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Andy Warhol: Pop Politics

September 27, 2008 - January 4, 2009


Andy Warhol -- one of the most influential American artists of the twentieth century -- captured the likeness of some of the most visionary and powerful political leaders of the 20th century. Images of John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II, and Mao Zedong, among others will hang side-by-side when the Currier Museum of Art presents Andy Warhol: Pop Politics from September 27, 2008 through January 4, 2009.

Pop Politics displays together for the first time more than sixty of Warhol's paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs of political figures. His portraits of American presidents and presidential candidates, queens, Communist dictators, and other political figures reveal intriguing, yet until now unexplored insights into Warhol's own celebrity status and political leanings. Warhol's images of these powerful personalities comment on the interrelationships between politics and celebrity culture in the late twentieth century -- connections that remain ever present today. Timed to coincide with the 2008 presidential election, this exhibition offers a probing and entertaining look through the eyes of America's most famous Pop artist at the leaders who shaped the twentieth century.

Warhol (1928-1987) rose to fame in the 1960s and became synonymous with Pop art and American culture of the period. He played upon the increased bombardment of advertising and media images to develop a signature style that employed commercial subjects rendered in bold, graphic designs and colors using mass production processes. In capturing the rebellious spirit of the time through his work and personality, Warhol created a body of work that transformed our understanding of art by blurring the boundaries between art and popular culture and shaped a new aesthetic that came to symbolize the counterculture. His now iconic work has influenced subsequent generations of artists and continues to resonate with audiences today, both young and old.

Building upon a long history of political portraiture dating back to Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors, and European monarchs, Warhol pictured twentieth-century politicians in his graphic style which likened them to commercial products like Campbell's soup and Coca-Cola. In so doing, Warhol connected his images of these leaders to America's fascination and consumption of all aspects of contemporary culture. His portraits are not just records of the individuals; they also position the leaders within the context of cultural taste and political values.

A dedicated portraitist, Warhol captured the likeness of an astonishing number of individuals including those of friends, artists, actors, athletes, and world leaders. His depictions of John F. Kennedy, Mao Zedong, Queen Elizabeth II, and others were derived from widely circulated official or media photographs. Warhol's appropriation of these stock images signaled his interest in how political leaders ascended to celebrity status as a result of their constant representation in the media.

The exhibition highlights Warhol's fascination with America's "royal family" -- the Kennedys -- through his images of President John F. and Jackie Kennedy and Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy. Struck by the media coverage of President Kennedy's assassination, Warhol created a series of works based on news images of Jackie, both as glamorous First Lady and as grieving wife. Seven of these paintings will be shown alongside rare preparatory studies. The exhibition features a recent Currier acquisition: Flash - November 22, 1963. Produced five years after the assassination and exhibited now at the forty-fifth anniversary of the tragic event, this print portfolio includes eleven screenprints based on related news images including the book depository, Lee Harvey Oswald, and President Kennedy's campaign poster -- making it the only work by Warhol to depict the President. It also reproduces the teletype text from the four days between the President's assassination and funeral, with the sheets bound like a book. Accompanied by archival materials and unique trial proofs related to this project, another major highlight is a one-of-a-kind, never-before exhibited screenprint of Senator Robert Kennedy that Warhol did not include in the final edition of the Flash portfolio. Also featured are excerpts from a 1965 reenactment of the assassination filmed in Warhol's New York City loft known as The Factory. These works are shown for the first time alongside Warhol's 1980 portraits of Senator Edward Kennedy.

In addition to selecting certain leaders as his subjects, Warhol was also commissioned by political hopefuls such as Edward Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Their patronage of Warhol was intended to help position them as contemporary and progressive. That these projects -- like his print "Vote McGovern" featuring a green-faced Richard Nixon created to support George McGovern's presidential campaign against the incumbent -- were produced to raise funds for candidates' presidential campaigns, illuminates an active, even if veiled, political agenda by Warhol, who claimed he only voted once. Warhol's elevated status in American society also gave him entrée into the world of politics including invitations to governors' mansions and state dinners at the White House. The exhibition highlights these portrait commissions through photographs, drawings, prints, and paintings of each subject.

Central to the exhibition's focus is Warhol's process for creating his portraits. The artist was more directly involved with his portrait commissions than with any other works. Rather than manipulating images he found in mass media outlets, Warhol began his commissions by taking dozens of Polaroid images of his subject. After selecting one or more of these photographs, Warhol transformed the sitter's likeness into his signature style, often first producing drawings and then prints and paintings. This exhibition presents these Polaroids alongside related works of a single subject, capturing Warhol's process as well as the repetition of images that became a hallmark of his work This repeated image is further underscored with the inclusion of a large section of Mao wallpaper that the artist created for a gallery presentation of his work in 1974.

