When the name Andy Warhol is brought up, an image of creaky white pale skin and a trademark bowl cut may first be radiated. After second thought, maybe bright colors, soup cans, Studio 54, and mass media art strikes a chord. Well if none of these sound familiar; now is the time to become acclimated to this American icon and institute.
The Fleming Museum on the University of Vermont campus explores the art, life, and times of Andy Warhol in mediums a majority of the public hasn’t has the privilege of seeing…until now in the exhibit Andy Warhol Work and Play. A fascinating creative subject who engulfed the public with work that broke the fine line between fine art and popular culture; Warhol’s work represents a hip and refreshing attitude to celebrate the continual reexamining of popular media culture. He managed to somehow be cynical with his work while spicing it up with a pinch of fascination and celebration.
This unique exhibition began with a generous contribution by Jon Kilik, a UVM alumnus and film producer in New York, who loaned his collection to the Museum. From that point, the Fleming expanded its exhibit with works on loan from public and private accounts in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Just the thought of an art enthusiast having an original Warhol hanging in their home, will make you look at mass reproduced images in your home like Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night or Munch’s The Scream as exciting as your cat’s litter box.
Andy Warhol Work and Play presents paintings, prints, and drawings dating from 1948 to 1984. While viewing the exhibit, I was almost expecting to see the Velvet Underground play. It was Warhol, who designed their cover album and produced the recording for their noteworthy album The Velvet Underground and Nico. The opening reception had art rock playing in the atrium from the artsy creations of David Bowie and Lou Reed, with a Marilyn Monroe look alike gracefully strutting around the exhibits for special effect and provoking quick head turns from the men in attendance.
The majority of the work was displayed in a room that exhibited Warhol’s work from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. His earliest work was in the form of more universal watercolors and drawings, through offset lithography in the book form, such as the exhibited Love is a Pink Cake. A glass case revealing some of his various early work from his lifetime including splashy invitations, cool publicity pieces, eye-catching posters, and diverse book covers which all had the visitors lined up. Included in the case is the collectors poster from the one-time West Coast appearance of Warhol with the Velvet Underground. His work on display from his early creative period were mainly small in scale and impact, which leads to his larger form 60’s work and the birth of the Pop Art Movement.
Color dominated works like Jackie and Marilyn both immediately jump out at you. Not for their bright colors, but for their distinct darker hues that incorporate a “mask” of the larger than life public figures: Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn is a part of a series of this tragic and public star, a theme Warhol would incorporate into the majority of his work from this period, as he attempted to further publicize his fascination with celebrity, glamour, and suicide. By using repetition as form of communication, he began to compose some of his most famous works on screen print and canvas. Cow from 1971, on its own wall in the Musuem took the use of multiple images to new territory. Perhaps Warhol’s most noteworthy piece, CampbellsSoup, which brought full circle his movement of celebrating and criticizing consumer culture. As he said in “POPism” in 1980,” Once you got Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.”
The back wall of the exhibit room is lined with 10 prints that make up Warhol’s 1971 Electric Chair screen print. These images alone are well worth the price of admission and a drive to Vermont in the dead cold of winter. One picture of an electric chair from the Sing Sung prison used in the historical execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, both guilty of espionage against the US. Each print is splashed in a dramatic offbeat color; intensifying the beauty of an image we would otherwise find revolting and disturbing.
Warhol’s 70’s work at the Fleming were mainly commissioned portraits of society, based upon Polaroids he styled and captured. Mick Jagger and four canvases from his Ladies and Gentlemen series from 1975, provoke a trademark color and design that could most clearly be described as a brand name, Warhol. Hand drawn embellishments and visible brush marks intensified his images, that later became “Interview” magazine’s (published by Warhol in the 70s and 80s) creative cover concept, and bridged the New York club subculture scene, he was such an active part of.
Beyond what hangs on the wall, the Fleming Museum has done a superb job of letting the visitor into the personal life and career of Warhol. There are a series of self portraits that allow us to view the artist in ways only he himself could imagine: dressed in drag, impersonating a choking stunt, and capturing himself into frames of repetition. There are rare documentary materials that together reflect the range of Warhol’s activities, his artistic process, and his perceptive view of American culture. There are extensive programming that coerce with the exhibit including films by and about Warhol, readings by poets in Warhol’s circle in the early 1960s, lectures about the artist and his time, a screen printing workshop, and kids’s vacation camps. The exhibit runs through June 8, 2003 and is well worth the visit, as you will leave with a comprehensive appreciation of what Andy Warhol meant to the art world and American culture. Who knows, you might later find yourself transforming your favorite photograph into something off the wall. For more information please visit www.warholatthefleming.org.