Although Andy Warhol may be best known for his pop-art representations of Campbell’s soup cans, this semester Wellesley students have an opportunity to see a wide variety of his work up close. The “Warhol @ Wellesley” exhibition, which runs from Feb. 24 to June 7 at the Davis Museum, features Warhol’s works in photography, prints and sculpture.
“I’ve always been fascinated by Warhol,” Assistant Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator of Collections Eve Straussman-Pflanzer said. Although Straussman-Pflanzer specializes in Italian Renaissance and Baroque-era paintings, curating the Warhol exhibit followed naturally from her interests.
“I’ve read his autobiography and gone to exhibitions of his work, and we had a space available; we’ve been getting gifts from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in Pittsburgh in recent memory, so we have a really strong collection of works by him in house. I thought about what material interests me, what material hasn’t been out, and suddenly I had this ‘aha’ moment: I would love to work with the Warhol material,” Straussman-Pflanzer said.
Additionally, there was a surprising amount of overlap between Straussman-Pflanzer’s experience with art of the Italian Renaissance and the culture surrounding Warhol’s famous works of the 1960s. She related Warhol to the Italian Renaissance artists on the basis of the patronage system; Warhol also did much of his work on commission for minor celebrities.
“There’s something about that patronage system that actually resonates with something that I’ve thought about a lot and am familiar with,” Straussman- Pflanzer said. The tie between art and commerce in Warhol’s relationship with his patrons, and Warhol’s spirited commentary on consumerism in his works led naturally to a theme for the exhibit. She also described the questions she chose to emphasize when curating the exhibit.
“I’m interested in where one draws the line between understanding these works as individual works of art versus something that is very much about the market, which is very much about commerce. I’ve been left with the constant sense of uncertainty about that. I find it endlessly stimulating and challenging,” Straussman-Pflanzer said.
When she chose which materials of Warhol’s vast oeuvre to display, Straussman-Pflanzer wanted to make sure that all the media the Davis had in their collection was represented. However, she focused on polaroids taken by Warhol in the factory where he worked.
“What I’m most proud of is this collection of polaroids on the wall, because I think it shows how the polaroid is both serial, repetitive, instantaneous, but varied and multifaceted. And I think that way that it’s hung gives the sense of the space, of the factory where he worked in which these polaroids would’ve been taken,” Straussman-Pflanzer said. She added that the photos also captured the energy and dynamism of Warhol’s working environment.
When displaying the polaroids, Straussman-Pflanzer made the creative decision not to label each photo individually. Because the polaroids are not tagged with individual titles, viewers have the choice of preserving the anonymity of the models or learning their identities on the information card provided.
“In a way you can look at the polaroids as anonymous but then you can also get information if you’d like” Straussman-Pflanzer said.
“Warhol @ Wellesley” came together in four months, which Straussman-Pflanzer described as not being the standard for a curatorial project. In addition to being constrained by time, the exhibition was also dictated by practical concerns, such as available space in the museum.
“You think of one work that will inspire a theme or an artist, you think about ‘what do we have by Andy Warhol in our collection?’ and making a selection based on the space available,” Straussman- Pflanzer said. The severe weather Boston has experienced caused minor concern about whether the exhibit could be assembled in time for its February opening, although it came together on time.
Straussman-Pflanzer expressed her enthusiasm for the end result and described why she had enjoyed curating the exhibit.
“I knew Warhol in a certain way, and being able to delve back into the scholarly literature and think about the artist in a much more nuanced fashion was particularly interesting. I think I’ve seen Warhol fresh in a way that I find very exciting. And it makes me want to further my consideration and study in a way that I hadn’t before.”
Photos Courtesy of Lydia Han ’18, Photography Editor