Art & Museums

Preview: Andy Warhol – From A to B and Back Again Finally Arrives in Chicago

From two galleries away, Mao’s presence is huge in the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition, Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. Photo by Louis Harris.

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.)

Marilyn Diptych from the Tate London. Photo by Louis Harris.

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.

Big Electric Chair, two of many Warhol renditions of the electric chair. Top one part of the Edlis|Neeson donation, bottom one in the Menil Collection, Houston. Photo by Louis Harris.

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.

Self Portrait, one of several in the exhibit. Part of the Edlis|Neeson donation. Photo by Louis Harris.

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.

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3 replies »

  1. Having seen all three installations of this exhibition, I was a bit taken aback by the solmenity of the AIC installation. In NYC/SF the installation had a party atmosphere, a buoyant and energizing vibe. Here in Chicago the art was presented as “A” memorial. A lot of work was missing. The other two exhibitions seemed to have double the amount and yet the works that were on view in Chicago held some surprises. The single most powerful room was the EXIT space, with the time capsule, ephemera, films and the underrated FLASH screenprint portfolio shown as a document of American tragedy . A chilling precursor to Instagram and Twitter. That room summed up the essence of Andy. It’s the small things that keep the big ideas alive. It took a little more than 15 minutes to get through that room.

  2. No Warhol exhibition can be complete without the presence of at last one of the following silkscreens, depicting his favourite subject i) “Campbell’s Elvis” US$2.850,000 ii) “Red Elvis,” US$2.900,000 iii) “Single Elvis”, US$3,367,500. iv) Elvis I and II”, US$15.700,000. v) “Double Elvis”, US$53,000,000, vi) “”Triple Elvis” US$81.900,000 and viii) “Eight Elvises” (US$100.000,000 ).

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s no surprise that Warhol is commanding top dollar in the market. Elvis was well represented in the Exhibition, even if those particular silkscreens were not there. No exhibit can have everything. Perhaps more prints on paper might have been good, but hanging those would have required removing something else. The things that were missing do not in any way detract from the many great works that were there and the excellent telling of Warhol’s story.

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