- Catholic kid from Pittsburgh hits
- Record US $195 million for a print
- Highest auction price ever paid for a work by an American artist
He’s been dead for 35-years. But he’s getting more than his 15-minutes of fame.
An exhibition has just opened revealing the deep Catholic religious influence on his art.
His life is the subject not only of a new play in London but also a musical in New York
His Diaries are the subject of a documentary on Netflix
There is even a walking tour of New York City devoted to him
He is, of course, Andy Warhol, serious iconic white-wigged artist, crass commercialist, sensitive soul, shameless huckster, wild party boy, painful introvert, celebrity hound ravenous for fame, prophet of modernity and leader of a secret Catholic life.
Bob Colacello, a longtime friend and editor of Warhol’s magazine, Interview, says one of the chief reasons Warhol created such an air of myth and mystery around himself was to keep his true identity out of the public eye.
He also spoke about the role played by the Catholic church in Warhol’s education and development growing up in grim, gritty Pittsburgh.
Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola, was a devoted Catholic, would take her children to St John Chrysostom Church not only to Saturday night vespers but also to three Masses on Sunday where they were surrounded by Byzantine icons.
These icons, Colacello maintains, helped develop Warhol’s passion for art and encouraged him to escape to New York City in pursuit of his vocation as an artist.
The art historian, John Richardson, goes further. He talks about Warhol’s secret Catholic life
- that he attended Mass many times a week
- that he “was responsible for at least one conversion” and
- that he “took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood.”
Warhol, he says, “fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame and glamour and that he was cool to the point of callousness.”
In reality, “the callous observer was in fact a recording angel. And Andy’s detachment—the distance he established between the world and himself—was above all a matter of innocence and of art.”
The Andy Warhol exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, assembled by the curators of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, features over 100 items that attest to the powerful role played by Catholic tradition, ritual, language and symbolism in Warhol’s life and art.
Exhibits on display range:
- from his baptismal certificate to photographs of the icons in the church in Pittsburgh.
- from his paintings of the Madonna to his series of silkscreen photographs featuring America’s grieving madonna, Jackie Kennedy.
- from his obsessive depictions of “Death and Disaster” to his monumental studies of Leonardo’s “Last Supper”
Again and again, the exhibition focuses on the ubiquity of the concept of the Incarnation, on corporality and embodiment and on the centrality of suffering in human life.
In gallery after gallery, Warhol’s Catholic imagination is on full display, enabling the viewer to see a key element of his work that is just hinted at elsewhere.
One of the most striking images is Richard Avedon’s photograph of Andy Warhol’s torso taken a year after he was shot in 1968.
A single bullet, fired by a mentally ill woman, who accused him of stealing a manuscript she had sent him, pierced his lungs, his liver, his esophagus, his stomach and his spleen. He was thought to be dead by the doctors who tended to him at Columbus Hospital in New York until a private practice surgeon, Giuseppe Rossi, noticed the contraction of one of his pupils in the harsh hospital lights and was able to perform the emergency surgery that saved his life.
Avedon’s photograph, critics argue, is striking because it is both prophetic and charged with all of this history.
It is also striking, they claim, because it is the portrait of a crucifixion. It shows how Warhol’s wounded body echoes and participates in Christ’s story especially as it is
- set beside Warhol’s depictions of Christ on the night before his passion;
- set beside his famous icon of a handgun, the instrument of Warhol’s torture and death;
- set beside his massive portrait of a skull, evoking Golgotha, “The Place of the Skull” and site of the crucifixion.
Other powerful images on display include portraits of various saints.
Says Colacello, “All his really important works were icons—figures to be venerated.”
Art critic, Jeffrey Deitch, says that given the sense of impending mortality, it is perhaps not surprising that Warhol’s last artistic endeavor, was “a summation of his whole artistic enterprise.”
Commissioned by Alexander Iolas, a Greek art dealer and friend, who was dying of AIDS, “The Last Supper” series comprises over 100 works, which Warhol worked on obsessively in 1985-86. Among these are his famous large-scale paintings and silkscreens based on da Vinci’s iconic work.
Warhol’s works feature Christ and the Apostles as the face of empathy and forgiveness. As Christ consecrates the bread, which is his body, he consecrates all flesh, saintly and sinful. His face exudes peace, compassion and kindness.
The Andy Warhol Diaries
Warhol’s suffering again takes many forms in “The Diaries”.
It is particularly evident in his relationships.
His friendship with the brilliant young artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, begins in joy and is fueled by exuberance as the elder mentor and younger protégé collaborate to create some of the finest works of the late 20th century.
Before the sale of Warhol’s $195 million Marilyn icon, the highest priced work of American art sold at auction, was Basquiat’s skull painting, which sold for $110 million.
However, the relationship eventually soured as the two are set against one another by both the media and the art world, and they become competitors rather than collaborators.
Warhol was left bereft.
He also lost many friends, as well as his partner, Jon Gould, to illness. The plague of AIDS was ravaging the gay community in New York City and elsewhere in the 1980s, filling Warhol with terror and grief.
“The Diaries” follows Warhol to the opening of the exhibition in Milan, an event he attends despite the fact that he is seriously ill.
It describes the painful journey back to New York, where he is admitted to the hospital in which he would die two days later, on Feb. 22, 1987.
His via crucis finally concludes at his memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an event attended by 3,000 people, many of them the glamorous celebrities Warhol sought out in life.
This whole story is told over six hour long episodes, which also includes thanks to A.I. technology the voice of Warhol “reading” from his diaries and telling his own story.
We hear him give voice to his fears (he has many), fall in and out of love, critique the artists and celebrities whose company he keeps, make boastful declarations of his ambitions and poignant admissions of his failures while, at the same time, wrestling with existential dread.
While it’s true that no one really knew Warhol, thanks to the diaries—first published in 1989 and now made available to millions on a media platform Warhol would have found enviable—we are given access to his personal life and private thoughts, which help to humanize him, remove the impassive mask (if only for brief intervals) and enable us to see the real Andy Warhol, who even at the height of his fame, was permeated by suffering.