Even if you’ve never seen an Andy Warhol original, you’re probably familiar with his major works. Warhol’s well-known screenprints of Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), the Marilyn Diptych (1962) and Chairman Mao portraits (1972) continue to draw admiration and curiosity with their bright colors and mesmerizing repetition. His life-long exploration of the relationship between celebrities, capitalism and the art world arguable set the foundation for contemporary art markets and Neo-Dada. Unlike artists such as Jeff Koons, Warhol was sometimes serious, mostly ironic and always mysterious. It was, and still is, hard to say what the artist actually believed in.
Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, offers an impressive look at Warhol’s accomplishments, with over 250 works spanning four decades. A lot of what the High showcases is what we would expect—a wall of Campbell’s soup cans, a woozy wall of Marilyns, the usual. The High purposefully keeps the accreditation vague. Any exhibit involving Warhol is likely to avoid the question of who actually created the prints, seeing as much of Warhol’s work made at his New York studio (The Factory), may have been created by friends or assistants. True to his ideology, Warhol wasn’t always the best at signing his work, preferring to create as a machine would create. This leads the High to print captions like the one below, which accompanied the wall of Campbell’s soup cans.
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Campbell’s Soup I: Tomato (II.46), AP edition E/Z, 1968, screenprint, 35 × 23 inches, courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
These prints and those on the opposite wall are based on paintings of Campbell’s soup cans that Warhol exhibited in 1962 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, an exhibition that hastened a radical break with the past.
Great—so is it an original Warhol or not? Is there such a thing as an “original” Warhol? This is a dialogue the High could have engaged in, and chose not to. While the major Warhol works are eye-catching crowd-pleasers (particularly a wild wall of psychedelic Chairman Maos, set against a purple wallpaper of even more Chairman Maos), there was one section of the exhibition that was completely unexpected, charming and, well, cute.
If you walk into the opening lobby of Andy Warhol: Prints and go past the oversized black-and-white portrait of the young artist, you’ll enter a space that doesn’t quite look like what you’d expect from Warhol. Before The Factory became the place to be in New York, before Warhol achieved massive art world success, he was living and working as an in-demand graphic designer. Therefore, the first section of the exhibition is filled with doodles, lithographs and drawings, rather than the iconic screenprints we’re used to. There’s a book of lithographs and watercolors that Warhol made titled “25 Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy” (1955), and yes, it is exactly as adorable as it sounds. We also are treated to a delightful portfolio of hand-colored prints for an ad campaign for I. Miller shoes. The prints combine shoe design with little wacky witticisms, such as “Uncle Sam want shoes,” “Shoe fly baby,” and “The autobiography of alice B. shoe.”
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Flowers (II.73), edition 201/250, 1970, screenprint, 36 1/8 × 36 1/8 inches, courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
On a parallel wall, we see “Love in a Pink Cake” (1953), a collection of clever verses by Ralph Thomas Ward paired with lithograph doodles from Warhol. The small lithographs explore the gay subculture within art culture, and refer to the taboo of being gay in 1950s America. It’s an interesting and quirky look into Warhol’s early explorations of sexuality. In the same space, we see “Flowers (Hand-Colored)” (1974), slightly later work for the artist that revisted his 50s style. They’re absolutely lovely, with their blushing pinks and corals layered messily over scribbled vases.
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to google these early works to get an idea of their appeal. They weren’t included in the press images, and they weren’t promoted at all. You won’t find posters available in the gift shop of “Flowers (Hand-Colored)” or “One Blue Pussy.” Instead, the High Museum strongly pushed the images we’d recognize, and it’s not hard to understand why— Jackie, Mao, Marilyn, and Campbell’s are what get people in the door. But Andy Warhol: Prints is more than basic Warhol. It’s a look at where the artist started, and where he ended up. The exhibition explores Warhol’s life as a famous, gay artists at a time where all famous artists were most likely dead, and being gay was far, far from accepted.
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Ladies and Gentlemen (II.135), edition AP 14/25, 1975, screenprint, 43 1/2 × 28 1/2 inches, courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Warhol’s work and style, despite what is portrayed by the High’s press, is not a monolith. The enigmatic artist and his work are complicated, with extensive variations in technique, method and mood. Visiting Andy Warhol: Prints is probably the best chance of getting an idea of Warhol in his entirety, as both an artist and a person. Just some advice—skip the familiar works in favor of the smaller, lesser known pieces. It’s worth it.
Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation is on view at the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, from June 3—Sept. 3, 2017. You can purchase tickets here.