Feature

Exhibit of the week: Warhol

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s new ­exhibition introduces the paintings of Andy Warhol's later years, works that were rarely shown during his lifetime.

Milwaukee Art Museum Through Jan. 3, 2010

“When most people think of Andy Warhol, his 1960s pop art springs to mind,” said Carrie Antlfinger in the Associated Press. His name summons images of “brightly colored Campbell’s Soup cans or portraits­ of Marilyn Monroe.” Once Warhol became famous, though, he abandoned painting for other mediums, and transformed himself into a film and television personality. “But Warhol hated to be pigeonholed,” and in the last decade of his life, he returned to painting as never before. Experimenting with techniques and tackling “subjects like death and religion,” he created canvases that bristle with suggestions of decay. Interestingly, few of these works were actually exhibited ­during Warhol’s life—“possibly because they didn’t fit with his public persona.”

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s new ­exhibition “is the first in the United States to introduce the public to Warhol’s later years,” said Katjusa Cisar in the Madison, Wis., Capital Times. Though Warhol often pretended to be shallow, “his art suggests a man in the midst of a rigorous examination of life.” The first works, ­created around his 50th birthday, in 1978, are self-portraits. A few peculiar abstract paintings were made using metallic paints, sometimes sprinkled with urine to help the oxidation process along. Later canvases were collaborations with younger colleagues, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente. And “in his final years, Warhol’s Catholic faith emerges in his work.” The Last Supper appropriates Leonardo da Vinci’s famous tableau, “with giant commercial symbols superimposed above the head of Christ and his disciples: General Electric, Dove soap, and a 59-cent price tag.”

I don’t buy that Warhol started making religious art in middle age, said Mary Louise Schumacher in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His Last Supper is just another example of his long-standing fascination with iconic figures such as Marilyn, Mao, and Christ. In any case, the painting—like most of his late work—isn’t among his best. Too many pieces here are either “mildly decorative and saccharine” or derivative of Warhol’s own previous works. The big exception: His self-portraits, in which “Warhol’s ghostly visage materializes from an inky darkness or a saturated, hot red.” Warhol seemed uncomfortable with his status as a public figure every bit as iconic as his idols: He presented his own face as a kind of Day-Glo skull, “a sort of symbolic still life about death—or as a commercial brand, stamped out over and over again.”

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