News / USA

Warhol's Hidden Side Unveiled

Lesser-known works of the celebrated pop artist showcased in two Washington exhibits

"Andy Warhol: Shadows," at the Hirshhorn Museum, features work from the last decade of the artist's life.

American artist Andy Warhol is best known for his iconic images from popular culture.

Images like his Campbell’s soup cans and portraits of famous people like movie star Marilyn Monroe and Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

However, two new exhibits in Washington, D.C., showcase a side of the artist many may be unfamiliar with.

Warhol: Headlines,” at the National Gallery of Art, is the first exhibition to fully examine Warhol’s obsession with headline news, a recurrent theme in much of his art.

Molly Donovan, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Art, says the museum has pulled together, for the first time, all of Warhol's works on the headline theme.

“Also, within this grouping, 40 percent of the works have never been on public view before so it’s a really fresh look at an artist like Warhol who seems to be everywhere and we all seem to know," says Donovan, "but there’s still new information coming out about him, and new works coming.”

The exhibit features about 80 pieces of Warhol’s work in all variety of media, from his early drawings and paintings in the 1960s to the silk screen canvases for which he became so well known in later years.

The first room of the exhibition features four hand-painted headline canvases from the early 1960s, which marks the start of Warhol’s career.

Andy Warhol's 1985 series of Madonna silkscreens, created in collaboration with Keith Haring.
Andy Warhol's 1985 series of Madonna silkscreens, created in collaboration with Keith Haring.

The canvases are emblematic of Warhol’s interest in stories about famous people, such as Princess Margaret, the late sister of Britain's Queen Elizabeth; Hollywood scandals, such as American singer and entertainer Eddie Fisher's breakdown in “Daily News;” and the tragedies of everyday people, as in “129 Die in Jet.”

These paintings and other works in the exhibit also demonstrate how the artist drew from tabloid headlines, cropping, enlarging and otherwise altering the text to create his unique style. Many of those original sources are included alongside the artwork.

Hand-painted headline canvases from the early 1960s marked the start of Andy Warhol’s career.
Hand-painted headline canvases from the early 1960s marked the start of Andy Warhol’s career.

Donovan believes that Warhol wanted us to have a greater awareness of the media sources that we consume.

“That our information is coming at us from the news very deliberately as information that they know we will buy, and I think Warhol wanted to point our attention to our own role as consumers of the news."

"Andy Warhol: Shadows" at the Hirshhorn Museum showcases work the artist created in the last decade of his life.

All 102 silkscreened and hand-painted canvases of Warhol's monumental artwork, "Shadows," are being shown together for the first time, installed edge-to-edge as the artist intended. They extend uninterrupted around the Hirshhorn’s curved galleries.

The canvases feature distorted photographs of shadows generated in the artist’s studio between 1978 and 1979.

Evelyn Hankins, associate curator at the Hirshhorn, believes "Shadows" will surprise many museum’s visitors.

Andy Warhol, 1986
Andy Warhol, 1986

The work is 450 linear feet (137 meters) long and deviates from Warhol's mass media images.

“So what we’re hoping here is people will learn about a Warhol that they’re not so familiar with," says Hankins. "And what’s important about the "Shadows" aside from their monumental scale is that they really represent Warhol beginning to engage abstraction for the rest of his career.”

The National Gallery’s Donovan believes Warhol’s art will live on for generations.

“After deeply looking at this artist’s work for four years, I can say that he was truly one of the most prescient and important artists of the 20th Century," she says. "And even though he made it seem as though it was casual, and playful and unintentional, it was all very calculated, and he was a prolific talent.”

Warhol died in 1987 at age of 58. While his life was short, the images he created have left a lasting impression.

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