Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rethinking Andy Warhol

I recently saw an exhibition of Andy Warhol prints at the Tucson Museum of Art ( that runs through July 3, 2010. Warhol prints are vastly overexposed in popular culture, so even though I have admired the Marilyns and the Elvises and the Campbell’s Soup before, I had low expectations. But I guess I was not as familiar with his work as I thought, and the diversity of work in this exhibit gave me a new respect for the artist.

No photography was allowed so I can barely remember what I saw. Most, or maybe all of the works were from the Bank of America Collection, one of the largest corporate collections in the world. All ten of the Campbell’s soups were there, and I think one Marilyn.

Somehow I had never been aware of the wildflowers, a set of about a dozen prints of four wildflowers at macro range. The color combinations were an essay in human consciousness. It was impossible to pick a favorite.

Then there was a series of prints of Muhammed Ali that I had never seen. They were thoughtful and intimate. There was an odd group of prints that seemed to be a riff on the work of Keith Haring, on the theme of commercial art and the commercialization of society. I didn’t quite get that bunch.

A set of ten large prints called “Endangered Species” was a knockout. Photographs of the ten chosen animals were enhanced with line drawing and color, color, color. Again it was the colors that knocked me out. The representations of the animals are standard and not that interesting, but the color enhancements were the star. Unlike someone like J.M.W. Turner, also a colorist, Warhol doesn’t just show color for the sake of color, he articulates it in contrasts and complements. I just don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to explain what he was doing, but the result is stunning.

There was also a series of images about well-known cultural icons, such as Mickey Mouse, Superman, and Santa Clause. These, I felt, were not only exercises in composition and color, but also carried sociological and political meaning. For example, Mickey Mouse had a glitter background. Superman had a comic-book, line-drawing shadow, and Aunt Jemima was imaginatively done in black on black. This was my favorite series of the show.

There was a biographical video showing which was worthwhile in setting the personal and historical context for Warhol’s work.

Warhol was prolific, and this collection represents only a tiny fraction of his print output, but even so it is diverse enough to give an entirely new perspective.

1 comment:

  1. The "glitter" on the Mickey Mouse is what Warhol called "Diamond Dust". It was not ground diamonds but ground acrylic. He used "Diamond Dust" often on the linework.

    The Aunt Jemima you mention is named "Mammy".