‘Andy Warhol: Revelation’: Warhol, the most mundane artist, faces his demons | Culture

The world, the devil and the flesh come together in an exhibition that the Brooklyn Museum dedicates to Andy Warhol (1928-1987) until next June. Andy Warhol: Revelation traces a journey through the work of the pop artist in a new and essential light: his relationship with religion, as a practicing Byzantine Catholic, and the tension between the daily practice of the faith and his declared status as gay; between his spirituality and the uncomplexed exhibitionism that made him a character in the cultural life of New York in the seventies and eighties, a playful swan song before AIDS.

A hundred pieces, with famous works such as his recreation of The Last Supper by Leonardo and unpublished documentary material – photos of a papal audience to the artist and his manager in 1980, his baptismal certificate or the film The Chelsea Girls– they review the fertile contradictions, the demons, that fed his work, so vibrant and, in the light of these revelations, so profound. An unprecedented facet of its publicized existence.

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, photographed in New York in September 1985.
Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, photographed in New York in September 1985.AP

Coming mostly from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the works collected, which will definitively stop at the New York museum, illustrate well the trinity of enemies of the soul that the young Warhol, raised in an Eastern Rite Catholic family, originally from present-day Slovakia, He learned from his mother, with whom he lived in New York and to whose side he returned, after rushing nights of excess in her studio, The Factory, to pray every morning.

The influence of Julia Warhol, an amateur painter, would be transfigured, sublimated, in the series of madonnas that the artist tried to paint. The sexuality of the models, nursing their children, made Warhol abandon the attempt, after about thirty sketches. It was commissioned by a New York agency, and the mothers were professional models, their own children hanging from their breasts – a vision so unvirginal that it disturbed the artist.

The world, the devil and the flesh represent, in the sample, the leitmotiv identity of an artist in appearance, or also, frivolous and effervescent; the trinity of drives that defined its existence. The world: Crowd (Multitude), serigraph on linen from 1963, recreates the crowd concentrated on the esplanade of San Pedro, waiting for a papal blessing. Warhol adapted a press photograph from 1955 that reflected an overflowing human mass of between 300,000 and 500,000 people, fervently longing for the sign of the cross.

Andy Warhol digital self-portrait, created on a Commodore computer in 1985.
Andy Warhol digital self-portrait, created on a Commodore computer in 1985.© Christie’s Images Limited 2021

The demon: two posters using the advertising typography of the time, with the captions “Heaven and Hell are only a breath away” and “666, the mark of the Beast.” Or the illustrated boxing bags, in collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat, which hang in one of the rooms as a trigger: as a way to face temptation. Most of the 200 or so collaborations by Basquiat, also raised in Catholicism, and Warhol were smashed by critics, and these punching bags, a recurring theme in Haitian painting, were the worst stops.

The meat: a photograph of Warhol himself, taken by Richard Avedon in 1969, showing his body sewn into seams, a year after the assassination attempt perpetrated by the writer Valerie Solanas. It is a reflection of the canonical representation of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, pierced by arrows, a motif that is frequently associated with LGTBQ + imagery. In the photo, Warhol is vulnerable, the palpable expression of pain that was not going to leave him until the end of his days.

“Warhol both boasted and overshadowed his religion and his sexuality, and this duality is explored in the exhibition, along with the tug of war between sincerity and superficiality, revelation and concealment, tradition and avant-garde,” explains Carmen Hermo, curator of the Museum from Brooklyn. “This exhibition gives the public the opportunity to undo some of those moving –and so human– contradictions, which functioned as the engine of his artistic production.”

The tradition, revisited, also had a place in Warhol’s life and career: the jewel in the show is the pink version of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, from 1986, which occupies the central room. Inspired by the Renaissance mural in Milan, Warhol made a hundred paintings, collages and serigraphs that convey all the closeness between Jesus and the apostles, a physical closeness that he avoided in the late eighties, when AIDS began to take away his friends. He also adapted the classic baroque motif from the memento mori (remember that you will die, in Latin), with rabidly modern paintings, such as the Self portrait with skull, an acrylic from 1978, or the series titled Calaveras.

Andy Warhol and the decorator Jed Johnson, who was his lover, portrayed at the Metropolitan in New York, in 1985.
Andy Warhol and the decorator Jed Johnson, who was his lover, portrayed at the Metropolitan in New York, in 1985.Getty

In the exhibition, articulated by themes, there is a lot of transubstantiation of the figure of Warhol. A study by Jessica Beck, curator of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, her hometown, confirms the anxiety that the assumption of corporeality generated in the artist, but also the yearning for physical perfection and strength, as well as the train crash between his faith and his sexual orientation in times of the AIDS crisis, a disease that was then judged in moralizing terms – an added martyrdom for the religious Warhol – and which the artist, and his circle of friends, were horrified by.

While burning the New York nights, the most secret Warhol regularly attended three different parishes in Manhattan to comply with the precepts of his religion. None of them were of the Byzantine Catholic denomination, one of the 23 existing Eastern Catholic churches. But his funeral in Pittsburgh, where he was buried with his parents, were celebrated according to that liturgy, days before a massive funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, which was a parade of stars, as the documentary material recalls. gathered. “Those of you who knew him in circumstances that were the antithesis of the spiritual would be surprised to learn that this dimension existed. But it existed, and it was key to the artist’s psyche, ”said one of the most mundane artist’s friends of the 20th century at the funeral.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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