The stellar Andy Warhol show at the Boca Raton Museum of Art has three sections – a greatest hits, album cover art and a slick selection of society photos.
If you like your Warhol happy, bright and classic, you’re in the same frame of mind as collector Marc Bell, whose large group of Warhol prints are all here. Andy Warhol started out as a commercial illustrator and took his cues from ads and popular imagery. Included in this show are his Blackglama mink ad with Judy Garland, and ads for Mobil Oil, Lifesavers candy and even Macintosh computers. His myths series here has Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Howdy Doody, Superman and Uncle Sam. The famous gal pals Liza and Jackie O are here too. There are vivid bright silkscreens with a Cowboy and Indian theme – Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, General Custer, Kachina Dolls, each one rendered with a serious sense of Pop art fun, unexpected colors and blurred edges, making dusty American imagery contemporary and relevant.
“I still keep buying them. But I am running out of wall space, so I may have to stop soon or build a bigger house,” Marc Bell said in an interview at the opening. “I want peace on earth and goodwill to all men, but I may have to settle for a set of Warhol’s Marilyns. I just want people to enjoy looking at the pictures as much as I have.”
It’s easy to take Andy Warhol for granted now, but he was quite shocking and derided in his time. What does it mean when images overlap and appear off-register and pile-up? Why print them multiple times? Makeup is war paint, faces are green and garish and scribbled upon. Beauty is either tragic or helplessly glam. Pink cows are as important as Jackie O – and there are walls full of pink cows here at the entrance. The world was tripping in this way too. This was a true revolution and Warhol was revolutionary changing the way the world looked and the way viewers must now look at the world.
Another great section of the exhibit is Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949–1987. This engaging look at the 60 unique album cover designs he created for a diverse array of music ranges from Tchaikovsky and Gershwin, Count Basie and Artie Shaw, to the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground. Organized by the Cranbrook Art Museum, the exhibit includes over 100 album covers, designs, and sound clips, plus a lush coffee table book that gives the backstory to each cover.
The record exhibit is in a room by itself, along with a funky little living room set you can actually hang out in and watch a lost TV show from the 1970s called The Wild Record Collection that features a stuffed polar bear dancing to select vinyl album cuts. No really, this is the whole show, and this is what public access TV was like in the 70s.
The covers themselves – lined up in long cases across the room – are a succinct history of Andy Warhol art itself, starting with neat, sparse pen and ink drawings of jazz figures and classical composers in the 40s and 50s and morphing into more wildly recognizable “Warhol” style art of photo collages and silkscreens in the late 60s and 70s. The culmination is the banana cover art album for the Velvet Underground in 1967 and the Rolling Stones male jeans clad crotch cover from 1971. These were groundbreaking and also difficult to produce covers.
Early copies of the Velvet Underground album invited the owner to “Peel slowly and see”; if you peel back the banana skin it revealed a flesh-colored banana underneath. A special machine was needed to manufacture these covers and was one of the causes of the album’s delayed release, but the label, MGM, sprung for the extra costs figuring that any ties to Warhol would boost sales of the album. Most reissued vinyl editions of the album don’t feature the peel-off sticker; the original copies of the album with the peel-sticker feature are now rare collector’s items. Warhol later lamented he should have charged for royalties on sales as opposed to a flat design fee.
As art it is great fruity pop fun, as a band cover it has nothing to do with them at all which makes it even better.
The Rolling Stones cover was even more difficult as it featured an actual zipper and a second layer of cardboard underneath that had the image of white underwear. Tinkering had to be done with zipper placement as it was damaging the vinyl record underneath. The concept was Andy Warhol but the photography was by Billy Name and design was by Craig Braun. The mystery model was either Corey Tippin, Jed Johnson, Glen O’Brien or Joe Dallesandro, an endless debate that has long engrossed crotch watchers.
The real interest here is seeing an artist come into his own in a major commercial way, fusing his ideas and skills with both the deep underground scenes and top pop rock bands. Andy had a radical way of making art, truly astonishing ideas about color and the way he skidded images, and how he made art seem easy and even being gay great in a time when it was flat out illegal.
“Andy Warhol transformed commercial art into high art and high art into mass entertainment.” He became a new kind of artist – an icon, an anti-hero, and an obsessive documenter of society.
One last part of the exhibit features a fixture of the decadent, glam, disco-and-drugs-driven world of New York, Andy’s co-hort Bob Colacello recorded the frenetic pace of the 70’s-era Factory scene and Andy recording that same scene. As an addition to the Warhol art and vinyl cover exhibit, first major museum exhibition of Colacello’s candid photos includes vintage prints and selections from his book, OUT. While the photos are not in and of themselves all that great – hands block faces, stars are eating, drinking, bored – it does capture a time and place in a hard edged black and white photographic way.
If there’s any doubt of Warhols lasting influence it was on clear giant display at last week’s inaugural Art Boca Raton Fair where Cracking Art Group had a large pink fluorescent Rabbit and giant Snail outside the fair. The critters connect directly to Warhol’s pink cow, speaking in a secret pop art language through the ages that only big neon animals can hear.
If you visit: Exhibiting at Boca Raton Museum of Art through May 1 – 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, FL 33432 | For more exhibit informaiton: Bocamuseum.org