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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Walker displays Warhol

By Rob Martin
Arts Editor

Friday, November 18, 2005

If Paris Hilton died this afternoon, the media and the American public would be in more of a tizzy than a hive attacked by a bear. American obsession with celebrity is second only to American obsession with disaster. Marilyn, Jackie and Elvis, three people so famous they need only one name, made their fame as celebrities, but made their infamy as disasters.

When the Walker Art Center decided to do a history show, Curator Douglas Fogle remembered his fascination as a child with the paintings of Andy Warhol. "I knew I wanted to do Warhol, but I didn’t know how," Fogle said. "I decided to focus in on just a sliver of his life where he printed using silkscreen."

Warhol transcended the art world and entered into pop-culture himself with his images. He captured celebrities for what they are: cultural icons. Now, postmortem, Warhol himself has become a pop-culture icon.

The show’s full title, “Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters, 1962-1964” would seem to minimize the enormous breadth of Warhol’s work. However, its narrow focus pinpoints Warhol’s great significance as an observer of society that cannot have heroes without disasters.

During the early 1960s, Warhol put down the paintbrush and began making silkscreen prints. This process allows for the mass production of an image.

"You have to think: Marilyn was fabricated, just like these painings." Fogle said. The use of the silkscreen does not distract from the artistic merit of the work, Fogle argued, "Each time the squeegee goes over the machine, an event happens."

The 26 painting show spans four gallery spaces, each space thoughtfully arranged. The first gallery houses the Jackies and the Marilyns. The infamous "Turquoise Marilyn" with stark yellow hair, cherry-red lips and the turquoise eye-shadow faces a multi-paneled Marilyn work on the opposite wall. The Marilyns are forced to narcissiticly look at each other – the media is also forced to reflect back on itself through the work of Warhol.

Other galleries house images of car crashes, gangsters, race riots, the electric chair and, of course, Elvis.

Aside from the use of silkscreen printing, there is another element that binds the collection together. "My thesis for this show is that everything in this show is a disaster" Fogle said.

From the tragic deaths of Marilyn and Elvis to the disturbing shots of car crash victims, the paintings are all symbols of failures in American life. We love stars; they die. We love cars; they kill us.

The four image (two color, two silver) Elvis I & II is the commanding presence of its gallery space (he’s holding eight guns after all). Through the doorway to the adjacent gallery are images of police dogs attacking civil rights protestors. Elvis, dressed spaghetti western, seems to be firing on the police and protestors. The clever positioning demands contemplation of the interplay between media culture and politics.

Andy Warhol claimed, however, to have never attempted political or social commentary in his artwork. While we can read anything we want into his art now, he was, nonetheless, more than just a man of his times. He acted as a barometer of the emerging image culture of the early 1960s.

Kathy Halbreich, director of the Walker Art Center, said, "There was no need for Warhol to reinvent these images; just to reinvent how we see them."

The show’s title, "Supernova: Stars, Death and Disasters," could not be more appropriate. How could anyone not be amazed by the brilliant death of a colossal star?

Even the etymology of the word disaster (ill-starred) further connects the tightly packaged theme and presentation of the exhibition. As for the show itself, while it’s certainly not a disaster: it is a sight to behold.

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