The exhibition explores the profound role religion played in the life and art of Andy Warhol
At Andy Warhol’s memorial service on April 1, 1987, many mourners learned about a lesser-known aspect of his life: Warhol was raised as a Byzantine Catholic and remained so throughout his life, said art historian John Richardson in his praise at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
âThose of you who knew him in circumstances that were the antithesis of the spiritual might be surprised to learn that such a side existed,â said Richardson. “But he did exist, and that is the key to the artist’s psyche.”
Indeed, religious iconography – including crosses and representations of Jesus and Mary – recurs throughout Warhol’s work. And in his diaries, Warhol documented details of his church trips and his trip to the Vatican in 1980, where he met Pope John Paul II.
But exhibitions of Warhol’s work haven’t examined the role his faith has played in both his life and his art – until now. A new exhibition presented at the Brooklyn Museum, “Andy Warhol: Revelation, âAims to correct this historical oversight, by presenting more than 100 objects that show how Warhol’s relationship to religion served as both a muse and methodology for his art, and a guiding force in his personal life.
Warhol, who was a gay, adapted – and, often, subverted – religious themes in her works, the exhibition argues, in part by challenging traditional representations of women and mothers and using male bodies as a means to explore queer desire. And through his celebrity portraits and paintings of objects that shaped American consumer culture in the 1960s – including cans of Campbell’s soup and bottles of Coke – Warhol “very foresight tapped into a kind of current. underlying society you might call cult, âsaid Carmen Hermo, associate curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, who hosted the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum with JosÃ© Carlos Diaz, chief curator at the Andy Warhol Museum.
The exhibition debuted at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 2019, then went to Speed ââMuseum in Louisville, Kentucky, last year before arriving at the Brooklyn Museum on November 19, where it will be on view until next June.
Warhol’s mother, Julia Zavacky Warhola, a Slovak immigrant, cultivated her son’s religious roots as a child in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, when she took him to four church services each weekend, notes “Apocalypse “. She also encouraged her son’s fledgling creativity by purchasing him art supplies. As an adult, Warhol practiced his faith “on his terms,” ââwhich were less strict than his mother’s, according to Diaz: “There isn’t much evidence of which churches or how often he went to them. the 1950s, but we know through his life that he entered the church, âhe said.
Although Warhol’s religiosity became inconsistent over the course of his life, his closeness to his mother endured. Julia lived with her son for almost two decades in New York City, from 1952 to 1971, when she returned to Pittsburgh in poor health (she died the following year). During those years of living together, Julia “always hoped he would meet the right girl,” Diaz said, adding that she had met Warhol’s boyfriends instead. Yet “she certainly accepted Warhol as he was,” Diaz added, despite the Catholic Church’s persistent stance against homosexuality.
Warhol’s closeness to his mother – and the respect for their religion she encouraged in him – likely inspired his interest in portraying the bond between mothers and their children, according to “Revelation” curators. In the early 1980s, Warhol and photographer Christopher Makos captured images of breastfeeding models and their babies – seven of which are featured in the exhibit – for a project Warhol planned to call âModern Madonnas,â inspired religious representations of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. Warhol ultimately abandoned the project, saying, âI just know this series is going to be a problem. It’s just too strange, mothers, babies and breastfeeding â- a view the Conservatives likely attribute toâ the stigma surrounding breastfeeding âthat prevailed at the time.
But Warhol relied on women as subjects throughout his career: “Revelation” features his 1964 serigraphs of Jackie Kennedy – veiled and mourning at the funeral of John F. Kennedy – and, produced some 14 years later , actress Marilyn Monroe, who died of a drug overdose in 1962 and whose Warhol face obscured and rearranged using a black palette.
The works, Hermo said, portray “intense moments of real women’s pain and somehow recognize the intensity of how American culture consumes and loves it.” Representing Kennedy and Monroe, with with whom JFK would have had an affair, the works also recall “the biblical juxtapositions of good women and not good women,” Hermo added.
Warhol was also drawn to male bodies as objects of inspiration, and he “often mixed his homosexual bodily desires with Catholic imagery,” the exhibit notes. (The body – and the body of Jesus, in particular – is a recurring motif in the Catholic faith: the crucifix shows the body of Jesus nailed to the cross, and the Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation, who maintains that during Mass the bread and wine served during Communion become the body and blood of Jesus.)
These interests converged in âThe Last Supper (Be Someone With a Body) (Detail)â, an acrylic work on linen from the mid-1980s, featured in âRevelation,â which displays an outline of Jesus overlying an outline of a chiseled man.
âThis is one of the works where we really see the twin impulses of homosexuality and Catholicism,â Hermo said.
In others, Warhol’s strangeness takes precedence over his Catholicism: two works presented in the exhibition are entirely composed of cum on cotton, and a pair of drawings from the 1950s depict naked men lying down.
Warhol’s fascination with male bodies also included his, featured in a 1969 photograph by Richard Avedon, taken the year after radical feminist Valerie Solanas shot him dead in an assassination attempt. Avedon’s image shows Warhol’s hand on his scarred abdomen.
Surviving the Solanas assassination attempt deepened Warhol’s faith, Hermo said: what he did until his death in 1987 of complications after gallbladder surgery. (Warhol is now buried alongside his parents at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh.)
While Richardson, the art historian, said in his eulogy that faith was the key to Warhol’s psyche, it may also be the key to understanding Warhol’s enduring status as a cultural icon, according to Diaz: âWarhol was that outdated Catholic who made art for the masses, and what masses? It was truly a secular audience that adored him in a whole new way.