Soup, Luncheon Meat, Lychees and a Last Supper at the ArtScience Museum

1 05 2012

Love them or hate them, the works of Andy Warhol are without a doubt some of the most recognisable art pieces produced in second half of the 20th Century. There is also little doubt of the impact that the enigmatic Warhol has had during his lifetime on the visual arts scene. However, beyond the iconic imagery that he is synonymous with, particularly of cans of Campbell’s Soup – there is very little that I myself have of the artist and I took the opportunity to learn more of the artist who would otherwise remain a mystery to me at the Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal exhibition now on at the ArtScience Museum, to which the good folks at the museum were kind enough to extend an invitation to me.

The Andy Warhol 15 Minutes Eternal exhibition is on until 12 Aug 2012. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

Warhol, I was to learn from the expert guide who took the group of us through the exhibition, did have that air of mystery about him – not by accident but by design. Visitors learn of this soon after stepping through the very pink entrance where on a TV screen, a video of an interview Warhol did in his early years is shown. The artist does not say much in his responses – his attempt, I found out, to remain mysterious as a means to achieve fame, having been driven by an obsession Warhol had with the pursuit of fame and fortune.

It is in stepping into the exhibition proper from this first introduction to Warhol that I was to understand more about the man behind the mask Warhol had on, as the visitor is able to walk through the various stages of his life and get to know and understand the artist better through the works that he produced at each stage in Warhol’s career as an artist. The exhibition, held in the year which marks the 25th anniversary of Warhol’s death in 1987, ends on 12 Aug 2012 and has brought in over 260 paintings, drawings, sculptures, film, and video of Warhol’s works – the first time, such an extensive collection of his works is seen in Singapore. The exhibition, the title of which is in fact derived from Warhol’s famous “15 minutes of fame” quote – in which he said “In the future, everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”, is sponsored by BNY Mellon and organized by The Andy Warhol Museum in Warhol’s home town of Pittsburgh.

Gold Leaf Shoe - inspired by gold leaf used in the creation of religious icons of the Byzantine Catholic faith that Warhol's parents practiced. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

The first gallery “Early Years” – 1940s to 1950s looks at the early potential that Warhol exhibited as a child and the influences on his artistic development as well as the early years of his career. It is here that I learnt more of Warhol’s background … that the bright pink of the exhibition’s entrance was no accident. The son of working class Slovak immigrants, Warhol born Andrew Warhola, spent long periods of his school-going years at home. He had been afflicted with St. Vitus Dance – a disease that attacks the nervous system, which left large pink blotches on Warhol’s skin fuelling his infatuation with the colour pink.

Although lacking at first in style, Warhol did show enough promise however to prompt his family to support him through the School of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, following which he was to taste early success as a commercial illustrator. Attracted by his endeavour, a quality he learnt from his hardworking immigrant parents, as well as by the whimsical nature of his work which challenged the norm, Warhol had by the time he was 27 been engaged by several famous brands including Vogue magazine. His endeavour also rewarded him with a job with I. Miller to create advertisements and shop displays for their famous collection of shoes. That earned Warhol the reputation of ‘Shoe Man’. Beyond illustrations, Warhol experimented with print techniques – something which he would later exploit for commercial gain, developing his own blotted line print technique.

Campbell's Soup. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

Images of celebrities. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

Silver Factory. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

The next gallery, “The Factory Years” – 1960s, examines Warhol’s transition from commercial art to business art. It was during the decade that Warhol moved into Pop-Art – an art form in which imagery associated with popular culture such as advertising, comic books, and brand products is reproduced. Here his early pieces – a wallpaper of cows set against a bright yellow background and ‘cardboard’ boxes made from wood stacked to create a scene inside a warehouse are seen which initially received a poor reaction. It was the iconic Campbell’s Soup cans that were to bring Warhol success – an idea that apparently wasn’t Warhol’s but of a female friend who suggested that Warhol, then short of inspiration, should produce images of something he saw everyday which would be recognisable to everyone – “like a can of Campbell’s Soup”.

It was during this time, that Warhol employed the silkscreen printing – a technique he picked up at the start of the 1960s – as a means similar to the blotted line technique that he could use to mass produce images for commercial gain. This also allowed Warhol to extensively use assistants to do the work – freeing him to pursue what was to become an unfulfilled desire to become famous as a fine art artist. Warhol would also extend the use of silkscreen printing to reproductions of photographs – mainly of celebrities with whom he had a fascination for, including Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.

The gallery is where visitors are introduced to the Silver Factory a reproduction of Warhol’s New York studio in the 1960’s – covered entirely with foil. The Silver factory allows visitors to dress up and be “a star for 15 minutes” with a photo booth to capture the experience. From a reproduction of the couch from the Silver Factory, visitors would be able to watch avant-garde films produced by Warhol.

Time Capsule. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

The next gallery, “Exposures” – 1970s takes the visitor through the decade during which Warhol worked extensively on commissioned portraits using Polaroids to photograph celebrities, to fund an interest in experimental film. It is also interesting to learn that Warhol, although not a hoarder, collected various items that represented various periods of his life in the 1970s. Warhol started creating “time-capsules” with the items – creating a total of some 612 capsules which he housed in brown cartons – one of which visitors would be treated to a view of.

The Last Supper. © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands.

We move into the final years of Warhol’s life next in “The Last Supper” – 1980s. Having achieved great success, Warhol next ventured into television media as well as dabbled with a diverse range of art. One work which caught my eye was The Last Supper – not that I could comprehend the depiction of religious imagery with symbols of consumerism. The piece, one of his last before an untimely passing from complications after a routine gall bladder operation, was considered to be have made a monumental impact in the industry.

The visit to the exhibition does not end with the last of the artist’s works. There is a little more to be discovered – not of Warhol’s works, but of works in which Warhol might have had an influence on a quarter of a century after his passing. What certainly will catch the attention of the visitor are the series of Ma-Ling Luncheon Meat and Lychee cans, very much in the fashion of the Campbell Soup cans that Warhol popularised – with a little twist. The Pork Luncheon and Lychee series are the works of one of three South East Asian artists, Jahan Loh from Singapore, being featured in a specially curated segment. This segment aims to highlight the influence of Andy Warhol on Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art in the display of over 16 selected works that draw on common themes and techniques made famous by the iconic Pop Artist. The two other artists whose works are featured are Ibrahim Hussein (Malaysia; 1936-2009) and Jirapat Tatsanasomboon (Thailand).

SEA Art Work inspired by Warhol - from Jahan Loh's Pork Luncheon and Lychee series. © MAD, Museum of Art & Design.

As an added treat, visitors to the exhibition can also participate in a Silkscreen Printing Workshop (information is available the tha ArtScience Museum’s website. A session at the workshop was specially arranged for the group I was in as well at which I was able to get to try my hand at the technique that Warhol so successfully employed. With the apron that was definitely a necessity for me, and with a squeegee in hand – I managed to produce a print of a portrait of Warhol, at the same time learning more about the technique – something that definitely completes the experience that the must-see exhibition provides of Andy Warhol and his work.

Visitors can try their hand at silkscreen printing.

The silkscreen.

The finished print.

Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal will run from 17 March 2012 until 12 August 2012. This exhibition is part of the Asian tour that will travel to five cities over 27 months starting in Singapore. It will then move on to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and finally Tokyo in 2014. Tickets for the exhibition can be purchased on the ArtScience Museum website and all Marina Bay Sands box offices.

Advertisements