Monday, September 18, 2017

My Morning With Warhol

Ninety percent of the blog posts here will always be about food.  However, we do have a sizable amount of readers who are visitors to Boston and are always looking for fun, interesting things to do.  So, I thought I'd share a place to visit just outside Harvard Square and tell the story of my morning with Andy Warhol.

I have had an avid interest in Warhol since I was a teenager and learned about the concept of "Pop Art".  Over the years I have read virtually every biography of Warhol written including the Andy Warhol Diaries, a massive tome that was basically a compilation of his daily notes on what he did last night with occasional philosophical quips.  It was absolutely fascinating insight into what life was like in New York City in the 1970s and '80s. 

Anyway, what I'm getting to is my recent stop into the Harvard Art Museums.  You may recall it was completely remodeled a few years back with a stunning Renzo Piano design.  I was in Harvard Square on a Saturday morning with some time to kill so I wandered over.  It's a beautiful space with an impressive collection and is actually free to Massachusetts residents on Saturday mornings.  I wandered around with the idea in the back of my mind to end up looking at the Warhols I knew they had.  I'd seen them before.

Much to my dismay they were not there.  When I asked an attendant I was told they were in storage.  Some pieces are rotated out due to their delicate nature.  I was clearly crushed.  Eventually, the attendant returned and advised me that if I truly wanted to see the works I could set up a private showing with the Art Study Center.  This, of course, led to my morning with Warhol. 

Just Google search the name and you will be inundated with thousands of images.  He has to be one of the most photographed modern artists ever.  And then there is the oft-asked question:  was he even a real artist?  Which always leads to:  what is art?

I got to select the works I wanted to see.  I looked at a listing and chose a few familiar works and asked the curator to select a few surprises.  It was kind of like ordering an appetizer off the menu then asking for whatever the chef would like to make for the entrée.  If often works out best.

Obviously, everyone knows about the Campbell Soup Can series done by Warhol.  The Jackie portrait is rather famous, difficult to see in this iteration where silver (a favorite Warhol color) was used.  These are silkscreened prints.  They had to be to produce the massive quantities Warhol wanted although he was quite aware that they would never hold up physically.  In fact, he thought it was quite funny and would often joke about it.  So much of Warhol was an understated tongue-in-cheek comment on society that was completely lost on most.  I think that's precisely why I like him so much.

There was one piece, however, that I was immediately drawn to.  This was clearly an early work done before Warhol became WARHOL.  What gave it away to me was the very cursive signature that he used when he first began work as a commercial artist.  Once the Pop Art began it was a much more angular signature, if he even signed them at all, or himself. 

It is not Pop Art in any way.  It is clearly the antithesis of it.  Across the bottom of the pencil sketch dabbed with the lightest brush of watercolor is the message:  "Happy December Bob."  But who is Bob?  The early date (1954) rules out Bob Dylan, who sought out a friendship with Warhol.  It also rules out Bob Colacello, his editor at Interview.

After hours of scrolling and scrolling I finally found out some information.  It is, obviously an early work.  At the time Warhol had made the move to New York and eked out a living as a freelance commercial artist.  He also did children's book illustrations and this, it appears, was one of them.

I loved it.  It pictures a group of innocent children at play.  It could not be further from the pulsating, energetic, often drink and drug-infused New York City lifestyle that Warhol would eventually become an impresario of.  Nor was it anywhere near the mass-produced silkscreens and prints and portraits that sold for thousands.  And it was actually used by Warhol as his Christmas Card that year, 1954.  So, it was personal.  You can learn more about this less-famous work here

I will be back to see the Marilyn paintings.  And the others.  I'll continue to watch all the documentaries and read the books and articles.  I'll probably even head over to American Repertory Theater to see WARHOLCAPOTE.  From now on, however, this will always be my favorite piece of Warhol work.

Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Telephone:  617.495.9400


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