Andy Warhol is probably the biggest celebrity in the history of art. No matter how much or little you know about artists from ancient to modern, you've probably heard of Andy Warhol and his notorious Factory party scene for the powerful, famous and beautiful. Warhol seems to, perhaps more than any other modern artist, hold a certain relevance to our time.
That makes sense when you consider that he was also, by his own proclamation, infatuated with shallowness and glamour. A large amount of his subjects were celebrities, and, as demonstrated in the new, free exhibit "Warhol: A Different Idea of Love": "To have a portrait painted by Andy Warhol carried incredible prestige and in many circles was considered the ultimate form of social validation." In that way, perhaps he's not so different from the portrait painters of history, from Rigaud's Louis XIV to the society ladies of Vigee-Lebrun.
One thing I've always loved about art history is the way it's showed me that the more things change, the more they really do stay the same -- at least when you're talking about human nature and society. That's why, although I wouldn't necessarily call Warhol one of my personal favourite artists, I jumped at the chance to see 80 of his pieces in one place at the new exhibit, which opens to the public on March 1 and is located at 1280 Homer St., a white-cube warehouse in Yaletown.
The space where the pieces are shown is not huge, and many of the screenprints and paintings are quite large in format, giving the show the feeling of a collage of important faces from the time -- some immediately recognizable, some less so. I found it pretty interesting just to see who was enough of a VIP to have their portrait done. There's a portrait of Edward Kennedy, with lines of red and blue laid over a black and white photograph, that was done to help raise money for his 1980 presidential campaign. There's not one, not two, but five screenprints of John Gotti, the most infamous Mafia don of all time. There's even a portrait of Georges Marciano, the founder of GUESS? Jeans. Some of the names were very familiar, like the portraits of Truman Capote, who Warhol is said to have been fascinated by, and modern artist Jospeh Beuys.
I smiled when I saw the very '80s-style portrait of Wayne Gretzky -- maybe it's just my age, but I always forget what a legitimate celebrity he was in that decade. Warhol is quoted as saying of the athlete, "he's more than just a hockey player, he's an entertainer." There's also selections from his Ladies and Gentlemen series, which depicts drag queens and other queer folk, that certainly added to the glamorous vibe of the show -- it's a bit like a party on the walls.
There are also some welcome surprises, whether it's lesser-known subjects, or material or style you might not associate with Warhol. I definitely didn't walk in expecting to see a quartet of pop-art portraits of the patron saint of dentistry. The "Plains Indian Shield," one of the few non-portraits shown, was a nice change from rich and famous faces.
In addition to being "good art," artists and their work sometimes enter the canon because they say something important about the time and place they come from. That's definitely the case with Warhol: A Different Idea of Love -- it's a total time capsule. Everyone in Vancouver should go see this show while it's here. It's free, and you're basically hanging out with famous people and travelling through time all at once.
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