Andy Warhol snatched more than a mere fifteen minutes of fame. The man who put the fabulous in his Factory studio and sophistication into soup imagery was as notorious for drama outside the art world as in it. He also made fuzzy the distinction between artist and objet d'art, becoming a work himself by producing underground films, founding Interview magazine and collaborating with the rock group Velvet Underground. Having cheated death after being shot by a disturbed writer, Warhol died abruptly in 1987, at age 58, following gall bladder surgery. Despite the circus atmosphere of his life, his greatest legacy may be that he brought art down from the lofts of the intelligentsia.
"I think what he did was make art accessible to everyone," says Cathy Wright, director and chief curator of the Taylor Museum at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, where folks can bask in the warmth of Warhol's lingering limelight at Andy Warhol's Dream America. The exhibit, which opens with a reception at 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, showcases Warhol's body of work from 1967 to 1986. Popular prints include the mod Marilyns, the mad Maos, the moody Micks, the jaded Jackies, the jaunty JFK and, of course, the quintessential Campbell's Soup can.
"The artwork he's best known for is what the public will get to see," Wright says of the show's more than 100 screen prints. "He presented art to the public in a way that you could look at it and recognize it. Art is in everybody's lives, but you may not know it. It's in your car, it's in your clothes; an artist had to design those things. Warhol made that possible for everyone to understand."
To complement the collection, the FAC has pulled out all the stops, offering a Pop-inspired program guaranteed to plunge patrons into the complete Warhol experience. The psychedelic party plans get groovin' with the opening celebration, then continue on Saturday, September 3, with a talk by exhibit curator Ben Mitchell titled "Between Romance and Revolt: Andy Warhol's Challenge." Starting this month, school groups and families can feed their heads with docent-led tours and Andy-inspired printmaking, painting and mixed-media classes from the Bemis School of Art. Those who like their nostalgia naughtier can shake their booties as they turn the beat around at a season-opening "Studio 54" gala on Saturday, September 10. Former flower children can find other events throughout the run of the exhibit.
"I came to the exhibit not that fully engaged with Warhol," admits Mitchell. "What I came to love is that he was simultaneously a very traditional, even romantic, artist, and a full-blown revolutionary. His work is full of portraits and still-life paintings. The difference is in his wild, garish, bold use of color, and later, his compositional complexity. You can see the development as his works go from real direct and straightforward, like the Marilyns and the Campbell's Soup cans, to refined and subtle -- the Mick Jaggers and, especially, the Diamond Dust shoes. This was a wonderful discovery for me. He was the court painter of his time; rich and famous people beat a path to his door to get their portraits painted."
Mitchell, director of exhibits and programs at the Nicolaysen Art Museum & Discovery Center in Casper, Wyoming, is traveling with the exhibit throughout its Western tour. He says he has watched it attract and move people time and time again.
"He has a power to touch people," Mitchell says. "I discovered that a number of people carry baggage about Warhol. They call it 'junk art.' They say they lived through the era and just can't respect the time when boundaries broke down. But when I can get them in here, they begin to see the sheer power and beauty in the art."
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