Warhol by the Book

Warhol by the Book

This fall, dive into an unexplored side of the pop-art icon: his lifelong love affair with books.

Before he pioneered the pop-art movement and became a bonafide global celebrity, artist Andy Warhol had a simple knack for taking traditional notions and turning them on their head—finding “new ways to say old things and old ways to say new things,” as he once explained it.

“I think Andy Warhol would have probably made the first cat video if he’d been around,” says Evan Garza, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at UT’s Blanton Museum of Art. “He would have been thrilled with the onslaught of the internet.”

ballads

Despite Warhol’s forward-thinking reputation, the Blanton’s latest examination of his work zeroes in on an old-school medium he returned to again and again: books. Andy Warhol By the Book is a career retrospective that spans more than 250 objects and five decades, from his design-student days of the 1940s to his peak fame of the 1970s and ’80s. Its inventory includes hand-detailed illustrations, experimental pop-up books, and cherished artist ephemera that would go on to serve as source material for some of Warhol’s most notable works.

One such example: Warhol’s early career in commercial graphic design for book covers in New York City had a profound impact on his later art-making practices. During this time, he experimented with a variety of offset printing techniques that heavily influenced the silk-screening process he later pioneered. By silk-screening images repeatedly onto a single canvas (think “Campbell’s Soup Cans” or his “Marilyn Diptych”), Warhol was able to achieve a mass-produced look, an artistic representation of his growing fascination with American consumerism and Hollywood culture.

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“For someone who was so celebrity-obsessed, authors were truly Warhol’s first celebrities,” Garza says. In fact, there’s an entire wall in the exhibition dedicated to his relationship with novelist Truman Capote, whom Warhol became obsessed with throughout his early career. Legend has it that Capote’s mother had to ask Warhol to stop calling their house, and Capote’s agent even sent him a cease-and-desist letter. (Of course, Warhol was thrilled by this, and the two became close friends in later decades.)

Some of the show’s rarest gems include a catalog of black-and-white screen tests of writers and poets, including short films featuring John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, and Salvador Dalí. There’s also a copy of Andy Warhol’s Index (1967), a revolutionary mixed-media pop-up book that features a meta 45 rpm record of The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed and Nico discussing Warhol making a pop-up book.

“Warhol was a constant experimenter,” Garza says. “He was particularly interested in questioning how something was presented to the viewer. Books were a way to take an existing structure and try to depart from it.”

This constant critique of the status quo would continue to be Warhol’s signature throughout his career, and greatly informed the portrait practice for which he is perhaps best known. You’ll still get a bit of that Warhol you know and love throughout the show—from a purple and pink pop-art portrait of Dolly Parton to a floating display wallpapered by the artist’s portraits of Mao Zedong.

“Everyone comes to Warhol with some expectation, and we’re delivering on those expectations with the Blanton’s version of this exhibition,” Garza says. “But what is truly exciting is our ability to be thought provoking about Warhol’s lifelong relationship to books, which has been relatively uncharted—until now.”

Warhol by the Book will be on display at the Blanton Museum of Art through Jan. 29, 2017.

Photos (from top): Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), 1967; “Borderline Ballads,” First Edition, 1955, book jacket design; Blue Movie by Andy Warhol, released as a book in 1970. Photos by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

 
 
 

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