New exhibit features Andy Warhol's tabloid- and news-inspired works

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Just when you think you know all there is to know about Andy Warhol, an exhibition comes along that reveals more about the international Pop art star from Pittsburgh.

An obsession with celebrity and current events is a part of his legendary persona, but the breadth and variety of work inspired by newspapers had not been explored until "Warhol: Headlines," which opens today at the Andy Warhol Museum.

"Pirates Seize Ship with 900,000" -- "Eddie Fisher Breaks Down" -- "130 Die in Jet!"

Those are some of the tabloid headlines that scream from museum walls, in oversized paintings and silkscreens, and in intimate drawings that are almost charming with their uneven lines of print and sketchy images.

'Warhol: Headlines'

Where: The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side.

When: Today through Jan. 6. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, until 10 p.m. Friday.

Admission: $20; students and children ages 3-18, $10; members free, half-price 5 to 10 p.m. Friday.

Catalog: 214 pages, richly illustrated, essays by six contributors, index ($60 hardback, $40 paper).

Information: 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org.

The 80 works exhibited also include photography, sculpture, film, video and excerpts from Warhol's foray into television. Half are from The Warhol collection, and the others from private and public collections. Many are being exhibited for the first time.

The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in association with The Warhol, the Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and the Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna, Rome. It debuted at the National Gallery and traveled to Germany and Italy. Pittsburgh is the show's final stop.

"The topic is something that I always thought was under-investigated by not only the wider public but even people interested specifically in Warhol," said Matt Wrbican, The Warhol's chief archivist.

"I knew the news headlines were something he carried out throughout his life. He had this overarching passion for fame, and fame is the media, because you read about it in newspapers or magazines or watch it on television."

Several years ago, Molly Donovan of the National Gallery asked The Warhol whether there had ever been a major exhibition devoted to Warhol's work with newspaper headlines. The only show that featured headline-themed work exclusively was of archival materials that were displayed in The Warhol Archive in 2001.

The impetus for Ms. Donovan's interest was the National Gallery's Warhol work, "A Boy for Meg." The 72-by-52-inch painting is based on a Nov. 3, 1961, New York Post cover and shows a smiling Princess Margaret next to the headline that announces her new son. The 1962 painting, and a more loosely rendered work made in late 1961, are the first paintings in which Warhol used the front page of a newspaper as a ready-made composition, according to Ms. Donovan, exhibition curator and associate curator, modern and contemporary art, for the National Gallery.

While tabloids provided the most titillating material, Warhol's reach was long, including publications like such as Wall Street Journal and foreign press.

"Fate Presto" ("Hurry Up"), which Mr. Wrbican deemed "one of the really spectacular things in the show," emerged from a Neapolitan daily's headline about a tragic 1980 earthquake. The work was conceived in four parts but became a triptych when one painting sold to a private collector. Each panel is more than 100 inches high, a scale that emphasizes the enormity of the event.

Warhol's first headline work was a ballpoint pen drawing adapted from The Princeton [Kentucky] Leader of Aug. 23, 1956. In his version, a friend's name is substituted for the actual person's in a story about a local man who completed his plumbing and steamship apprenticeship.

"He had a lot of fun. He loved having a good time," Mr. Wrbican said of Warhol.

A microfilm scan of the actual Leader page is exemplary of the wealth of archival material The Warhol regularly contributes to scholarship and exhibitions. Yellowed vintage sheets and other documentary materials are displayed near resultant works, inviting comparisons and offering insight into the workings of Warhol's mind.

Throughout, there are newspapers, even in well-known formats like the photo booth images.

"In the days before the Internet, everyone was holding a newspaper," Mr. Wrbican said he and Ms. Donovan noted during research. "In New York, you could read a newspaper without buying one by looking over other people's shoulders in restaurants or the subway."

Warhol's photographs include newspapers on end tables and desks, in trash bins and street boxes. A surprise is that they are gelatin silver prints, not the widely exhibited Polaroids.

"We estimate there are 150,000 photographs," Mr. Wrbican said, "based on his shooting a roll of film a day -- and that's a conservative number -- for more than 10 years."

The artist had wanted to silkscreen an entire newspaper, but only got to the front page of the Oct. 24, 1983, New York Post -- "Marine Death Toll Hits 172" -- and the two pages following.

"It's a lot of work, at a time when a newspaper could easily be 90 to 100 pages," he said.

The three silkscreens on canvas are exhibited, along with a sculpture comprising the third page, screened onto Mylar, crumpled and contained within a clear plastic box.

One quality that supports Warhol's enduring status as an important artist is that his works are often simultaneously current and nostalgic.

A large painting focuses on a 1962 New York Daily News headline "Eddie Fisher Breaks Down" over a picture of the actor and his soon to be ex-wife, Elizabeth Taylor. From the Frankfurt museum's collection, it's "one of the masterpieces of the show," Mr. Wrbican said, although the number of people who may recall the event is receding yearly.

In 1985, Warhol and the late graffiti artist Keith Haring collaborated on six altered New York Post covers that reported pop star Madonna's response to criticism of her posing for pictures in the buff. Four, given by the artists as wedding presents to Madonna and Sean Penn, were exhibited at the National Gallery only (see them in the catalog). The other two are included here, as are two large paintings made in collaboration with another young street artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat (look for the headlines beneath the imagery).

Among several items at The Warhol only are scrapbooks assembled by Warhol and his staff after the artist himself began inspiring headlines. A half-dozen of the 34 in the museum's collection will be shown, the clips from national and international newspapers and magazines reflecting his global fame. The articles were brought in by workers in Warhol's Factory studio and mailed to him by journalists.

"He'd pay people 50 cents or a buck for an article, rather than use a clipping service," Mr. Wrbican said.

Warhol's life was his art, and his art was his life.

"He loved the news and he loved reading about old current events and new current events. And what is it? It's history. And that ties into the fine arts," Mr. Wrbican said.

"Goya. Delacroix. Jacques-Louis David. The cyclorama that was at Gettysburg. That's not news. But that's what the news is. 'Liberty Leading the People' [Delacroix's 1830 painting]. That's essentially a newspaper headline.

"It's just Warhol's way of doing history painting. Updating it for the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. Like Campbell soup, taking the most common thing around. Something you roll up and shove in your back pocket. It's got information, yet it's not a precious thing. Nobody is seeing it like it's this big thing. But Warhol sees it and makes it this big thing. It's 8 feet tall and permanent, not something you put out for recycling."

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Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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