Andy Warhol: Lifetimes
Brillo Pads and Campbell soup cans. Marilyn and Jackie, Liza and Elvis. When I think of pop culture and Andy Warhol, those are the images that spring to mind, as well as scenes of Studio 54, star power, and commercialism in New York City. I never expected to see him in snow country. Well, not exactly him, but three floors of his life and artistic journey at the Aspen Art Museum. Andy Warhol: Lifetimes is on view until March 27, 2022.
Warhol loved Aspen and hung out there in the 60s, 70s, and 80s with the likes of Jack Nicholson and John Denver among others. He delighted in New Year Eve parties with other celebrities. His Aspen adventures included snowmobiling and even skiing on the baby slopes, tumbling down three times during his ski lesson. Just as Warhol relished in his time there, the town has been reveling in his lifetimes at the Aspen Art Museum this ski season.
If you are anywhere near Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, take your own ski break and wander through Andy Warhol’s life as a visionary disrupter in art from his early days growing up in Pittsburgh to his New York fame in mass-produced culture, Warhol TV, and Interview Magazine.
The recognizable is certainly there, but so is the unfamiliar. I was intrigued with his expressionist art from college days, his mother’s profound influence in particular, and his evolution into the elusive yet pioneering persona we know today. It’s all here: fame, desire, queer sensuality, spectacle, mesmerizing repetition, fleeting time and inevitable loss.
Celebrity culture fascinated Warhol from an early age. The third son of working-class immigrants from rural Slovakia, Warhol suffered from St. Vitus dance, a neurological disorder brought on by rheumatic fever. The result of which cause involuntary movements, affecting his limbs and face. This condition caused him to miss school for extended time from age eight to ten. His mother and brother supplied him with art material to keep him occupied. He cut up movie magazines his brothers brought him and developed autographed film star scrap books, an obsession that no doubt led to his canonical Pop Art images later on and preoccupation with celebrity culture. But he was also devoted to his mother—a devout Catholic and an artist as well. She actually lived with him in New York City for twenty years from 1951-71. She collaborated with him in the 1950s on commercial projects, and her influence is evident in Warhol’s use of her handwriting in his marketing illustrations. His portraits of her are on view in the After and Before gallery on Level Two.
The exhibit captures Warhol’s life from ad man to celebrity icon, from his advertising and graphic designer days to his transition as Pop Art phenom and reveals his influence over other American artists and the American psyche in the 1960s. The commercial artist in him established a self-brand so powerful in the 70s and 80s that he endorsed a diverse range of products from electronics and furniture to air travel and brokerage firms. Through his Interview magazine to Warhol TV (also, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes), his Silver Factory screen tests, and his stylized blond and silver self-portraits, Warhol became his art.
The street level gallery examines his prolific renderings of queer life through film, photography, paintings, and languid but provocative ink drawings. In fact, there is a curtained-off gallery with this sign: “PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED. This space contains explicit materials and adult content.” Male nude in compromising positions shown as blown-up Polaroids fill the four walls. (Sorry, no photos!)
On the third floor, a happening invites viewers in to experience art immersion. Take a bean bag seat and feel the sensory experience as music and imagery envelop the room and by extension the viewer. At the third-floor entry, silver mylar, helium-filled clouds hover and drift through the air as gracefully as an advanced skier glides down Aspen Mountain.
Organized by the Tate Modern, London, the exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum is the only US venue. Thanks to the generosity of donors, admission is free.
To learn more:
ASPEN ART MUSEUM 637 East Hyman Avenue Aspen, CO 81611 https://www.aspenartmuseum.org/ Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10AM-6PM Closed Monday