Back in 1960, when the Pop Art king predicted that everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame, he was mistaken in one regard--the duration and influence of his own celebrity persona, which has carried on long after his death. Indeed, Andy Warhol, who would have turned 75 last month, is one of the 20th-century's most influential artists, having earned a cult-like status over the last four decades for his Pop Art aesthetic. Taking images from popular culture--Campbell's Soup cans, comic book heroes, advertisements and portraits of celebrities and politicians--Warhol transformed these everyday objects and images into some of the most recognizable icons of the past century.
"Andy Warhol changed the way we see the world around us," said Marc Glimcher of Las Vegas' Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, which is currently hosting the exhibit, "Andy Warhol: The Celebrity Portraits,"through Sept. 7. "From his visual style of brilliant colors and repeated images to his fascination with the public's love of celebrity, Warhol defined the spirit of our times."
Warhol on View
The Warhol exhibit at the Bellagio is but one of a few museum shows currently on view that celebrate the Pop master. Also in Las Vegas, at the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum through Nov. 2, is "American Pop Icons," an exhibit that features 28 works by eight Pop art masters--Warhol, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann.
Meanwhile, back in his hometown, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pa., is presenting a season-long series of events, programs and special exhibitions under the banner "Summer of Andy" to celebrate his 75th birthday, which was August 6. Among them are two photography exhibitions featuring many of Warhol's favorite celebrities and icons including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis. Also on view, through Oct.5, is "The American Supermarket," a reconstruction of the 1964 installation which places plastic foods side-by-side with "real" artwork--paintings, prints, etc., in a supermarket setting, making an ironic comment on commodification, consumption and American identity. Originally conceived and implemented by artist Ben Birillo, the installation features work by Warhol and other Pop artists like Lichtenstein and Wesselmann.
Also on tap at the Warhol Museum is "Warhol and Jackie: Crafting the End of Camelot," which runs Nov. 22 through March 21, 2004. After the assassination of JFK, Warhol produced hundreds of small images of Jackie as the grieving widow. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of JFK's death, the exhibit will feature more than 20 works of art, dozens of historical artifacts, archival records, popular memorabilia and large-scale photographic reproductions.
Back in Las Vegas, the Bellagio's "Andy Warhol: The Celebrity Portraits" features more than 50 paintings and works on paper, with an audio guide narrated by Liza Minnelli, a close friend of Warhol's, who called him "the eyes and ears of a generation."
The main focus of the exhibit is Warhol's obsession with fame and celebrities. The critic Robert Hughes once said Warhol was "a conduit for a sort of collective American state of mind in which celebrity--the famous image of a person, the famous brand name--had completely replaced both sacredness and solidity."
Among the works on view are celebrity portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Deborah Harry, Sylvester Stallone and Michael Jackson. The paintings are on loan from the New York collection of Jose Mugrabi, one of the largest personal collections of Warhol's work. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition features one of the last complete sets of the famed 1967 Marilyn Monroe screen-print portfolio.
Also on view at the Bellagio are some of Warhol's personal objects on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum, including the artists signature wig and eyeglasses, a tape recorder and a Polaroid camera used to take some of his most famous celebrity portraits.
"The exhibit transports the audience to the early days of Pop art, the flourishing New York scene in the 1970s and the heady days and nights of Studio 54," said Andrea Bundonis, president of the Bellagio Gallery.
A Revolutionary Printmaker
The son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Andrew Warhola was born into a working-class family on the eve of the Great Depression in Pittsburgh in 1928. He studied graphic design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology from 1945 to 1949. Upon graduation, he moved to New York where his early career was marked by enormous success as an illustrator for such magazines as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker and Glamour. Soon Warhola, who had shortened his name to Warhol, became one of the most successful and influential commercial artists in New York. His work was exhibited in several venues, including a group show at The Museum of Modern Art in 1956.
Around 1960 he began making paintings based on comic strip characters such as Popeye, Dick Tracy and Superman, influenced by other artists like Lichtenstein. Shortly after, he began appropriating other images from popular culture, such as Campbell's Soup cans, dollar bills and celebrity portraits of Marilyn Monroe.
Warhol's groundbreaking 1962 exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles was noteworthy in that many of his Campbell's Soup can renditions on view were reproduced with the silkscreen process, which at the time was a medium associated more with commercial art than fine art. The assembly-line technique of silkscreening appealed to Warhol for its industrial references and its ease of production; the medium also complemented Warhol's signature style--the repeated image within a picture--quite effectively. Works like the "Marilyn Diptych" (1962), in which the face of Marilyn Monroe is repeated many times across the canvas, reflects Warhol's fascination with film and a culture steeped in image overload and mass production.
Warhol's experimentation with silkscreening, and the printmaking medium in general, had a profound impact on the print world. Not only did he rejuvenate the silkscreening process, but he challenged the art world's perception of what a print can and should be. His contributions are examined in the revised and expanded fourth-edition catalogue raisonne of Warhol's prints, recently published by Distributed Art Publishers. Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonne: 1962-1987 traces Warhol's complete graphic oeuvre from his first unique works on paper in 1962 through his final published portfolio in 1987. More than 1,700 works are illustrated, with new sections focusing on Warhol's popular portraits and a supplement featuring prints and illustrated books from the 1950s.
According to Donna De Salvo in the catalogue, "Warhol's decision to select images from popular culture and combine them with the printing processes of the commercial world was an essential element of his Pop statement ... Printmaking became a mechanical extension of his hand."
Among other things, Warhol used the silkscreen to challenge the notion of uniqueness commonly reserved for painting. Each impression in a print edition was different--thereby erasing the idea that they should all be the same. He also dissolved the distinction between a print and a reproduction, using commonplace reproductive methods like the Xerox machine to make prints. He printed on shopping bags and plexiglass and placed unconventional material like diamond dust on his prints.
Warhol's use of photography with silkscreen enabled him to quickly and cheaply produce a series of images that he could market to the public. These affordable, open-edition prints reflected his vision for a more democratized art--one that was more in tune with his working-class upbringing.
Still, Warhol's fascination with the rich and famous was undeniable. In fact, he aggressively pursued association with some of the most famous entertainers, writers and fashion designers of the 20th-century. In 1969 he co-founded inter/VIEW magazine (later changed to Interview), which featured sensational images and articles on prominent celebrities.
When he wasn't painting or printing, Warhol also worked as a filmmaker, exploring such topics as time, boredom and repetition. His film stills were recently on view in an exhibit, "Andy Warhol: Screen Tests" at the Museum of Modern Art in Queens.
Warhol's tragic death in 1987 following routine gall bladder surgery came as a tremendous shock to the art world. Following his burial in Pittsburgh, a memorial mass held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York attracted more than 2,000 people. Today, long after his prescribed 15 minutes of celebrity, Warhol's contributions to the art world live on in history, in the art market (where his work regularly commands millions of dollars) and in the hearts and minds of many of today's artists and collectors.
* The Andy Warhol Museum, (412) 237-8300
* Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, (702) 693-7851
* Distributed Art Publishers, www.artbook.com
* Guggenheim Las Vegas, (702) 414-2440
BY VANESSA SILBERMAN ABN Associate Editor…