Last Sunday, Robert and I went to the McNay Art Museum to see the Andy Warhol exhibit. The weather was beautiful and we were looking forward to being back at the McNay. What a charming museum we have! The grounds were well-groomed and modern sculptures completed the idyllic picture of a beautiful garden. Did you know that every first Sunday of the month the permanent collection is free? I was very happy to see quite a few young families with kids inside and outside the McNay on this first Sunday afternoon. The Administration and the Board of Directors have done a tremendous job and the Museum projects an image of a great organization and prosperity. CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU, McNay and to us San Antonians!
The Andy Warhol exhibit took me by surprise and threw me out of my comfort zone in the middle of this beautiful sunny, spring day. I LIKE HAPPY, HAPPY BRIGHT ART!!!!!!! It was bright all right, but faaar from being happy! I saw his work many years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and did not really understand what was so great about it and why it got the honor of hanging in the Met. I remember THE CAMPBELL’S SOUP CANS and Gold Marilyn Monroe. Freshly arrived from Russia, I thought that his work was too artificial, too decorative and lacked depth … the depth of existentialism that Russian culture uses as an excuse for never ending, eternal depression. I did not know what POP Culture was and why anyone would care about it anyway. At the time, I did not realize that there is no escape from it.
I like the American cheerful outlook on life. I am very happy to escape the Russian heavy, self-doubting way of life and the constant dwelling on what is wrong and how it cannot get better no matter what. I like that if someone asks me “How are you?”, they really do not expect me to tell them about all of my current problems, they just want to be polite. They have enough problems of their own and by not sharing and just saying the magic word “FINE” we both do not multiply our problems by two. I am fascinated with success stories that can take place ONLY in America. I try to beat the age and look up and not down at all times. I buy into the consumer society and believe that marketing rules the world; if you know how, anything can be branded and sold. I am full of hope that everything will be OK!
But, by the end of the exhibit I felt like crying – like there is no hope, there is no reason for anything; that life is a pointless, random Russian roulette. What is wrong with me??? Bold, recognizable portraits with candy-like colors, when in close proximity, gave me chills. The contrast of a bright, eye-catching exterior makes the subject extremely vulnerable. The faces become labels, they lose their individuality, intimacy, humanity… they become covers, just like the Campbell’s soup cans. His series on car accidents and the death of JFK looked like a methodical study of different aspects of death. He was simultaneously terrified and fascinated by it. Speaking of existentialism… Darn it! I was successfully hiding from it for so long!!! In its American version it was staring at my face in its artificial, synthetic, luminescing colors from Warhol’s paintings. I guess there is no escape from it; it is a sign of a great art.
What is the definition of a GREAT ARTIST? His work touches something in us that we did not know exists. It makes us feel, think, analyze and evaluate both ourselves and the world around us. A GREAT ARTIST is the soul of humanity. It does not matter what culture or what century the great artist was thrown into; while the human race exists, there will always be Shakespearean timeless subjects like death and love and eternity that make great art existential in its nature. Our society brought commercialism to new heights; it became a way of life and religion of a sort. Warhol touches the same subjects as El Greco, Goya and Bosch, but he speaks our language in colors of bubblegum and neon commercials.
Thank you, McNay, for bringing such a great experience to San Antonio.
Andy Warhol: Fame and Misfortune -an exhibition exclusive to the McNay and San Antonio- assembles over 150 objects in all media, drawn from the rich collections of the Andy Warhol Museum in the artist’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Looking at Warhol’s lifelong obsession with both fame and disaster, the works included in this broad survey juxtapose icons of popular culture, legendary entertainers, art world luminaries, and world leaders, with images of suicides, automobile accidents, skulls, and an electric chair. This diverse range of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and films spans the three prolific decades of Warhol’s career, beginning in the mid-1950s and continuing through 1986, the year prior to his death.