Even in this season of cultural blockbusters all over town, Andy Warhol at the Whitney stands out for its hype. The first major American retrospective of the enormously popular artist in thirty years, the big, boisterous Whitney exhibition takes over the entire fifth floor of the museum (plus a bit of the sixth) and features more than 300 works spanning his entire career. Expect lines spilling out onto Gansevoort Street well into the new year.
Warhol, of course, was insanely prolific, so the challenge for the show's curator Donna De Salvo was to find one or two exemplary pieces from each of Warhol's seemingly never-ending obsessions. There's one Jackie O here, and a Mao, and an Elvis, a car crash, a block of soup cans, a pair of Marylin Monroes, a small pile of Brillo boxes, a quartet of skulls, his flowers, self-portraits, an electric chair, a few versions of Cokes (“A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke," said fanboy Andy)... you get the idea.
But just as engaging as the many iconic Warhol works are the paintings, drawings, and commercial illustrations from his early career. The giant Most Wanted Men mural is here, for example, which Warhol created for the 1960s World's Fair in Queens and which was promptly painted over by the event's horrified organizers. Warhol actually expressed relief for the piece's short life. "In one way I was glad the mural was gone," he said. "Now I wouldn't have to feel responsible if one of the criminals ever got turned in to the FBI because someone had recognized him from my pictures."
Most Wanted at the World's Fair. (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)
There are also a handful of Warhol's films playing continuously, including several of his famous screen tests, including Edie Sedgwick's, and the one of the artist eating a cheeseburger. And make sure to read the often amusing wall notes throughout, such as this description of how "Ethel Scull 36 Times" came about: "Warhol began this portrait of art collector Ethel Scull—his first major painting commission—by taking her to a photo booth. Scull, who expected to be professionally photographed in a studio, was initially confused when Warhol brought her to 'one of those places on 42nd Street where you put a quarter in a machine and take three pictures.'"
Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again will be at the Whitney Museum of America Art (99 Gansevoort St) starting on Sunday, November 12, through March 31. Member previews begin today, November 7.