Finding Warhol in ‘After and Before’
The centerpiece of the Aspen Art Museum show balances the facts, the art and the icon of Andy Warhol
What: ‘Andy Warhol: Lifetimes’
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through March 27
How much: Free
More info: aspenartmuseum.org
Depending on which entrance you use to enter the “After and Before” section of the Aspen Art Museum’s winter-long Andy Warhol survey, you’ll either start the experience with a display of the most familiar stories of the artist at the height of his fame or, at the other door, a display about his lesser known roots as the son of immigrants and his origins as Andy Warhola.
From either angle, the dual entrance points lead to some of Warhol’s most important artworks and a dense, deep exploration of many sides of Warhol the man. And “After and Before,” the centerpiece of the Aspen show, shows viewers why Warhol’s biography matters to the work and the culture he reshaped.
“Borne of history in real time, Warhol conjured America’s changing self-concept through ubiquitous forms of mass media – ultimately reconfiguring our comprehension of American history and culture through his critical gaze,” the exhibition text reads.
This second-floor gallery gives viewers the chance to see the great Pop Art works from the first half of the 1960s – his “Marilyn Diptych,” “Two Marilyns” “Jackie Frieze,” “Flowers,” “Elvis 1 and 2” “100 Campbell’s Soup Cans.” But this is not a greatest hits gallery.
Here you can read, under glass, magazine clips from Warhol’s heights of fame, newspapers reports on when he was shot and see gallery posters and books, photos and videos of Warhol as the avatar of cool. You can also delve into a display cases of archival materials that illuminate Warhol’s early life as a sickly kid, working through coloring books during long periods home from elementary school, cutting up movie magazines into scrapbooks and teaching himself a new visual language. Many will be surprised to learn that, during that period of supreme cool and fame, Warhol lived with his mother as an adult, from 1951 to 1972 even as he was defining contemporary art and defining Pop Art (his collaborations with his mother get their own fascinating small section of the exhibition).
The dual entrances offer us new ways of seeing Warhol. Curated by artist Monica Majoli with Aspen Art Museum director Nicola Lees and assistant curator Simone Krug, “After and Before” is then broken up into sections shining light on Warhol the adman and the icon.
You can see the line drawings he made of shoes and clothing for magazine ads and that first drew him notice as an image-maker and you can dig into how he invented the public image of Andy Warhol, the wigged and blank-faced business artist, a “shallow, detached vampiric cipher” who ended up being a pitchman for products himself. The public image apparently had little resemblance to the private Warhol.
“The artist’s self-objectification was entirely in service of his work,” the exhibition text argues, “ultimately encompassing his expansive vision within a cryptic, instantly familiar image that reflected on his production.”
The back wall section includes a wall covered in Warhol’s Interview magazines covering 1980 to 1987 and a display case of Polaroid photos including a menagerie of celebrities from the period – everybody from the Rolling Stones and O.J. Simpson to William S. Burroughs, Georgia O’Keeffe and Juan Hamilton. Make a few laps in this rich combination of art and archival material and you can’t help but connect the work of Warhol the icon to that kid scrapbooking in his sickbed.
Read more of the Aspen Times coverage of this winter’s exhibitions and Andy Warhol’s history in Aspen, look for more throughout the winter:
* “In Aspen with Andy Warhol,” Dec. 2, Aspen Times Weekly
* “Warhol exhibition begins winter-long run at Aspen Art Museum,” Dec. 4, The Aspen Times
* “Why another Warhol show?” Dec. 9, Aspen Times Weekly