The curator of Warhol Mania explains that pop art attracts new faces
A private collection of Andy Warhol prints on display at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts has succeeded in attracting a new demographic.
The exhibit strays from what has been presented at the museum in the last year. In the 2014 season, museum-goers were treated to retrospectives and views of distant lands. From Van Gogh to Kandinsky looked at impressionism, expressionism and everything in between, while Peter Doig’s collection of paintings transported viewers to his adopted home of Trinidad.
Warhol Mania is a shift that has brought a new generation to the typically classic museum. The collection of graphic design work was curated by art collector Paul Maréchal.
If ever anyone could be called a Warhol aficionado, it would be Maréchal, without a doubt. He has penned three books about Warhol’s work and donated 51 pieces to the Museum of Fine Arts for this exhibit. His passion for the graphic designer’s work might be surpassed only by his passion for sharing it.
Maréchal, who confessed that he could speak endlessly about Warhol, is not new to dealing with museums. Pleased with the reception that the exhibit has had to date, he remarked how great it has been to work with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “Having only one lender makes it easier to coordinate,” he said.
As a result, two halls on the third floor of the museum are decorated with some of Warhol’s most recognizable pieces, from a hot pink Perrier bottle, to an illustration of Michael Jackson’s TIME cover, to a bright red poster for the 20th Montreux Jazz Festival.
“Unlike works of art, which are created to be contemplated, an advertising poster must deliver its message in a matter of seconds, making an immediate impact on the passerby, the person in the street,” says the museum’s website.
This is the most striking difference between Warhol Mania and previous shows at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Warhol “broke down the boundaries between graphics and the fine arts by using both to their mutual benefit,” as a description in the exhibit hall elaborates.
In breaking down this boundary, Warhol’s work gains an unprecedented reach. Maréchal agreed that the poster format makes the art more accessible to the public than traditional media. It is, without question, easier to digest than some of Warhol’s other work. Maréchal cited Warhol’s 1964 work Empire as an example. Warhol’s eight-hour-long silent film of the Empire State Building might not have been as eagerly embraced by the general public.
Maréchal continued to explain that in the early 1950s, Warhol’s fine art pieces could have been found in cafes, or other galleries that sold the work of unknown artists, but that he truly found his fame in the pages of magazines.
The exhibit highlights the fine line that Warhol drew between commercial and fine art by placing original prints next to copies of the ads from magazines. Most notable is Warhol’s rendition of a bottle of Absolut Vodka. A large poster of the iconic ad allows the viewer to appreciate the artistic detail, while smaller reproductions give a new perspective on advertising.
It is this unique perspective that draws a younger generation to the exhibit. While Doig’s large paintings demonstrate great skill, the subject matter is less accessible. Warhol’s posters were designed to be eye-catching, no matter the subject. Jeans, celebrities, and sparkling water are ever-present, which allows them to resonate with today’s audience.
“It has been extremely popular amongst young people,” Maréchal said of the exhibit. “The attendance has been quite high.” It’s this popularity that has encouraged organizers to extend the exhibit for an extra two weeks, until Sunday March 29. It is free for attendees under 30.