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A master’s pieces 

Warhol show a lesson in art history.

click to enlarge WARHOL: Fifteen weeks at the Arts Center.
  • WARHOL: Fifteen weeks at the Arts Center.

We've all seen Andy Warhol's work, his red-lipped Marilyn and Liz silkscreens, the Campbell's Soup cans, reproduced on T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs. It is pop — popular art for the populace. 

And because his pictures are themselves tweaked reproductions of pictures, when we see reproductions of Warhol's reproductions, we've gotten pretty close to the real thing, or at least closer than we are when we look at a picture of a painting.

So you might not think the Arkansas Arts Center's “Andy Warhol: 15 Weeks of Fame” would cover much in the way of new ground or hold any surprises. And in fact, there are images here that one can pass by rather quickly, because, after all these years, they are not much more than decorative. (His screenprint of Lenin, however, thanks to its composition and use of red, rises above those hot pink flowers.)

But the work is exactly as Warhol meant it: It is both about celebrity and the commonplace, and the best of it is the embodiment of an idea as well as an image. Those Brillo boxes, the cousins of Duchamp's urinal and other “readymades,” are art because Warhol made them so. So one reason to go to a Warhol show, maybe, is not to be surprised, but to think about his influence on art in the 20th century, when Marilyn succeeded the Madonna.

The Marilyns are here in all their brilliant pop colors, but not all Warhol's celebrity portraits are just fun with silkscreened photographs. He has elaborated on Ingrid Bergman, for example, by deciding to portray her in as she portrayed a nun (“The Bells of St. Mary's) and adding color in blocks around her face and drawing an elegant yellow line describing her hands clasped in prayer.

One looks at Warhol's Bergman and Grace Kelley and wonders what he would have done with Princess Diana. She combined everything he loved — celebrity, tragedy, car crash.

There is but one crash image in the Arts Center show; text with it explains that Warhol, by using a terrible scene as art, strips away our excuse for being able to look at such images in news photos (information v. voyeurism).

Warhol would have enjoyed watching today's cell-phone camera generation interacting with the recreation of his Silver Clouds installation, in which silver gas-filled lozenges float about a room with the help of a couple of fans. One teen-ager took a picture not of the installation itself but of herself in the installation, getting her minutes of fame by framing herself in a Warhol.

Warhol's pen and pencil drawings reveal a Matisse-like hand, quite fine in his “Boy Book” sketches and others. His screenprint details of Renaissance art in 1960s color — particularly his “St. George and the Dragon” — are fairly eerie and wonderful.

Tickets to the show are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for children. Warhol's “15 Weeks” are up Feb. 1.

 

Crystal Bridges has announced another acquisition: an oil by John Singer Sargent's “Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife.” The 20 ¼-by-24 ¼-inch work had mixed critical reviews when it was painted in 1885 because of its curious composition: Stevenson is pacing off to the left and his wife is barely in the right corner; an open door is in the middle.

Crystal Bridges apparently acquired the painting from casino developer Steve Wynn, who bought it at auction in 2004 from Sotheby's for $8.8 million.

 

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