In an iconic scene from Jorgen Leth’s 1982 arthouse film “66 Scenes From America,” Andy Warhol unwraps a hamburger, dips it in some ketchup, eats the burger and says to the camera, “My name is Andy Warhol and I just finished eating a hamburger.” Both mundane and fascinating, this simple action is itself representative of Warhol’s own artistic curiosities. While notoriously shy, Warhol was at his core deeply captivated by the beauty of people in their everyday activities, exhibited through his reproduction of advertisements and especially through the 90+ films he made with Paul Morrissey. One of his films, “Sleep,” has a runtime of over five hours and only depicts artist John Giorno sleeping. But through this work, Warhol opened up the question, “Why can’t a soup can be considered art?” to show the beauty that can be found all around.
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center will be featuring the exhibition “People Are Beautiful: Prints, Photographs, and Film by Andy Warhol” through April 15. The Loeb’s exhibit is part of “Warhol x 5,” a consortium of five colleges in the Hudson Valley displaying Warhol’s art. Throughout 2018, exhibits at Vassar, SUNY New Paltz, Bard, SUNY Albany and SUNY Purchase will feature rarely-seen work by Warhol donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. To coincide with the opening of the exhibition, frequent Warhol collaborator Vincent Fremont gave the lecture “Reel to Real: Andy Warhol’s World” on Friday, Jan. 26 in Taylor Hall. After working with Warhol at The Factory in 1969, Fremont became the artist’s primary producer and developer for video, television and film projects over the next two decades and was one of the founding directors of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Fremont began his lecture by reading a quote from Warhol’s 1975 book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,” one that emblematizes Warhol’s ironic yet brilliant insights: “I really don’t care that much about ‘Beauties.’ What I really like are ‘Talkers.’ To me, good talkers are beautiful because good talk is what I love. The word itself shows why I like Talkers better than Beauties, why I tape more than I film. It’s not ‘Talkies.’ Talkers are doing something. Beauties are being something. Which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that I don’t know what it is they’re being. It’s more fun to be with people who are doing things.”
Throughout the lecture, Fremont recounted anecdotes behind many of the works featured in “People are Beautiful.” His stories called attention to Warhol’s work in the ’70s and ’80s, an often overlooked period in his career.
Mary-Kay Lombino, The Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director for Strategic Planning at the Loeb, served as curator of “People are Beautiful” and organized Fremont’s lecture. Lombino reflected on how Fremont’s firsthand accounts brought greater appreciation to Warhol’s works in the exhibit: “I thought it made it much more vivid to imagine the process by which Warhol captured these photographs. Knowing all the energy they put into the television series they produced together I felt really gave you an insight into his personality. At that late stage in the 1980s, you would think he was maybe done with still trying to bring in new people and awareness about his work, but it was clear that he wanted a wider distribution of his work and even more notoriety and fame. That was something I didn’t expect.”
“People are Beautiful” is divided into five different sections. “Celebrity and Stardom” features many of the works associated with Warhol, including prints from his Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe series. “Artist-Patron Relationship” includes commissioned Polaroids of his patrons taken by the artist. “Fashion, Models, and the Party Scene” highlights Warhol’s constant presence in late-1970s Manhattan nightlife and the various figures with whom he frequently associated. “Ladies and Gentlemen” is Warhol’s 1975 photo project spotlighting trans people of color. The fifth and final section, “‘Most Beautiful’ Screen Tests” are three-minute silent films that Warhol recorded, from 1964 to 1966, of friends and acquaintances the artist considered beautiful. The exhibit also shows a selection from Warhol’s iconic series “Self-Portrait with a Fright Wig.”
Samantha Hodes ’20, an attendee of the exhibition, commented, “As a fan of Warhol’s stark portraits, I was unsurprised by the frankness of his images, which were typical of his style, but also excited by the prospect of seeing all these new prints that I had never encountered before. Also, I’m really glad that Vassar made the work of contemporary artistic genius so accessible to us.”
Even though Warhol passed away over 30 years ago, both the art world and popular culture still teem with the artist’s influence and aesthetic perspective. Lombino elaborated, “I think his work is endlessly important to contemporary art and art-making today. I think that one of the things that Warhol did was break open the restrictions against including the everyday in his work.”
Lombino continued, “That, I think, is endlessly influential for today, not just in the art world, but in our regular daily lives. I think it can be hard to imagine for someone who has always lived in the digital world, where you can take a thousand pictures in a day on your phone or digital camera and it seems normal. In order to take the 30,000 pictures or more that he took in his lifetime, he was constantly loading his camera with film and carrying around this heavy equipment, pulling it out at strange times when people weren’t expecting to see a camera. And that idea was very new at the time it was happening.”
In collaboration with the Film Department, the Loeb will be presenting “Lupe and Blow Job: The Films by Andy Warhol” on Thursday, March 29. The event will feature the eponymous works of Warhol’s early career as well as the film “Mario Banana #1” with introductory comments by a regular of Warhol’s Silver Factory era, artist Gerard Malanga. Vassar College will participate with the other four colleges for a two-day “Warhol x 5” symposium on April 12 and 13. The symposium will include a keynote lecture by noted art critic and Warhol biographer Blake Gopnik.
Because of the opportunity to display rarely seen works, Lombino hopes the exhibit will redefine visitors’ preconceptions of the artist: “Warhol’s an interesting artist to do an exhibition on because when you say the word ‘Warhol,’ everyone has an idea in their mind of what his artwork looks like. I hope that it will change people’s minds when they come and see the show because most of the work on view has not been shown before. We’re presenting a side of Warhol that’s new and hopefully exciting and eye-opening. Maybe it will change people’s minds for what Warhol means to them.”