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'I loved his art, I loved his image," says Cristina Favretto, director of Special Collections at San Diego State University. "And I loved that he would go places and people would speak for him and interpret things for him. And yet he said all these interesting things that have become part of our culture. You could go to anybody, from a nun to some guy drunk on the street, and they would all know the phrase, 'Famous for 15 minutes.'" The San Diego Museum of Art has on display 110 of Andy Warhol's screen prints, including images of Jacqueline Kennedy, Mick Jagger, and the Campbell's soup can. The exhibit runs through September 10.

Favretto has been interested in Andy Warhol and his work for most of her life. "I was an English major in college and wrote what amounted to a senior undergraduate thesis on Pop Art literature and its portrayal of women." As a graduate student she interned at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the city where Warhol was born and grew up.

Favretto continues, "Women were virtually nonexistent in pop culture, and I was always trying to find out who the women were and where they fit in. There were people like Audrey Flack, who did realistic art, and Surrealist women like Frieda Kahlo, who portrayed the wildest and best kind of Pop Art.

"I knew that Andy Warhol was influenced by women and images of women. As a young boy he collected film magazines with studio articles written about the latest starlets they were trying to promote, and he would put a sheet of very thin paper over them and trace the faces. He was completely obsessed with feminine beauty."

During the '60s, Warhol had a coterie of followers who surrounded him, worked for him, and fed his creativity. In Famous for 15 Minutes, one such devotee, who adopts the name Ultra Violet, recalls a trip to a thrift shop with Warhol: "I select a vintage dress in violet velvet, priced at ten dollars, and try it on. I pirouette in front of Andy. He nods his approval. 'Buy it,' he says.

"'It's great,' I tell him. 'But look, it's torn at the bottom.' I lift the hem to show him the ragged area. 'That's the torn look,' he declares -- and a new fashion is born."

"Although Pop Art used the images of women and the symbolism inherent in women's lives," says Favretto, "it was more of a reactionary movement, because it didn't really include women except to exploit them. My final conclusion was that Pop Art was male art, in so many ways. Yet Andy, the biggest proponent of Pop Art, was always surrounded by his 'superstars,' women like Edie, Viva, Ultra Violet..."

Art-appraisal site Biddingtons.com defines Pop Art as "a 20th-century art movement that utilized the imagery and techniques of consumerism and popular culture.... Pop Art favored figural imagery and the reproduction of everyday objects such as Campbell's soup cans, comic strips, and advertisements. The movement eliminated distinctions between 'good' and 'bad' taste and between fine art and commercial art techniques."

Or, as Warhol himself once observed, "Everything is beautiful. Everything is pop."

"If someone asked me who Andy Warhol was," says Favretto, "I would probably say he was one of the most interesting people in the 20th Century. I'd explain who he was as an artist but also add that he was his own art piece. He was someone who could have had a conversation with Stalin and then have a conversation with Mother Teresa.

"Was there a story threading through Andy Warhol's work? Yes. It's a story of someone who couldn't believe he had gotten away from Pittsburgh. The persons he related to towards the end were people like himself, wounded creatures who died young. So I think disaster, sadness, and escape threaded through his life. I think most of Andy's life was escape, even from the people who said they loved him. What did he escape to? To being another person."

While viewing one of Warhol's screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, Ultra Violet once asked Andy, "When did you first paint her?"

"The day after she died," he replied. "I ordered a silk screen made from her photograph when I heard about her death on the radio."

"You didn't waste any time."

"Timing is all."

Ultra Violet concludes, "He's right. Her death was in the news. It was on people's minds. It was commercial."

  • "Andy Warhol's Dream America"
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • Now through September 10
  • Tuesday through Sunday,
  • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • 1450 El Prado
  • Balboa Park
  • Cost: $10; seniors and military $8; students $7
  • Info: 619-232-7931 or http://www.sdmart.org/
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