Pop and the public record: Warhol exhibit examines fascination with 'Headlines'
For pop artist Andy Warhol, making headlines was a bi-product of fame that he relished. So much so that he filled scrapbook after scrapbook with news stories generated from his art and life. But a newly opened exhibit, titled “Headlines” at the Andy Warhol Museum, proves that Warhol not only made news, he often used newspapers as fodder for his pop-culture-inspired artwork.
“It's the same thing in a way,” says the Warhol's chief archivist Matt Wrbican, of Warhol's fascination with newspapers. “I mean, there's not too much difference between a soup can and a newspaper. They are things that are out there in popular culture that you see every day.”
Organized by the National Gallery of Art, the exhibit first opened in the fall of 2011 and has since traveled to Germany and Italy. This is the final stop for an exhibit that contains 80 pieces, about 60 percent of which were culled from the Warhol Museum's collection, including paintings, drawings, prints, photography, sculpture, film and video.
Wrbican says Warhol began using newspapers as inspiration early in his career, as evidenced by some of the largest, most ambitious works on display — “A Boy for Meg” and “129 Die in Jet,” both from 1962.
“At that time, everybody that was walking around was carrying a newspaper,” Wrbican says. “You could pick one up really easily, on a park bench or a bus. They were all around.”
Both paintings are standout examples of Warhol's work because, “both of them were hand-painted by Warhol himself,” Wrbican says.
“A Boy for Meg” is based on a Nov. 3, 1961, New York Post cover that shows a jubilant Princess Margaret next to the headline announcing the birth of her new son. For “129 Die in Jet,” Warhol used an image from the June 4, 1962, New York Mirror. However, he omitted the photo's caption from this hand-painted work, leaving the context of the headline unknown.
Wrbican says Warhol often made little changes to his newspaper-inspired artworks that altered the outcome considerably. For example, pointing to a drawing from 1961 based on a newspaper story about 900 cruise ship passengers being held hostage by pirates in the Caribbean, Wrbican says Warhol modified the headline to read “Pirates Seize Ship with 900,000.”
“The original read just 900, so he added three zeros. And he made some other changes to it as well.”
The exhibit is complimented by a soundtrack of newspaper-related songs by nearly 30 different musicians, such as the Beatles' “A Day In The Life” and Eddie Fisher's “Get Your Paper,” aka, “The Newspaper Song.”
Also on display are portraits of a writer and a publisher: a photo-booth portrait of Harper's Bazaar columnist Sandra Hochman from June 1963, that Wrbican found in one of Warhol's “Time Capsules,” and several screen-printed portraits from 1977 by Warhol of Gardner Cowles Jr., founder and publisher of Look magazine and head of one branch of a family communications empire that included newspapers, magazines, book publishing and television stations.
Another highlight is a one-of-a-kind, never-before exhibited screenprint of Sen. Robert Kennedy that Warhol did not include in the final edition of the Flash portfolio, a print portfolio he made in 1968 from images seen in newspapers and on television after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
The Flash portfolio includes 11 screenprints based on related news images of the Kennedy assassination, including the Texas Book Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald and President Kennedy's campaign poster.
“When Warhol was shot in 1968, two days later Bobby Kennedy was shot,” Wrbican says. “Warhol at that time was planning to include the portrait of RFK in Flash, then he changed his mind. There's a story that he was upset that RFK kicked him off the headlines. And that's why he did it. But I think you can look at it another way and say, well, it really changes the narrative of Flash. It takes it from being just about one assassination to then being about two assassinations, which may have been a little bit too much to deal with emotionally but nonetheless it happened.
“This is actually the only print that was ever pulled of that image,” Wrbican adds. “It's more about Warhol's use of headlines, than Warhol making the headlines.”
Among the many photographs by Warhol featuring people reading newspapers, advertisements for newspapers he spotted around Manhattan and pictures of actual press boxes containing papers with blaring, sometimes-shocking headlines, is a photograph of Warhol getting a pedicure while reading a copy of the New York Post.
“The Post was one of his favorite newspapers to read,” Wrbican says, “probably because of the headlines”
The exhibit culminates with a triptych titled “Marine Death Toll Hits 172,” from 1983 that features three pages from a nine-page story in the New York Post covering the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
“What's interesting about this piece is, even though it's a triptych having page 1, page 2, and page 3, Warhol is quoted as having said at one point that what he really wanted to do was to make a silkscreen painting of an entire newspaper, every page of a newspaper.
“He loved the newspaper so much that he wanted to reproduce every page of a newspaper, and this is as close as he got.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.