Friday, July 19, 2013

Andy Warhol: American Icon

"It wasn't so much that he painted Campbell's soup cans as he had the idea to paint Campbell's soup cans." Ivan Karp, Art Dealer

Nestled into Shore Road just around the corner from Perkins Cove is the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.  For many who have been visiting Ogunquit for years (like me) it's a hidden gem that's never been seen.

With a stunning view of the Atlantic on a beautiful spot and celebrating 60 years pioneering the work of the famed art colony, we were lucky enough to have a preview and tour with Director Ron Crusan recently as he prepared for their Summer exhibit "Andy Warhol: American Icon." As one who has read every biography and seen every documentary on the famed Pop artist I was intrigued by the choice of word "icon." Warhol was, indeed, an icon and perhaps the greatest iconographer of the people who shaped the New York scene of his era.  The exhibit, which runs through September 1st and features never-before-seen photographs by Warhol protege and assistant Pack Hackett presents the artist and his never-ending fascination and quest for fame and celebrity.

"He was brilliant," Crusan says.  As a marketing genius, I'd agree.  As an artist, I'm not so sure.  There's no question that Warhol led the way in consciously creating the artist as a brand, a route which all others would then be compelled to follow.  He loved fame and celebrity.  As a very successful commercial artist he eventually turned to portraits and paintings before branching out into films and books and the founding of "Interview" magazine, which he began as a vehicle to get invites to star-filled celebrity galas and events.  He ran his art production as a business, headquartered in a place he called "The Factory", which became legendary, a place where a visit to New York was not complete until one stopped by to see what crazy new ideas the master was pursuing, a magnet for the young and avant garde.

Hackett's black and white photos are being lined up on the wall for exhibit.  As Crusan explains, she began by just photographing all the celebrities at events Warhol was attending.  Warhol, who was never boisterous or loud, had to eventually explain to her that she wasn't getting the photograph unless he was in it.  Warhol with Liza Minnelli.  Warhol with Ted Kennedy.  Warhol with Dolly Parton ... Sylvester Stallone ... Mick Jagger.  You get the picture.  I have always said that I believed Warhol might have been a much better historian than an artist, having chronicled the times and culture of the 1970s-1980s, helping to make each person and icon themselves.

The Marilyn Portraits.  Wherever one falls on the spectrum on one's view of Warhol as an artist, the exhibit unabashedly presents him as both icon and inconographer.  Many of the biographies I have read have mentioned that Warhol, growing up as sickly child often bedridden with a sketch pad, was fascinated by the icons that lined the Byzantine Catholic Church he visited weekly with his family in Pittsburgh.  The repetition of images and nature of his portraits both seem to lend credence to this. The individuality and uniqueness of the man made him a Pop Art star.

Joan Crawford and Andy Warhol.  Photo by Pat Hackett.