Andy Warhol comes to Jozi

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe

The Wits Art Museum (WAM) in Johannesburg is hosting an exhibition of the work of iconic gay artist Andy Warhol, one of the most influential figures in pop culture, from 27 July to 8 October.

The Warhol Unscreened exhibition comprises over 80 of the American artist’s major screen prints including Flowers, Endangered Species, Campbell’s Soup Cans, Muhammed Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and Superman.

In addition, Warhol’s celebrated Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers record album, a selection of Interview magazine covers, and the renowned Birmingham Race Riot image will be on exhibition.

While WAM’s collections and mission revolve primarily around African art, the museum embraced this exhibition for the unprecedented opportunity to provide access to the work of one of 20th Century Western art’s most important, ground-shifting and anti-establishment artists.

Warhol collapsed the boundaries between high art and popular culture, and art and business, laying the groundwork for subsequent generations of artists. He was also one of the first to bring silkscreen printing, traditionally used in advertising, into the domain of fine art, making it considerably more accessible.

Warhol was a highly enigmatic character who understood the power of the media to confer celebrity status, or deaden human empathy for disturbing images, and fully exploited this power to build his own personal brand. This supported his lofty ambitions for an artistic career that took him from the run-down tenements of post-World War II Pittsburgh to the glossy high society and counter-culture of New York in the 1960s.

When the artist presented such disparate subjects as soup cans, 20th century icons such as Muhammed Ali and Marilyn Monroe, and endangered animal species in a similarly simplified, flattened, colour-drenched and close-up view, he seemed to be conferring equal status on them all. Evoking commodities on the supermarket shelf, he simultaneously participated in, and critiqued, aspects of 20th century western, industrial culture.

Warhol was also a pioneer of the multi-media music performance and his films were ground-breaking in the documentation of the banality of personal activity.

All these ideas have great relevance in today’s social, online and traditional media- where gossip magazines and reality TV dominate, and within a culture that understands the world primarily through images which we simultaneously consume, create and disseminate.

The Warhol pieces on show are from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection. The exhibition will be accompanied by an exciting public education programme that includes events on First Thursdays, Talkabouts for adults, and families, and art-making opportunities.

The Wits Art Museum is located at University Cnr, Cnr Bertha and Jorissen St, Braamfontein. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00. Entry is free.

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