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Andy Warhol. Life, Death and Beauty

Inaugural exhibition for the reopening of BAM in 2013!
Visuel: Andy Warhol, Red Jackie, 1964 Acrylique et sérigraphie sur tissu – Acryl en zeefdruk op textiel – Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 101,6 x 101,9 cm Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © SABAM Belgium 2013
  Visuels © Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh / SABAM 2013

Behind the façade of the images and the surface of the paint, Warhol maintains an aesthetic based on the relationship between life, art and death. The quest for happiness through celebrity, success, money and appearance are some of the basic concepts of Andy Warhol’s existential ethics. Warhol makes use of the changes in society throughout the1980s, moving towards an immense aestheticisation, the main features of which are the cult of the body, an obsession with celebrity and a dependency on the media. Warhol thus starts to look at how everything is impregnated with a fear of death, which each of us is trying to exorcise.

Considered by many as the poet of consumerism, if not as the defender of the false values linked to celebrity culture, in reality, Warhol was constantly expressing profound religious sentiments, cleverly encrypted in his pieces, but clearly identifiable when you look at his body of work under a different light.

Two years before his death, Warhol embarked on what was without a doubt the most complex of his life’s work, The Last Supper. Gianni Mercurio, the exhibition’s curator, interprets this piece as the final result of a long, intimate journey, whose origins no doubt date back to his childhood, “his early youth”. If we look at the themes and subjects tackled by Warhol from different perspectives, we can pick out a number of religious implications. This exhibition introduces us to original ways of looking at the work of an artist who has influenced the aesthetic outlook of recent generations more than anyone else.


Warhol chose his own “characters” from the wealth of images feeding into popular American culture: from a pantheon of stars with iconic faces, mass-market brands and everyday objects used by the average American – such as floral wallpaper, for example – the pop icon became the means of defining the spirit of the age.

Warhol’s icons constitute a sensual symbol of celebrity, in sharp contrast with real life, with a particular focus on women : Marilyn who committed suicide in 1962, and Jackie Kennedy – stunningly represented as an equal to the stars of the silver screen, against a red background (Red Jackie) - in tragic contrast to the image used by newspapers at President Kennedy’s funeral.

In the decades that followed, other famous names were represented by Warhol, but the most significant icons were Lenin, in 1986, a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Chairman of China’s Communist Party, Mao Zedong, represented using a picture from the Little Red Book.


In the seventies and eighties, actors, directors, writers, artists, famous names from finance and industry, and even stars of the international jet-setting scene, perhaps unaware of the artist’s ideas and keen to stop time, would queue up to be the subject of an Andy Warhol portrait.

The endless series of commissioned portraits were the result of Polaroid technology. His colleagues would print different silk-screen versions, and Warhol would work on the final image, adding splashes of colour to the lips and eyes, because “it’s the way you use colours that makes a portrait attractive”. Warhol, aware, deep down, of the instability of earthly matters, offers a cheap immortality, and so his subjects undergo a physical and symbolic intervention.


Warhol worked on self-portraits throughout his life, and the self-portrait enjoys a central role in all of his work.

For an artist, a self-portrait should represent a sort of mirror on the soul, revealing qualities and talents that are not always apparent. In his early self-portraits, which were based an image taken in a photo booth, Warhol trusts a machine to represent himself, to be sure that he is avoiding any introspective elements. Some of the self-portraits in the exhibition visibly break away from this approach; in these, Warhol incorporates some unsettling narrative elements: a strangling scene, and more startlingly, his own image next to a skull. Working on portraits and self-portraits thus reached some sort of pinnacle, because, as the artist himself said, they are the ultimate portrait: the skull, the most faithful and impersonal representation of all possible portraits.


“I would like to recall an aspect of his personality he kept hidden from everybody, except from his closest friends: his spiritual side. But this was and is the key to the psyche of the artist.” It was with these words that art critic John

Richardson began his eulogy in 1987, at Andy Warhol’s funeral. For the first time, Richardson revealed to the world the existence of an important hidden side of Warhol, a profound religiosity, alluding to a life marked by a “holy simplicity”.

And so, again according to Richardson, Warhol’s artistic oeuvre should be interpreted using the fundamental key of religious art.

It is also worth pointing out that no piece has been studied and reproduced in so many hundreds of variations as The Last Supper, a cycle of works on which he started work two years before his death, and which would make Andy Warhol the American artist who tackled the theme of religion in absolute terms more than any other.


Death is probably the main theme that runs through all of Warhol’s work. From 1962 onwards, it appeared in his art either physically, in pieces like “Car Crash” and “Suicide”, or fluttering beneath the surface in the sparse monochrome of “Electric Chair”.

He said that he wanted to represent “death in America” in these pictures, but this subject is also present in highly unlikely images, including his portraits: with his “cosmetic” touch-ups of his subjects, behind the eternal glamour that exorcises the anguish of disappearing, hides the obscure aspect of the famous “American way of life”.


The artist’s last decade began with pieces denoting a sophisticated chromatic quest and a formal elegance that are unusual for Warhol, who, by revisiting the history of art creates a dialogue with the postmodern phenomenon of these years.

Warhol’s decision to give his own interpretation of a number of classic masterpieces, like Botticelli’s Venus or Leonardo’s Annunciation, nevertheless reveals a particular concern for the “immortal” in works by the great masters, which he makes more current by taking apart the skeleton, dismembering them even. He then adds contemporary symbols, both to revitalise and desecrate them. The purpose of this work was to eliminate the temporal distance that had made these paintings so famous, but also so instilled with mystery as far as their interpretation is concerned.

Composée au total de près de 130 œuvres (peintures, sérigraphies et photographies), l’exposition valorise aussi les œuvres de quelques collectionneurs privés belges.

Production : The Andy Warhol Museum, un des 4 Carnegie Museums de Pittsburgh

Curator : Gianni Mercurio
Organisation : Ville de Mons

Une balise vers Mons 2015  

Mons 2015 soutient l’exposition Andy Warhol organisée par le BAM dans le cadre de son partenariat avec Kosice, Capitale européenne de la Culture en 2013.

En effet, la famille de Warhol est originaire de Medzilaborce, un petit village situé à la frontière polonaise à quelques kilomètres de Kosice. Le souvenir de Warhol y est resté très vivace et un musée important lui est consacré.

La thématique de l’exposition à Mons trouve donc parfaitement sa place dans la relation culturelle que Mons 2015 établit en 2013 avec la ville de Kosice.


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