As a leading figure in the Pop Art movement, Warhol’s central insight was that art could be found in everyday, mass-produced consumer products like soup cans and Brillo boxes. He liberated art from the confines of galleries and high-end boutiques.
Obsessed with celebrity and fame, Warhol today seems like a prophet. He hungered for fame and thought his greatest artistic creation was himself. He anticipated the world of social media, where everyone is a Facebook viral post away from their “15 minutes of fame.”
His influence is the subject of the first significant show of Warhol’s work in Rochester, “Warhol’s Shadow: Minnesota Goes Pop,” which opens Feb. 4 and runs to May 14 at the Rochester Art Center.
The art center will showcase 26 Warhol prints. As part of the exhibition, 11 contemporary Minnesota artists whose work has been influenced by Warhol will be showcased at the event, their work displayed alongside Warhol’s.
The artists create from a wide range of source materials: grocery store chickens, K-Pop, terrorist attack victims’ videos, Mexican advertising, lottery tickets, old LP’s, Red Owl grocery stores, and Darth Vader.
Frank Gaard, a pivotal figure in the Minnesota arts scene and one of the featured artists, said Warhol changed the “vernacular” of the art world, which through the 1940s and 50s was defined by “Abstract Impressionism.”
“(He turned) to the real world, away from the drips and splatters of abstract art, back to the grocery store, back to the mundane, things that were available to all,” Gaard said. “It was really Andy Warhol who inspired a generation of artists to move away from the abstract and toward something that connected with people.”
Today, Warhol is as iconic as the silk-screen prints that helped etch figures like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor into the collective conscious. For someone so quintessentially off-beat and American, his upbringing was far from glamorous.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1928 and raised by working class immigrant parents, Warhol was often bedridden as a child. He drew pictures and collected pictures around his bed, and his mother encouraged his talent by rewarding him with a chocolate bar when he completed a page in his coloring book.
After moving to New York, Warhol became an enormously successful commercial illustrator. But he aspired to become famous and turned to pop art in the 1960s, a new style of art involving the realistic painting of everyday objects. He started by painting Coke bottles, but the fame he sought eluded him until he took the advice of a friend and began to paint the two things he loved the most: Money and soup cans.
His paintings of soupcans shook the art world. The Warhol work shown at the Rochester Art Center belongs to two art series. Both were created in the 1980s and include his Myth Series and Cowboy and Indian Series. They show Warhol’s abiding fascination with celebrity and fantasy. Many of the works will be instantly recognizable to viewers, even if they didn’t know the works came from Warhol.
“He definitely had a love of celebrity, of drama, really dynamic sort of things, but I also think that there’s always a critique as well,” said Abby Gilmore, the RAC’s curatorial and program associate.
Exhibit curator Sheila Dickinson said the exhibit is meant to highlight how contemporary Minnesota artists have been influenced by Warhol and incorporated pop culture into their work.
“I’m going to be honest. I think the Warhols will get people in the door and expose them to what kind art is really being made in Minnesota that engages the culture around them,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson says the Cowboy and Indian series reflected Warhol’s interest in myths related to manifest destiny and popular notions of the Wild West. The show will feature three Native American artists and reveal how they re-appropriated popular images of Native Americans for their own artistic ends.
“It’s kind of using the tactics of Andy Warhol, but also to show how the pop culture kind of takes their culture and appropriates it,” Dickinson said. “And they re-appropriate it back.”
The event kicks off on Feb. 4 with a free family day from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at art center. A concert that conjures Studio 54 – the famous New York hangout of Warhol and others in the 1980s – will also be held.
Local artists will be present. And children will be able to make their own comic books and do their own printmaking in the Pop Art style. A slew of educational programs in connection with the exhibit will serve 12,000 visitors, including students from kindergarten to college. Classes and workshops will be held in the RAC’s new Institute of Creativity and Makers’ Space.
“It’s a great opportunity for families with children of any ages to come and create in this space inspired by the art,” Gilmore said.
Warhol’s Shadow: Minnesota Goes Pop
from Feb. 4 to May 14.
Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Dr., Rochester.
Jim Denomie, Frank Gaard, Maria Cristina Tavera, Ziyang Wu, Rory Wakemup, Krista Kelley Walsh, Star Wallowing Bull, Bianca Pettis, Dylan Redford, Nick Medearis and Katayoun Amjadi.
A free family day will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the Rochester Art Center.
Opening reception will be 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
$15 members, $20 non-members.
Screen print included as well as food and cash bar.
Two bands, Second Story and The Shift, will perform.