A massive image of Mao Tse Tung hanging two galleries away greets visitors to the latest major exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again. That Mao is looking on is totally appropriate at the AIC because, until 2015, when Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson donated 10 Warhol canvases as part of a larger gift of contemporary artworks, Mao was the only Warhol canvas in the museum’s entire collection.
It was great to see Mao here because, since the Edlis|Neeson collection went on display, this huge picture has languished in storage until Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again started touring earlier this year. (Several paintings from the Edlis|Neeson donation have also been on tour with Mao.)
This exhibition is the first American retrospective of Warhol’s work in 30 years. It is an excellent and thorough survey of this artist’s work in painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, photography, film, entertainment, and print media. It offers a great explanation of the journey of this special innovator, who started his career as a commercial artist in the 1950s.
Warhol was one of the first to recognize that the label and graphics used on everyday products can be as interesting as the products themselves. In the early 1960s, he showed us that the Brillo box and Campbell’s Soup can are art that can stand alone. The same is true of the shoes he was trying to market. Few people remember the shoes; many remember his drawings of them. Examples of these works are on display.
The exhibition illustrates how Warhol recognized that repetition, distortion, and manipulation of images can define events being memorialized or ideas being promoted, whether it is tragedy, politics, celebrity, advertising, or everyday life. His many images of a mourning Jackie Kennedy, smiling Mona Lisa, shrieking tabloid headlines, posing Elvis Presley, pensive Mao Tse Tung, seductive Marilyn Monroe, and hulking electric chair allowed him to highlight and offer his take on cultural phenomena.
Warhol’s techniques and printmaking innovations are explained with many works on paper and canvas spanning his career. His work in film is also on display in a separate screening room and on television screens scattered throughout.
The exhibition includes many of Warhol’s portraits, showing his novel approach of placing his subjects in real life settings and capturing spontaneous moments in an unusual color palette. There are also several of his many self portraits showing that, like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Warhol was able to use his own image to convey deep feelings and meaning. As a result of his myriad self portraits and many interactions with the print and television media, no modern artist is as recognizable to the American public as he is.
The Art Institute of Chicago is the third stop for Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again. It has previously been in New York at the Whitney Museum, and was extensively reviewed in Third Coast Review, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again will be open to the general public from October 20 through January 26. Tickets are $7.00 for the exhibit, on top of general admission of $20.00 for Chicago residents and $22.00 for Illinois residents. Free admission for members.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!