'This is the greatest hits of Warhol': Andy Warhol works get COD art museum's unique treatment
Andrew Warhola wears a suit and tie and a slight smile in his high school graduation photo.
It's the first image visitors see in the new Andy Warhol exhibition, opening Saturday at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. The first line of text, a Warholian quote printed in pink, sums up his ambition: "The idea is not to live forever; it is to create something that will."
"He is such a mysterious character, especially during his life, that most people are unaware of his story and really unaware of what an amazing kind of story of success it is," said Justin Witte, the curator of the college's Cleve Carney Museum of Art. "It's really like the American dream. He's born the son of immigrant parents in industrial Pittsburgh, where he learned early on the importance of hard work that really carried him through his career."
The "WARHOL" exhibition details his origin story, his Rust Belt roots and his upbringing in the Byzantine Catholic faith -- the evolution of art student Andrew Warhola into Andy Warhol, the enterprising prince of Pop Art.
Along with a selection of his genre-defining hits, the exhibition gives a historical guide into all things Warhol. You'll meet (or revisit) Warhol the window dresser, Warhol the magazine publisher, Warhol the ringmaster of New York night life in the '70s. An old tube TV lets you watch Warhol the celebrity interviewer in a full episode of "Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes," his MTV talk show.
"Andy Warhol did a lot of avant-garde work, a lot of work that pushed the edges of what was known or expected," Witte said. "He also was always aware of what the public would be interested in, what the audience might be interested in."
The community college ventured into unexpected territory -- summer blockbuster exhibitions -- with "Frida Kahlo: Timeless," a study of another artist who crafted an enigmatic public persona. The 2021 Kahlo retrospective drew 102,000 visitors. The college is devoting more space -- nearly 11,000 square feet -- to "WARHOL."
"This is the greatest hits of Warhol," said Diana Martinez, the director of COD's McAninch Arts Center. "It's all there."
'Bright and fun'
The exhibition showcases 94 works on loan from Bank of America's "Andy Warhol Portfolios: A Life in Pop," a collection that includes his silk-screen portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali, a diamond-dusted Howdy Doody, his late-career "Endangered Species" series, and his collaboration with Keith Haring.
There's silver wallpaper behind silver-framed Warhol hibiscus flowers, a nod to the Silver Factory, a New York studio/loft/funhouse where the artist was surrounded by assistants, socialites and kindred spirits. A beautiful ombre is the backdrop for Warhol's "Sunset" series. The museum doors open to Warhol images of Campbell's condensed soup cans (he once claimed to eat soup for lunch every day).
"These ones are larger than the first paintings he did," Witte said. "I enjoy this room because it's very iconic, his work, and then we painted the walls to reflect on that."
Ahead of Kahlo, the college showed it could handle a high-profile exhibition with a $3 million gallery expansion on the west side of the McAninch Arts Center. Still, Witte needed more wall space for Warhol. The solution: building a series of zigzag walls that created galleries within the gallery.
"It gives you a lot of neat overlapping views that I think really relates to his prints and the registrations and the overlapping lines," Witte said. "And then it allowed me to design each room to be really kind of bright and fun."
The methods used by Warhol and the other Pop masters -- elevating mundane, everyday objects into the rarefied world of fine art -- were "completely radical" and nothing like the prevailing style of abstract expressionism. Warhol had been a commercial illustrator before his breakthrough "Soup Cans" show.
"This was really the first time that artists were directly drawing from low culture, pop culture, and lifting it up and saying this should be viewed on the same level," Witte said.
'All our resources'
The exhibition goes far beyond the museum walls. Original issues of "Interview" magazines -- another Warhol venture -- are displayed in glass cases throughout the McAninch Arts Center. There's a Yoko Ono cover. One "Interview" edition is flipped open to a Q&A with actress Isabella Rossellini.
A black-box theater has been transformed into a gallery of more than 150 photographs taken by Warhol. These are black-and-white gelatin silver prints and color Polaroid prints from the College of DuPage permanent art collection, "another reason why it makes sense" to follow up Frida with Warhol, Witte said.
Martinez has booked a full slate of Warhol-related programming, from concerts to iconographic mural projects.
"What makes our exhibitions unique is how we engage the whole community," Martinez said. "We use all our resources as an art center to create these really cool, interactive experiences."
Martinez dreamed up a theatrical version of Studio 54 with a disco track and historical footage from inside the club. Costume designer Kimberly Morris re-created the fashion worn by such Studio 54 luminaries as Mick and Bianca Jagger, Jackie O and Cher, in a Bob Mackie sequin jumpsuit. Their mannequins are placed around a holographic dance floor. Warhol's has a blue jacket and bow tie, like his younger self.
"Liza Minnelli is in the purple over there next to Halston," said COD tech director Rick Arnold, who replicated the neon light fixtures.
The lobby historical exhibition reproduces a pivotal scene: Warhol's glass-topped office desk before he was shot by playwright Valerie Solanas in his Union Square Factory in 1968. "He became much more laser-focused on his work," Witte said.
Warhol's personal life as a gay man has become more public with a Netflix documentary. "WARHOL" also humanizes the artist by exploring his relationships with interior designer Jed Johnson and Jon Gould, a Paramount Pictures executive who later died of AIDS. Witte puts Warhol's last solo show, based on da Vinci's "Last Supper," in the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
"He was criticized at the time for not addressing it," Witte said in an exhibition preview video. "Well, what could be a stronger way to address it than his last work really focusing on the Last Supper, which is about this moment before a reckoning, before a coming together in this community."
Warhol's death came in 1987 after he had gallbladder surgery. A local resident approached Witte with a closing artifact for the exhibition: an invite to Warhol's funeral brunch.
Warhol at College of DuPageWhat: A major Andy Warhol exhibition presented by the Cleve Carney Museum of Art and the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage. "WARHOL" features 94 works on loan from Bank of America's "Andy Warhol Portfolios: A Life in Pop." The exhibition includes more than 150 Warhol photographs and original works from the College of DuPage Permanent Art Collection. Visitors can also walk through a room of floating "Silver Clouds," metallic balloons filled with helium and air. Warhol originally had 64 clouds blown up for New York's Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966.
Where: 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn
Dates: Today through Sept. 10
Tickets: Start at $25. Additional programming is free with proof of ticket purchase. "Anytime Entry" tickets reserve a day to attend and view the exhibition at any time on that date. "Timed Entry" tickets reserve a specific date and time.
Info: (630) 942-4000 or warhol2023.org.