The exhibition explores the profound role religion played in the life and art of Andy Warhol



At Andy Warhol’s memorial service on April 1, 1987, many mourners learned about a lesser-known aspect of his life: Warhol was raised as a Byzantine Catholic and remained so throughout his life, said the art historian John Richardson in his eulogy on St. Patrick’s Day. New York Cathedral.

“Those of you who knew him in circumstances that were the antithesis of the spiritual might be surprised to learn that such a side existed,” said Richardson. “But he did exist, and that is the key to the artist’s psyche.”

Indeed, religious iconography – including crosses and representations of Jesus and Mary – recurs throughout Warhol’s work. And in his diaries, Warhol documented details of his church trips and his trip to the Vatican in 1980, where he met Pope John Paul II.

“Andy Warhol: Revelation.”Jonathan Dorado / Brooklyn Museum

But exhibitions of Warhol’s work haven’t examined the role his faith has played in both his life and his art – until now. A new exhibition on display at the Brooklyn Museum, “Andy Warhol: Revelation,” aims to correct this historical oversight, presenting more than 100 objects that show how Warhol’s relationship with religion served as both a muse and a methodology for his work. art, and a guiding force in his personal life.

Warhol, who was a homosexual, adapted – and, often, subverted – religious themes in his works, the exhibition argues, in part by challenging traditional representations of women and mothers and using male bodies as a medium. to explore queer desire. And through his celebrity portraits and paintings of objects that shaped American consumer culture in the 1960s – including cans of Campbell’s soup and bottles of Coca-Cola – Warhol “very foresight exploited a sort undercurrent of society you might call cult, “said Carmen Hermo, associate curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, who hosted the exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum with José Carlos Diaz, curator in chief at the Andy Warhol Museum.

The exhibit debuted at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 2019, then traveled to the Speed ​​Museum in Louisville, Ky., Last year before arriving at the Brooklyn Museum on November 19, where it will be on view. until next June.

Warhol’s mother Julia Zavacky Warhola, a Slovak immigrant, cultivated her son’s religious roots as a child in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, when she took him to four church services each weekend, notes “Revelation “. She also encouraged her son’s fledgling creativity by purchasing him art supplies. As an adult, Warhol practiced his faith “on his terms,” ​​which were less strict than his mother’s, according to Diaz: “There isn’t much evidence of which churches or how often he went to them. the 1950s, but we know through his life that he entered the church, ”he said.

“Andy Warhol: Revelation.”Jonathan Dorado / Brooklyn Museum

Although Warhol’s religiosity became inconsistent over the course of his life, his closeness to his mother endured. Julia lived with her son for almost two decades in New York City, from 1952 to 1971, when she returned to Pittsburgh in poor health (she died the following year). During those years of living together, Julia “always hoped he would meet the right girl,” Diaz said, adding that she had met Warhol’s boyfriends instead. Yet “she certainly accepted Warhol as he was,” Diaz added, despite the Catholic Church’s persistent stance against homosexuality.

Warhol’s closeness to his mother – and the respect for their religion she encouraged in him – likely inspired his interest in portraying the bond between mothers and their children, according to “Revelation” curators. In the early 1980s, Warhol and photographer Christopher Makos captured images of breastfeeding models and their babies – seven of which are featured in the exhibit – for a project Warhol planned to call “Modern Madonnas”, inspired religious representations of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. Warhol ultimately abandoned the project, saying, “I just know this series is going to be a problem. It’s just too strange, mothers, babies and breastfeeding ”- a view the Conservatives likely attribute to“ the stigma surrounding breastfeeding ”that prevailed at the time.

But Warhol relied on women as subjects throughout his career: “Revelation” features his 1964 serigraphs of Jackie Kennedy – veiled and mourning at the funeral of John F. Kennedy – and, produced some 14 years later. , actress Marilyn Monroe, who died of a drug overdose in 1962 and whose Warhol face obscured and rearranged using a black palette.

The works, Hermo said, portray “intense moments of real women’s pain and somehow recognize the intensity of how American culture consumes and loves it.” In portraying Kennedy and Monroe, with whom JFK is said to have had an affair, the works also recall “the biblical juxtapositions of good women and not good women,” Hermo added.

“Andy Warhol: Revelation.”Jonathan Dorado / Brooklyn Museum; Andy Warhol Foundation

Warhol was also drawn to male bodies as objects of inspiration, and he “often mixed his homosexual bodily desires with Catholic imagery,” the exhibit notes. (The body – and the body of Jesus, in particular – is a recurring motif in the Catholic faith: the crucifix shows the body of Jesus nailed to the cross, and the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation, whereby during Mass the bread and wine served during Communion becomes the body and blood of Jesus.)

These interests converged in “The Last Supper (Be Someone With a Body) (Detail)”, an acrylic work on linen from the mid-1980s, featured in “Revelation,” which displays an outline of Jesus overlying an outline of a chiseled man.

“This is one of the works where we really see the twin impulses of homosexuality and Catholicism,” Hermo said.

“The Last Supper”, 1986, by Andy Warhol at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

In others, Warhol’s strangeness takes precedence over his Catholicism: two works presented in the exhibition are composed entirely of sperm on cotton, and a pair of drawings from the 1950s depict naked men lying down.

Warhol’s fascination with male bodies also included his, featured in a 1969 photograph by Richard Avedon, taken the year after radical feminist Valerie Solanas shot him dead in an assassination attempt. Avedon’s image shows Warhol’s hand on his scarred abdomen.

Surviving the Solanas assassination attempt deepened Warhol’s faith, Hermo said: what he did until his death in 1987 from complications from gallbladder surgery. (Warhol is now buried alongside his parents in the Byzantine Catholic Cemetery of St. John the Baptist in Pittsburgh.)

While Richardson, the art historian, said in his eulogy that faith was the key to Warhol’s psyche, it may also be the key to understanding Warhol’s enduring status as a cultural icon, according to Diaz: “Warhol was that outdated Catholic who made art for the masses, and what masses? It was truly a secular audience that adored him in a whole new way.

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