Pop Art at MAM: Warhol's Big Cadillac

“I looked over Jordan, and what did I see? Coming for to carry me home/A band of Fleetwood’s waiting there for me, Coming for to carry me home…” from “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac,” lyrics by John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.
There was a shiny black, chromed, white walled, 225-inch-long 1962 Cadillac Coupe de Ville parked in front of the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) for the special press and members preview of “Warhol and Cars: American Icons.”
I hope there was a heavenly early '60s era Cadillac waiting to carry Andy Warhol home when he unexpectedly checked out after routine gall bladder surgery in 1987 at age 58.
Warhol famously said, “I am a deeply superficial person.” After time spent in this outstanding multimedia show you won’t believe him: MAM chief curator Gail Stavitsky, who also wrote the excellent exhibit catalogue, commands the casual and the not so casual observer of Warhol’s work and career to take a deeper look.
With diverse Warhol drawings, paintings, photographs, and silk screens from MAM’s permanent collection and on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Warhol’s home town, ”Icons” establishes Warhol’s long and complex fascination with the automobile and America’s post World War Two auto-driven culture.
The show also transports the thoughtful viewer back to Warhol’s '60s — a complicated world where suburbia, highways and  consumer excess — Cadillac sedans and convertibles  being the equivalents of today’s Denali/Escada as the conspicuous consumption cars of choice — vied with a culture rent by racism, sexism, drugs, war, violence, and a burgeoning, anti-materialistic youth culture.
In 1949, after art study at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) the working class, first generation Warhol positioned himself in New York City where he was an in demand commercial artist with plum magazine and record album assignments.
Warhol soon positioned himself at the nexus of the commercial and the artistic and the controversial — while far from historically accurate, the 2006 film “Factory Girl” gives an idea of life in Warhol’s Manhattan art Factory. (A wide eyed, young version of me heard firsthand Factory accounts from Mary Woronov, the cult film actress and dancer featured in many Warhol films.)
In an era when museums and fine art were still more or less the provenance of the educated and the elite, Warhol fast realized his goal of making art that everyone was talking about and, at least in reproduction, seeing. He entered mass culture with his hand painted blow up of the Campbell soup can, but it was his innovative use of inked photo silk screens that quickly became his medium. Consumer items — the Coca Cola bottle, the Brillo box — and celebrities-Elvis, Marilyn, Jackie— became his most famous subjects. He helped create the concept of superstar and became one himself.
The MAM exhibit’s anteroom establishes that this exhibit is both about Warhol the American icon and cars as American icons. In 1968, “Life” magazine confirmed Warhol’s art world celebrity status with a photo essay. For that feature, famed photographer Philippe Halsman, departing from his usual black and white style, experimented with color gels to create a now renowned, somewhat hallucinogenic portrait of Warhol that is on exhibit in this show.
The work, which deliberately echoed Warhol’s use of color in his photo silk screens, is on display against a custom made wallpaper based on the artist’s seminal work, “12 Cadillacs”, the 1962 silk screen ink on canvas which is the center of the exhibit that awaits.
In both her introductory talk about the exhibit and more fully in her catalogue, curator Stavitsky explains how “12 Cadillacs,” acquired by MAM in 1998, was the impetus for MAM’s ground breaking exploration of Warhol’s two sided look at auto culture: “Cars and automotive vehicles are among the comparatively unknown and unexamined subjects of Warhol’s diverse, vast body of work — with the exception of car crash theme within the Death and Disaster series of 1963-64,” Stavitsky writes.
If  “12 Cadillacs,” originally part of a “subversive” assignment on luxury cars for  the high fashion “Harper’s Bazaar” magazine is the artistic inspiration for “Icons,” then “Five Deaths” (1963 acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, pictured here) and “Foot and Tire” (1963-64 silkscreen ink on linen) fuel the exhibit’s power.
I understand that police academies still use these Warhol’s appropriations of unflinching accident scene photographs of death and dismemberment to train recruits. But Warhol spoke of his work desensitizing death, later noting his expectation that “Foot and Tire” would be seen as “a black and white design ... like dress fabric.”
This is a mad ride of an exhibit with films of Warhol painting a BMW art car and of Merce Cunningham’s 1968 modern dance, “Rainforest.” Adjacent to “Rainforest” in the exhibit’s “Silver Cloud” disco installation room hangs Halsman’s famed 1968 “Life Magazine” group portrait of some of Warhol’s Factory workers — Nico of the “Velvet Underground,” the artist Viva, Candy Darling, Ultra Violet and host of other artists, poets, actors, friends, and hangers-on who inspired Warhol and acted in or made his films.
There are late 1950s examples of car-driven Warhol commercial art alongside period Cadillac ads and manuals and more surprises. Among the surprises is a very young Warhol expressionist drawing of women crowding his brother’s Paul Warhola’s fruit truck, their exposed breasts more fruit for the picking. (“Women and Produce Truck,” 1946 ink and graphite on Manila paper).

