Did Andy Warhol invent social media?
At the very least, Warhol, with his ever present tape recorder and still and motion picture cameras, anticipated the concept of documenting details of daily life. Today many people — especially those in the younger generations — go to the grocery store, wait in lines, eat meals, hang out and do nothing, and post this activity (or lack thereof) on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and whatnot.
This current phenomenon is not so far removed from Warhol’s 1963 film “Sleep,” in which the filmmaker/director shot footage of his friend John Giorno sleeping for five hours and 20 minutes. The next year Warhol topped this “anti-film” with “Empire,” more than eight hours of slow-motion footage of the Empire State Building.
Christina Weyl, a curatorial assistant at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum in New Brunswick, agrees that today’s social media would resonate with Warhol. Weyl helped realize the new exhibit, “More Than 15 Minutes: Andy Warhol’s Prints and Photographs,” assisting Marilyn Symmes, the museum’s former director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and curator of prints and drawings, who retired in the fall of 2015. “More Than 15 Minutes” is on view through Sunday, July 31.
Weyl, who will lead a gallery tour of the Warhol exhibit on Tuesday, March 1, as part of the Zimmerli Museum’s free, monthly “Art After Hours: First Tuesday” events, reflects that having works by Warhol displayed now folds in nicely with the concurrent exhibit, “HereNow: Rutgers 250,” a photo-participation exhibition also on view through July.
“It’s the 250th anniversary of (the chartering of) Rutgers, so there are a lot of celebrations going on throughout the university, throughout the year,” Weyl says. “For ‘HereNow’ we’ve solicited images by students and faculty, from around and about the Rutgers community.”
Like the current generation of college students with their ever-present smartphone cameras, tablets, and the like, “Warhol took his camera everywhere, and this was in an era well before social media: He wanted to capture every aspect of daily life,” Weyl says. “Through his photography, you see some of the intimate moments with celebrities, but also really casual moments. For example, Andy was at a black tie gala and he took a portrait of a waiter.”
“He really was living (and documenting) in the moment, and he was doing this 40 or 50 years ago,” she says. “It’s such an interesting connection with the show ‘HereNow,’ which is all about people contributing pictures of people and places taken from their cell phones around the university.”
Warhol was born “Andrew Warhola” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 6, 1928, and died in New York City, February 22, 1987. He once observed that, “everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” the phrase that inspired the exhibit’s title.
Almost 30 years after his death Warhol is still celebrated as the most legendary American artist of the Pop Art movement. By introducing commercial screen printing techniques into fine art printmaking and painting, Warhol created globally recognized, iconic artworks that continue to impact art and culture today.
Highlights in this exhibition of 35 works from the Zimmerli’s collection include the artist’s screen prints, “Vegetarian Vegetable” from the series “Campbell’s Soup II” (1969) and “Electric Chairs” (1971), as well as selected Polaroids and black-and-white photographs of celebrities popular in the 1980s, such as Sylvester Stallone, Pia Zadora, Village Voice film critic Bob Colacello, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Mariel Hemingway, and others.
Weyl says the Warhol exhibit has been in the works for a while, and it was a project Symmes had conceived and wanted to finish before she retired. Weyl came onboard at the Zimmerli in September, 2015, and helped with finalizing the exhibit.
“Essentially it’s a way to (showcase) the gifts from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts,” she says. “In 2008 the foundation gave the Zimmerli, and many other museums across the country, a collection of Warhol’s Polaroids and black-and-white photographs. They had been in the foundation’s possession since he died, and they felt it was time to get them out in the world.”
“Then in 2015 the museum received another donation, a group of prints,” Weyl continues. “The foundation had a number of trial prints from when Warhol was working on a new screen print. He would be working with and playing around with many different combinations of colors, this one in blue, this one in purple, etc. But he never threw out these trial proofs, so the foundation had a large collection of these in their estate, and decided it was time to let institutions have these works and show them to the world.”
Thanks to this more recent donation from the Andy Warhol Foundation, “More Than 15 Minutes” features Warhol works shown at the Zimmerli for the first time, including six color screen prints acquired in 2014: “Sunset” (1972), “Joseph Beuys” (1980/1983), “Alexander the Great” (1982), “Brooklyn Bridge” (1983), and “Annie Oakley” and “Sitting Bull” from the series “Cowboys and Indians” (1986).
Although the Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull screen prints are from a series Warhol created late in his life, Weyl reflects that he had a lifelong interest in Native American art and objects and collected them, especially 19th-century photographs of Native Americans.
