By Claire Farrow
Generally when one says “Andy Warhol,” an image of a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can is immediately evoked. But his art was so much more than that. His revolutionary style with printmaking told a story about the less glamourous side of fame and celebrity. In his art, he also tried to invert symbols, to change their meaning and to bring to mind what exactly these symbols meant to people. Students have a unique opportunity to get an intimate view of a Warhol exhibit, conveniently located downtown at The Tampa Museum of Art.
The exhibit, “In Living Color: Andy Warhol and Contemporary Printmaking,” while small, showcases some of Warhol’s most famous works, along with print art created by contemporaries of Warhol and current artists. This thought provoking exhibit runs through Sept. 20.
In Living Color houses five of Warhol’s art movements–Experimentation, Emotion, Experience, Attitude and Subversion. Each movement includes iconic Warhol pieces of ordinary pictures and prints that have been transformed and imbued with classic Warhol messages within them. For example, his iconic Mao (1972) takes the widely dispersed image of the Chinese leader and subverts it into a gaudy series of the same picture painted over and over with different, loud color schemes, making a mockery of such a stoic image.
Additionally, in each movement there are several pieces from other printmaking artists–Josef Albers, Dorothea Rockburne, Mary Heilmann, Louise Bourgeois, Ross Bleckner, Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, John Baldessari, Mickalene Thomas, Keith Haring and Anish Kapoor. Each artist, though they all exist within the realm of printmaking art, is able to create their own voice in the medium, carving out a piece of this genre and claiming it as their own. Some used paint splatters (Sam Francis, Sulfur Salis 1969), others created primitive looking pictures with thick lines (Keith Haring, Pop Shop V 1989), while still others used rhinestones (Mickalene Thomas, When Ends Meet 2010) to add to their medium of creativity.
One of the most striking pieces in the exhibit was Electric Chair (1971). In this series, Warhol attempts to take the stigma and emotion out of the electric chair, which at that point in history had only been recently retired as the device used for the death penalty in the United States. These haunting photographs were exposed through various filters, creating equally gorgeous and chilling photos. What’s fascinating about this particular series was the genuine emotion surrounding these prints, even today. Though the choice of the electric chair for the death penalty has waned in popularity over the last 50 years, this capital punishment still carries heavy controversy.
Warhol finds justification for using such a brutal image. “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have an effect,” Warhol said, as quoted by the exhibit. Whether or not he succeeded in stripping the electric chair of its horror, his words certainly carry weight and call into question certain aspects of our society, that perhaps we have become desensitized to through persistent streams of exposure.
Beneath the bold noise of color, there is a subtle whisper of feeling within each piece that makes the viewer stop and contemplate each one. Ultimately, each piece becomes imbued with your own meaning and emotion that then becomes mixed with the creator’s. But I think that’s the point of exposing yourself to art. It can be everything or nothing to a person; one must be open to art speaking to them.