Exhibition focuses on Warhol’s latter works


MILWAUKEE — When most people think of Andy Warhol, his 1960s pop art springs to mind: brightly colored Campbell’s Soup cans or portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.

But Warhol hated to be pigeonholed, so in the decade until he died in 1987 he experimented — with oxidation, abstraction, large-scale works and subjects such as death and religion. He also returned to painting after taking time off to do film and television.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is displaying nearly 50 paintings from Warhol’s last years in an exhibition called “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade.” It is the first U.S. museum exhibit to examine this period.

“People forget the depth of what he was doing,” said Vincent Fremont, a filmmaker who worked with Warhol for 17 years and described him as a second father. “I mean, he wasn’t just a pop artist. In fact, he was a colorist, an installation artist, a conceptual artist and he was experimenting. He was going to areas where no one really realized.”

Among the pieces on display are collaborations with Jean- Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente, large-scale Rorschach blots, dark self-portraits, camouflage patterns, oxidation paintings (referred to as “p--- paintings” because he urinated on them) and his Last Supper series — the largest series he ever produced.

The museum also put together an exhibit from Warhol’s pop-art period. “Andy Warhol: Pop Star” includes Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong portraits from the museum’s collection and a dollar-bill piece, owned by Milwaukee Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio. The museum first started acquiring Warhol works in 1967, even hosting an exhibition shortly after Warhol’s death.

Both exhibits will be on display through Jan. 3.

“The Last Decade” curator Joe Ketner, who left the Milwaukee museum last year as head curator, said he got the idea a decade ago when he saw of one of Warhol’s 12-foot-high, car-crash pieces in the storage room at Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

He hadn’t seen any American museum exhibits that explored more than just his pop-art phase so he investigated and realized just how prolific Warhol was. He estimated that 70 percent to 80 percent of what’s written about Warhol is about his pop art, which took up only four to six years of Warhol’s time.

In Warhol’s last decade he got work but not a lot of exhibitions in the U.S., Ketner said. He was showing his guns, knives and dollar-bill pieces. Either dealers didn’t want to show this work or Warhol chose not to show them to the dealers — possibly because they didn’t fit with his public persona, Ketner said.

Fremont, who was vice president of Andy Warhol Enterprises and executive manager of the Andy Warhol studio until his death, said Warhol was more than what he presented through his public persona.