“This is a continuation of something he had done throughout his life,” Weyl says. “He definitely had an interest in romanticizing the American West and (making heroes of) various figures. That’s why you have so many recognizable figures, such as Sitting Bull. I wasn’t surprised to see these works.”
A cultural icon himself, Warhol created and curated his celebrity as carefully as he did his artwork. On the 1971 album “Hunky Dory,” the late David Bowie humorously reflected on the artist/celebrity’s dual public identities, in the song “Andy Warhol”:
“Andy Warhol looks a scream/Hang him on my wall/Andy Warhol, Silver Screen/Can’t tell them apart at all.”
With this in mind, one wonders if the curators had to strike some kind of a balance between the “Andy-Warhol-the-Celebrity” and Warhol the pioneering, working artist. How do you separate, or integrate, the two aspects of Andy Warhol?
“He was such a major figure, and tackling this body of work was pretty massive,” Weyl says. “What I tried to do was to show his connection with the photography he was using. We know these now-iconic images of Mao Zedong, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, etc.; we know Warhol in this way.”
“What we (might not) know was that Warhol himself either took some of the photos that he turned into prints or paintings, or he borrowed and appropriated the images from newspapers and magazines,” she explains. “Warhol had a real relationship with the news and pop culture.”
Weyl gives the example “Electric Chairs,” likely borrowed from a newspaper image of the electric chair at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
“We’re showing that, although he tried to create a sense of himself as just an aloof observer, Warhol was far more invested in the images, and he was very engaged with the subjects in his photos,” Weyl says. “As for the Polaroids — and we have a series of these — many of them went on to become paintings. Warhol didn’t just come up with his prints and paintings, many came from photos he had taken, and many were of his friends. With Warhol, everything seems to go back to photography.”
Weyl, who currently lives in New York City, grew up in Connecticut, in a family she describes as “not particularly artistic,” though she says her grandmother was a gifted seamstress and crafter, and she has grown to appreciate the artfulness of these crafting talents. Weyl’s father was a businessman, and her mother did development work for a number of philanthropies.
She dabbled in art and took art classes as a youngster, gravitating to such hands-on media as pottery. Weyl says she was always interested in studying the humanities, and holds a B.A. in American studies from Georgetown University (2005); she earned a Ph.D. in art history from Rutgers University in 2015. Her dissertation focused on women artists who explored abstraction at Atelier 17, the avant-garde printmaking workshop located in New York City between 1940 and 1955.
Weyl was the 2012-’13 Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and her research has also been supported by the Mellon Foundation. Prior to her graduate studies, she worked for the gallery representing the publications of the Los Angeles-based artists’ workshop, Gemini G.E.L.
Weyl has been connected with the Zimmerli Museum since her graduate school days at Rutgers and interned with Symmes on the 2011 exhibit, “Jolan Gross-Bettelheim: An American Printmaker in an Age of Progress.”
“Gross-Bettelheim made the most fantastic prints of American industry and life, but they were also very influenced by her European roots, very progressive,” Weyl says. “She was representing Americans as an outsider, which was a very interesting perspective. No one has a collection like the Zimmerli has; other museums might have a few of her works, but we have some 30 or more prints.”
The youthful Weyl was not around in the mid-1960s when Warhol was making his avant-garde films, as superstars like Edie Sedgewick danced, and the proto-punk band Velvet Underground — which he managed and produced — provided the soundtrack to “happenings” at the Factory, Warhol’s studio. In its time the silver-paper-lined studio was the gathering place for a diverse strata of society, from intellectuals and wealthy patrons, to Hollywood celebrities, to urban hippies and other street kids.
Weyl does acknowledge that those times are fascinating pop culture history. More importantly, Warhol “is an important artist for our generation, and he’s had lasting resonance with many artists today,” she says.
Weyl also reports that there’s another aspect of Warhol’s work and life that connects with the current generation: Polaroids are coming back.
“I was recently at the Whitney Museum, and they’re selling Polaroid cameras in their gift shops — they’re everywhere,” she says. “I’ve been to parties recently where people have been taking Polaroids.”
“Younger people are really interested in this,” Weyl adds. “In this age when everything is digital, there’s a desire for hands-on, real objects, and that’s why Polaroid photography, in some ways, is being embraced.”
More Than 15 Minutes: Andy Warhol’s Photography and Prints, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick. Through July 31. Gallery tour by Christina Weyl, Tuesday, March 1, 5 to 9 p.m. Museum hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; first Tuesday of each month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free. 848-932-7237 or www.zimmerli.rutgers.edu.