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“Andy Warhol: Portraits” at the Phoenix Art Museum

Andy Warhol

The Phoenix Art Museum is one of my favorite things about this city.  They have some amazing exhibits such as last summers “Hollywood Costume Exhibit,” and their current installation, “Andy Warhol: Portraits” is definitely worthy of a trip downtown.  Featuring artwork spanning Warhol’s childhood and career, the exhibit features pencil sketches, photography, paintings, and of course his famous screen prints.

It’s hard to deny that Warhol is one of the most influential artists of our time and he was at the forefront of what is considered the Pop Art movement.  Artists used everyday objects as inspiration, such as Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can paintings; and mass produced their works making them accessible to just about everyone.

Warhol was fascinated with celebrity and often turned photos of stars and other public figures into brightly colored screen prints, most notable Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy.  On display you will see several of these prints including Sylvester Stallone and Queen Elizabeth II.  As you can imagine, the palace wasn’t too happy with Warhol’s brightly colored images of the “Reigning Queen” in 1985, which was based on an official photograph used for the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee.  Having come around by 2012, the Royal Collection purchased a set of the prints.

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The silkscreen process Warhol pioneered was considered by many not to be “art.”  It creates an assembly line effect offering different color variations, imperfections and irregularities, all of which Warhol liked.  He started with a film strip photograph {in the 70’s and 80’s he moved onto Polariods} which was enlarged by a printer and then transferred onto silkscreen where ink was squeezed through the screen onto the canvas to recreate the photo.

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One of my favorite prints in the exhibit was Dorothy Hamill.  We shared the same haircut for years and I idolized her in the 70’s and early 80’s.  Warhol did her portrait in 1977 as part of his “Athlete Series,” in which he was commissioned to create ten works.  I was happy to see that he wrote in his diary of Hamill, “It was nice to photograph someone really pretty.”

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What would an original Warhol cost?  If you commissioned him in 1984 for two portraits, it would’ve cost you $40,000 {he complained celebrities always wanted them done for free.}  Today, that would be close to $93,000.

There is an installation of Warhol’s reflective Silver Clouds, helium and air-filled metalized balloons, which I couldn’t help but think my daughter would love playing with.  You can also see works from Wahol’s early career as a commercial artist in advertising, as well as several photographs and self-portraits.  It’s hard not to think that Warhol’s fascination with celebrity and self didn’t feed into today’s selfie culture.

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It’s also hard to think that Warhol passed away during routine gallbladder surgery in 1987.  I for one am glad his legacy lives on, and this exhibit is a great tribute to his works.  It’s interesting to see the portraits up close and if you have a chance, you need to check it out.

“Andy Warhol: Portraits” will be on view at Phoenix Art Museum from March 4 to June 21, 2015.  The exhibition was organized by The Andy Warhol Museum, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.  Support was made possible through the generosity of Sue and Bud Selig, JPMorgan Chase & Co., J.P. Morgan Private Bank, Contemporary Forum (a support organization of Phoenix Art Museum), APS, Cohn Financial Group, LLC, Sharron and Delbert R. Lewis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Sharon and Lloyd Powell, Heather and Michael Greenbaum, Cox and The Phoenician.  For additional information about the exhibition please visit phxart.org/exhibition/warholportraits.

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