'Warhol' runs through September in the Eternal City

ROME - Michelangelo. Rafael. Leonardo. Andy?

The Italian capital may be surfeited with art ranging from ancient Roman masterpieces to the pinnacles of Renaissance achievement, but these days you can hardly go a block in Rome without seeing Andy Warhol's silk-screened Marilyn Monroe on a bus ad or poster.

The Rome Museum Foundation is hosting a heavily promoted exhibition of more than 160 Warhol works - ranging from his iconic, vividly colored portraits of Liz Taylor, Chairman Mao and Campbell's soup cans to his oversized flowers to dozens of his celebrity Polaroids. The exhibit runs through September.

Titled simply, "Warhol," the exhibit drew about 225,000 in a recent run in Milan. It's taking place in the Palazzo Cipolla on Via del Corso, a main shopping strip popular with tourists, close by the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. If the organizers are trying to attract tourists, they're in a crowded field. How many people who have just a few days to do Rome are going to be spending them in a traveling exhibit rather than in the Vatican Museum and other denizens of priceless historic works. But "Warhol" has this market advantage: It's open late into the evening, long after the shushers of the Sistine Chapel have called it a night.

For Pittsburghers in Rome, the exhibit might present even more of a coals-to-Newcastle experience, given the availability of the museum that bears Mr. Warhol's name in his native Pittsburgh.

Moreover, a place called the Eternal City may seem a strange place for the seeming evanescence of Mr. Warhol's pop art. But the exhibit offers extensive commentary, both written and in an audio guide. It offers an excellent one-stop shopping introduction to Mr. Warhol and the significance of his works in the context of midcentury America - with its cross-currents of deep social strain amid the mass-production superficiality and fly-by-night celebrity culture.

And the written materials for the exhibition say it's important for the locals to remain exposed to what the wider art world is doing, particularly since Rome doesn't have the lock on global arts domination it did in, say, the 16th century.

Speaking of which, the exhibit takes a particular interest in local angles.

The "Mona Lisa" and the figure of Jesus in "The Last Supper" - both works by Leonardo da Vinci - take on the same silk-screened radiance as Liz, Marilyn, Elvis and others we know on a first-name basis.

Warhol looked at them "as celebrities of art history," the exhibit guide said. A massive copy of "The Last Supper" was created for an exhibit in 1987, coinciding with the artist's death, held in Milan, where the Leonardo original stands.

The Rome exhibit features works from the U.S.-based Brant Foundation and curated by its founder, businessman Peter Brant, a longtime Warhol collector, with assistance from Italian art critic Francesco Bonami.

The exhibit opened April 18 and runs through Sept. 28 at the Palazzo Cipolla, via del Corso 320, Rome, from 2-8 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. It also includes an exhibit of about 50 celebrity photos by photographer Terry O'Neill, with both posed and candid views of everything from a hungover Keith Richard to a "Diamond Dogs"-vintage David Bowie.

Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.


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