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Warhol fever in the RFV

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By James Steindler

When it comes to an artist as prolific as Andy Warhol, two galleries can be filled with his works and set to launch at the same time. Next to the countless Polaroids Warhol snapped and saved throughout his career, his creations were equally boundless, spanning from the time he was just getting his bearings as an artist to his most iconic pieces — copies of which hang on the walls of homes across the globe today. 

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The Aspen Art Museum (AAM) holds its opening of “Andy Warhol: Lifetimes” the day after this newspaper hits the stands; which is fitting, because when Warhol would create he strived to be timely. The “Lifetimes” exhibit originated at the Tate Modern museum in London and its only stop in the U.S. is at the AAM. 

Monica Majoli, a Los Angeles based artist, was hired to curate the exhibit and “re-conceptualize the staging of the exhibition from its previous iterations,” reads an AAM press release. Majoli is an arts professor at UC Irvine and teaches painting as well as art history. 

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“Warhol, to me, has always been someone that I’ve looked at as an inspiration,” Majoli stated. She pointed to the “extremity” of his work and explained, “I think he’s really the singular artist in terms of affecting American culture — and we can feel that even today.” 

When asked if she has a favorite Warhol piece, Majoli referred to the Jackie O. works which Warhol created within days of the Kennedy assasination as one of her “north stars.” She continued, “The fact that he was able to produce work while things were actually happening was very affecting to me as an artist. I think there’s a certain kind of bravery in doing things like that; to be able to, as an artist, distance oneself from the times in order to see them and conceptualize them.” 

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When it comes to the AAM installation, “I ended up taking a new direction with the exhibition,” explained Majoli, “building on what the Tate had done, and trying to add more from Andy Warhol’s life through archival materials, but also through the work itself.” Those archival materials include personal diary entries of Warhol’s which help shed light on the man as a person and not just an icon. 

In part, the exhibit portrays Warhol’s identity as a gay man. It was evident even in his early works that Warhol was interested in the gentlemanly figure. The exhibit displays romantic ink drawings of male subjects Warhol created as early as the 1950s, and his later-in-life polaroid photos of intimate encounters between other gay men. 

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According to Majoli, “He was one of the few artists of his generation not to be closetted during the ‘50s, when it was really uncommon.” She went on, “Because he was more swish, or in today’s language ‘more flamboyant,’ he was actually trying to show erotic images of men in galleries.” Of course, “it was really difficult to actually show that work at the time,” but the same works are now on display at the AAM exhibit, bringing Warhol’s intention to life. 

“It’s an exhibition that was conceived at one institution and really has a different life in Aspen,” said Simone Krug, assistant curator at the AAM. There are over 400 pieces in the AAM exhibit according to Krug. The works include “family photographs of Warhol as a child from the early ‘30s and works like the ‘Double Elvis.’ Very iconic. Things of all scales and sizes; things that are familiar and unfamiliar,” Krug explained. 

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It was not merely a coincidence that both the Powers Art Center, near Carbondale, and AAM decided to display the Warhol exhibits in unison. “It was a deliberate move for both institutions to do Warhol exhibitions,” explained Krug. The assistant curator acknowledged Kimiko and John Powers’ close relationship with Warhol, and Majoli added that Warhol mentions Aspen numerous times in his diary entries. There are several images of Warhol in and around Aspen, however, those images will not be on display at the AAM exhibition. 

“You have both his diaries and you also have these photographs,” said Majoli, “so there’s this kind of beautiful way you can graph one onto the other and sort of see what he’s talking about, which is so fascinating to have.” 

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“In the role of an artist, which is essentially to conceptualize and reflect a culture to itself, Warhol did that in a way that is extraordinary,” said Majoli. “I cannot think of an artist who quite took on the world the way he did,” she surmised.

“No one,” echoed Krug.

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The AAM exhibit opens Dec. 3 and closes March 27, 2022. The AAM is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tags: #Andy Warhol #Andy Warhol: Lifetimes #Aspen Art Museum #Monica Majoli
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