I’m not a big Andy Warhol fan. Frankly, I think there’s just too much of it, and inevitably some of it is crap. But I have seen some of his amazing stuff, like the exhibit at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago, where they wrapped the columns of the National Gallery of Scotland in Campbell’s Soup cans. Or the few pieces in Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof museum. Those were pretty grand.
For some reason, the Warhol stuff that’s brought to this area isn’t the best of his best. Last year, I visited the “The Last Decade” exhibit in Baltimore’s Gallery of Art. It was a strange collection of his work, mostly his camo pieces and a couple monster paintings, which looked rather like he was on some sort of psychedelic drugs, slapping paint on the walls and occasionally pissing on them (seriously).
So, being the European art snob I am, my expectations weren’t that high for the two new Warhol exhibits that just opened up in D.C. I left it until last Saturday to visit them, tottering through the drizzling rain to the museums after brunch with some girlfriends.
First we stopped in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building for the “Headlines” exhibit. Centered around Warhol’s obsession with the tabloids, the exhibit opens up with his paintings of newspaper covers, including “A Boy For Meg.” To me, it looked as if he was copying newspapers as an art exercise, and that some of these, especially the half-finished ones, shouldn’t have been let out of his studio. And I think I’m onto something: Of the 80 pieces, about 40 percent of them have not been shown publicly.
The exhibit then continues on to his wacky TV programming and collaborations with Jean Michel-Basquiat. And it’s sort of interesting to see how he cropped into newspaper covers to juxtapose sad headlines to happy headlines (smart, I guess, but not really).
The best pieces are at the very end of the two-level exhibit, the ones where he turned over his newspaper paintings to friend Keith Haring, who manipulates them, Haring-style, into bright, intricate pieces that you just want to stare at (they were wedding gifts to Madonna for her marriage to Sean Penn. That lucky bitch).
Afterwards, I trudged across the muddy National Mall to the Hirshhorn, where another Warhol exhibit just opened. This one is the polar opposite of the frenetic media studies happening over in the NGA. It is so vastly different, in fact, that it calmed me down from my Warhol loathing.
The Hirshhorn exhibit is simply this: a series of 102 paintings of a shadow, one next to another, lining 450 feet of the outer wall of the second floor of the museum.
Because the museum is cylindrical, you can start at one end and slowly walk past the entire spectrum of shadows. The walls, floors, and ceilings are white, per usual, so the focus is on the art, and it’s quite a calming, panoramic experience. Even if he did use a mop to paint them.
Besides this series, and Warhol’s self portrait at the very beginning of the exhibit, there is nothing else to the exhibit, and that is rather refreshing. (Well, there is a film festival and a series of talks being held, see all the “Warhol on the Mall” details here).
You can nip in and out and see it quickly, and I recommend you do that—it’s the first and only time all of the shadows have been on display together.
“Headlines” is at the National Gallery of Art through January 2.
“Shadows” is at the Hirshhorn Museum through January 15.