Just go and please see Part One of Montclair Arts Talk—“A Pop (ART) Quiz” for a rundown of diverse Warhol-related MAM events.

IF You Go: “Warhol and Cars: American Icons” runs until June. The MAM is open Wednesdays through Sundays. See www.montclairartmuseum.org or call (973) 746-5555. It is located at 3 South Mountain Ave., Montclair, is handicapped accessible, and has adjacent parking. Nonmember admission is $12; $10 for seniors 65+ free for children under 12 and for all the first Friday of every month.

Finding beauty in everything

Andy Warhol’s keen portraits and prints offer insight into his artistic process
By Marisa Aragón Ware

Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh as the third child of immigrant parents, Andy Warhol suffered through his childhood as an outcast and a hypochondriac. It seemed unlikely then that this often bed-ridden child would one day rise to fame as one of the leading figures of the pop art movement.
With his portrayal of mass-produced products, mundane objects and celebrities from American popular culture, Warhol achieved massive success as a painter, sculptor and prolific filmmaker. In 1963, his piece “Eight Elvises” sold for $100 million, a feat achieved by only a handful of other artists, including Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.
Warhol survived a gunshot wound from a dramatic attempted murder in 1968, only to die from a routine gallbladder surgery in 1987. In his will, he bequeathed almost his entire estate to creating a foundation dedicated to the advancement of visual art. The result was The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which focuses primarily on supporting artistic work of a challenging and often experimental nature.
In 2008, The Foundation gave 156 of Warhol’s photographs to the University of Colorado’s Art Museum. The museum premiered 112 of the pieces on Jan. 21 and will continue showing them until June 25.
“It’s a rare opportunity to see the eye of the artist,” says Lisa Tamiris Becker, director of the museum. “The photos show the bigger picture of him documenting the world around him that you might not get from just knowing his iconic pieces.”
The display includes 80 Polaroids and 32 silver gelatin prints, arranged in grids to accentuate the scope of his vision.
“My curatorial approach was to present more his photographic eye rather than focus on individual pieces,” Becker says. “I wanted to show the whole spectrum of what he was looking at and the way he was looking at the world through his photography.”
The pieces range in subject from celebrities such as Martha Graham to friends and patrons of Warhol’s to views of landscapes and towns.
“The silver gelatin prints are much more classically photographic,” Becker says. “The polaroids really represent a part of his process and the way he would use a portrait to develop a sense of a person as an icon.”
Many of Warhol’s paintings were created using photographic silk screening on canvas, so the polaroids can be viewed as the first step of his creative process. Warhol published three books, one posthumously, which feature his black and white photographic work, including Andy Warhol’s Exposures (1979), America (1985) and Andy Warhol’s Party Book (1988).
His portraits, landscapes, celebrity snapshots and still lifes offer a glimpse into the expansive range of Warhol’s creative interest as well as the extremely varied atmospheres with which he surrounded himself. Many of the silver gelatin prints exhibit his attention to composition and detail, while the polaroids reveal his ability to capture candid and frank shots of whoever was in front of his camera.
“Some of them might be recognizable iconic people, but I think what you’d learn is that he was photographing everybody, from wealthy patrons to transvestites,” Becker says.
This reflects Warhol’s sentiment when he said, “I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty,” or when he said, “In the future, everyone in the world will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
“I think that through these more modestly scaled photographic works that are really more like beginning points where he’s constantly collecting ideas, you really get insight into his mind,” Becker says.
Some of the photos on display have Colorado-specific content, such as portraits of John Denver or Colorado photographer Mark Sink. The University of Colorado was chosen along with more than 180 educational institutions across the United States, which together received more than 28,500 photographs from The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, launched in 2007 in celebration of the Foundation’s 20th anniversary.
“When you put Warhol into an historical context, not only does this work offer an insight into the present aspect of reality, but also into the era in which the works were taken,” Becker says. “It’s a powerful way to reflect on the past, the present and the future.”