!) and made his own 20th century depiction of them. As I read, the Camouflage Last Supper was actually metaphor for the the complexities Warhol experienced as a gay man and a practicing Byzantine Catholic, whose religious practice was actually not fully revealed until after his death.
Other segments featured in the exhibit were “Filmmaking”, “Installations”, “Portraits”, and “Andy Warhol Enterprises”. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see every part of the exhibit because we ran late getting there, and the museum started to close by the time we were finishing with the third floor. But, I have plenty of time to go back and finish the exhibit, at which time I promise to update this section!!
I would definitely recommend any and ALL of my family members, friends, and amazing followers to see this exhibit! As someone who has studied artists and paintings that are much older in history, it was so interesting to have seen a retrospective on an artist whose fame and influence can compare with an artist like an Impressionist! I thought the exhibit was wonderfully curated (I’m always a fan of a chronological exhibit), and it was so wonderful to have learned about Andy Warhol the man, and to learn more about Andy Warhol the artist.