You’ve probably heard that Andy Warhol Enterprises will be on display at the IMA from October 10th through January 2, 2011. Organized by IMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Sarah Urist Green and former Assistant Curator Allison Unruh, this retrospective includes works by Warhol that relate to his business as well as studio practices spanning from 1946 until his death in 1987. Andy Warhol Enterprises encompasses Warhol’s beginnings as a commercial artist upon his move to New York in 1949, as well as works that are more familiar, such as his Brillo box sculptures or his portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Archival materials included in the show provide insight into the many different areas of Warhol’s career. For example, record covers and contracts chronicle his time spent as the band manager for the Velvet Underground and Nico, and episodes of Andy Warhol’s T.V. and copies of Interview magazine serve as evidence for Warhol’s explorations into mass media.
Bringing all of these materials together has required a lot of collaboration between departments within the IMA, as well as public institutions and private collectors nationally. Two trucks full of Warhol works and archival materials have arrived at the IMA from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the contents of which are currently being unpacked and carefully inspected before being installed. Individual works from the other institutions as well as private collections will continue trickling in in the weeks leading up to the exhibition’s opening.
This amalgamation of ads, window displays, and awnings from the fifties, studio works from throughout his career, and films and TV episodes within the exhibition demonstrates the complexity of the artist we know as Andy Warhol. I think one work in particular demonstrates this best, titled Myths: The Shadow (1981). This is one of ten works, and the only self-portrait, that comprise Warhol’s Myths series. Other “portraits” within the series include Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, The Wicked Witch of the West, and other fictional archetypes within American popular culture. While referring to The Shadow, a character popular in comics, novellas, and the subject of a radio show from 1930–1954, who solved mysteries and fought crimes, Warhol is also alluding to his own largely unknown personal identity. It’s interesting that Warhol decided to include a self-portrait in the Myths series, but, as with The Shadow, Warhol adopted a variety of personae throughout his career, beginning with his transition in the late 1940s from his birth name of Andrew Warhola to Andy Warhol.
Warhol revealed little of his private life. Even his diaries, which are typically the most confidential form of documentation, personal information can scarcely be discerned. Warhol talks about mundane, everyday things, like how much he spent on taxi fares or what parties he attended, but there’s barely any mention of his artistic practice, his company Andy Warhol Enterprises, which he founded in 1957, or his past. It seems that Warhol must have known his diaries would be published after his death and that they were merely an aid in constructing his public persona, in addition to serving as an unconventional record of financial information. After his death his studio and home were cleared, some of the contents sold, and the Andy Warhol Foundation was established. Many of Warhol’s records and personal items are housed in the archives at the Warhol Museum in “time capsules”—ordinary cardboard boxes that contain everything Warhol had amassed, anything from McDonald’s wrappers to Clark Gable’s shoes. But despite all of the material collected or created by Warhol that survived him, the real Warhol remains as he always was—elusive, mysterious, mythic.
We’ll never have certain insights into Warhol’s life, but while working with the curators to implement certain aspects of the exhibition as well as the accompanying catalogue, I’ve found myself constantly in awe of the genius that is Andy Warhol, whoever he may be.
Intrigued? Get your ticket to visit Myths: The Shadow when the exhibition is unveiled October 9th at the Warhol Soiree.