Ever the multimedia artist, Warhol also produced and directed films and created his own television shows. These projects helped shape his presence in American culture. The exhibition also includes excerpts from several of Warhol's film and television programs that include political content: Since (1965), The Life of Juanita Castro (1965), Afternoon (1965), and an episode of Andy Warhol's TV featuring an interview with New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1983).

Throughout the exhibition, works are accompanied by rarely seen archival materials from Warhol's "time capsules." Beginning in 1974, Warhol collected papers, photographs, correspondence, business records, and other objects in cardboard boxes, amassing over six hundred boxes by his death. Highlights relating to the exhibition include a solicitation from President-Elect Nixon for recommendations for his administration, an invitation to Nixon's inauguration, a signed letter from Senator Robert Kennedy expressing his thanks for Warhol's support, and a handwritten note from First Lady Nancy Reagan. These materials yield new insights into Warhol's connection to the political celebrities he portrayed and how those relationships extended beyond his portraits of them.

Andy Warhol: Pop Politics will be accompanied by a full schedule of educational programming including:

An Image in the Making
Monday, October 20, 7 pm
New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College
Political reporter and Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Jennifer Donahue, will moderate a Saint Anselm College-faculty panel as they discuss political image-making and the bearing it has on presidential elections. Sharon Matt Atkins, curator of Andy Warhol: Pop Politics, will begin the discussion with a brief presentation about the exhibition.
Andy Warhol's Pop Politics
Sunday, October 26, 2 pm, Auditorium
Get the inside scoop from Sharon Matt Atkins, curator of Andy Warhol: Pop Politics, as she talks about the artworks on view in this special exhibition within the context of Warhol's career and political views.
From Pharaohs to Presidents: Art and Politics
Sunday, November 9, 2 pm, Auditorium
Associate Curator Kurt Sundstrom will provide a broad context for the special exhibition Andy Warhol: Pop Politics by discussing how political leaders have been depicted throughout the history of art.
Campaigning with Pop Art
Thursday, November 20, 4:30 pm, Auditorium
In collaboration with the New Hampshire Political Library, a guest speaker will discuss political campaigns of the late 20th century and draw connections to the works on view in Andy Warhol: Pop Politics. Exhibition curator Sharon Matt Atkins will introduce the program with a brief presentation on Warhol's Flash - November 22, 1963, a print project commemorating the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Andy Warhol: Pop Politics is organized by the Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH.


About Warhol

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928. He studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh from 1945 to 1949, before moving to New York and working as a commercial artist and illustrator. In the 1960s, he rose to fame as a central figure in the Pop art movement. Responding to images from popular culture -- particularly advertisements -- Warhol began creating works that first shocked audiences by their similarity to commercial images. He accented this comparison by adopting technical processes used by professional printers. He further distanced himself from the physical production of the work by employing the help of studio assistants at his New York City loft called The Factory. His most famous works include series of images of Marilyn Monroe, Campbell's soup cans, and Coca-Cola bottles.

In 1965, Warhol announced his retirement from painting to focus on filmmaking. However, he later continued to paint and produce monumental print editions. He also collaborated with The Velvet Underground rock band to produce multimedia events with light and film projections. On June 3, 1968, Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanis, founder and sole member of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men). In 1969 he began publishing Interview magazine. In the 1970s, Warhol increasingly focused on portrait commissions, capturing the likeness of celebrities, politicians, and high society elite. Warhol also created three cable television series, including Andy Warhol's T.V. (1980-83) and Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes for MTV (1985-87). Warhol died in 1987 following a routine gallbladder operation. A lifelong devout Catholic, a memorial service was held in his memory at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and attended by more than 2000 people. In 1994, The Andy Warhol Museum was founded in Pittsburgh and now houses an extensive collection of his works and archives.


RL editor's note: readers may also enjoy:

TFAO's Topics in American Representational Art provides resources on the Pop Art movement.

See from other websites, an essay on the artist by Lynne Cooke provided by the Dia Art Foundation, and


This book:

Andy Warhol, By Carter Ratcliff, Published 1991, ISBN: 978-1-55859-257-5. (online book excerpt available from Abbeville Press) (right: catalogue front cover courtesy Abbeville Press)


TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Absolut Warhola. This documentary explores Andy Warhol's Eastern European roots by travelling to Mikova, Slovakia, where his parents grew up, and interviewing members of his extended family: two cousins, two aunts, and a great-niece. Also interviewed are a Ruthenian Andy Warhol impersonator, and Dr. Michal Bycko, curator of the Andy Warhol museum in Medzilaborce, Slovakia, who discusses the museum's mission and shows some of its rarer pieces. Directed and written by Stanislaw Mucha. c2001. 80 min. DVD 2348. Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley. Title Note from Tower Video: "This lighthearted documentary traces the humble origins of artist and pop icon Andy Warhol back to two small, quiet villages in Eastern Europe. There, director Stanislaw Mucha interviews subjects ranging from Warhol's relatives to the curator of Warhola Museum, who seems to have much different criteria for choosing which works to display than a western counterpart would. Mucha finds that the common thread running through all of these people is that, even though they may not fully understand what brought their most famous son such worldwide acclaim, they are proud that one of their own has achieved such dizzy heights." (9/5/08 note: Google Video contains several clips from this video. Clips with 26 minutes of total footage in Slovak language with Dutch subtitling are available in 4 parts)

Andy Warhol is a 77 minute 1987 video which was the first major profile of the American Pop-Art cult leader since his death in 1987. It covers Warhol's life and work through interviews, film clips and conversations with members of his family and his "superstar" friends. Featured are conversations with a dozen of his closest associates -- including Ondlne, Viva, John Giorno, Brlgid Berlin and others -- discussing his family, colleagues, the art world, and his impact on society.The video was produced by RM Arts; London Weekend Television.

Andy Warhol: A Documentary (from American Masters). PBS says about this 240 minutes 2006 PBS Home Video DVD filmed in 16 x 9 aspect ratio: "Winner of the Peabody Award! No artist in the second half of the 20th century was more famous, or misunderstood, than Andy Warhol. This film explores his astonishing output from the late 1940s to his death in 1987. Obsessed with the desire to transcend his origins, Warhol grasped the realities of modern society and became the high priest of one of the most radical experiments in American culture, penetrating the barrier between art and commerce."

Andy Warhol: Life And Death is contained on two DVD discs totaling 81 minues. PBS says of this 2004 video: "Brilliant, complex artist, eccentric individual, tragic commercial and critical success. The mysterious Andy Warhol was all these, and more. But how much else was there to know? Life and Death probes the surreal man behind the surface, and the blurred reality he perceived, in a fascinating documentary style, part whispered fiction, part spoken opera, all reality,"

Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture was released in 2003 and is a 105 minute documentary on 2 tapes from Bfs Entertainment. Directed by Chris Rodley. Warhol was just as famous for being "Andy Warhol" as he was for his artwork. He was a celebrity's celebrity, yet he was also a shy, prolific artist who worked in everything from painting to film to music. This documentary provides a definitive look at Warhol's life and his creative process. Features rare audiotapes and films from the Warhol Foundation Archives in addition to interviews with Debbie Harry, Dennis Hopper and more. "Exhilaratingly thorough, a Complete Oxford English Dictionary of Warhol" (The Times). DVD :includes a Warhol chronology, filmography and more.

Biography: Andy Warhol. This video covers Pop artist Andy Warhol's life and work, from his paintings based on comic strips and photos of public personalities to his painted replicas of Campbell's Soup cans. 50 minutes. (quote courtesy Plains Art Msueum)

Scenes From the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections. A film by Jonas Mekas. In this 1990 film Jonas Mekas chronicles not only the great pop artist, Andy Warhol, but also the social and cultural excitement that swirled around him, throbbing to a hypnotic Velvet Underground beat. This is a candid, relaxed film diary including his friends Barbara Rubin, Tuli Kupferberg, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Olovksy, Ed Sanders, Gerard Malanga, Storm De Hirsch and George Maciunas. 1997. 58 min. Video/C 4782. Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Superstar - The Life & Times of Andy Warhol is an 87 minute 1991 documentary directed by Chuck Workman from Marylin Lewis Entertainment, released through Winstar Home Entertainment. A documentary about the painter Andy Warhol which traces his life from Pittsburgh schoolboy to pop art legend. The film includes a behind the scenes look at "Factory" life and several enigmatic interviews given by Warhol over the years, as well as an array of images from Warhol's art and films.

Visions of Warhol. Award presentation to Andy Warhol, 1963 / Jonas Mekas -- Andy Warhol's silver flotations, 1964 / Willard Maas -- Anthropological sketches : friendships and intersections : scenes from the life of Andy Warhol, 1963-90 / Jonas Mekas -- Andy Warhol, 1965 / Marie Menken -- Andy Warhol's exploding plastic inevitable, 1967 / Ronald Nameth. Scenes from the life of Andy Warhol, as seen by four pioneer avant-garde film-makers and close friends of the Pop-artist. Dist.: Electronic Arts Intermix. 82 min. Video/C MM1062. Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Warhol is a 79 minute video which offers a profile of Andy Warhol's life and work examines a career that spanned painting, film, publishing, rock music, and television.

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