Andy Warhol: The Last Decade at the Modern in Fort Worth

by Teresa Gubbins

FORT WORTH — Everyone knows Andy Warhol for his '60s silk-screens of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's soup. But in the 10 years before he died in 1987, he went through a prolific spell of painting, and that’s documented in Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, which opened last week at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The exhibit first premiered at the Milwaukee Art Museum last October; after it leaves Fort Worth in May, it'll go to Brooklyn. It contains 53 pieces, mostly self portraits, plus a series of paintings Warhol did that are based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Some pieces in the exhibit are the Andy we know, such as the black-and-white version of the Campbell’s soup can and the 25-foot-long horizontal montage of celebrity portrait photographs. But the remainder of the works are newer abstract paintings and collaborations with young New York artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Museum patrons check out Andy Warhol's "Flowers"According to curator Joseph Ketner, Warhol was inspired to begin painting anew after attending the 1977 opening of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He began his "Oxidation" paintings where he experimented with the effects of urine on metal; in order words, he pissed on his paintings.

He started the Last Supper series for Alexandre Iolas, a dealer whose gallery was located across from Santa maria delle Grazie, where da Vinci's original resides.

Some ascribe religious significance to Warhol’s painting of the Last Supper, saying that he was facing his own mortality and confronting his Catholicism, while others don’t find the Last Supper series any more religious than his pop pieces.

Either way, it's a treat to see such huge paintings hanging on a wall. One of the Last Supper paintings consists of two duplications of the original, side-by-side, and it seems to go on forever. The Modern does a skillful job of mounting the entire exhibit. (Alas, they forbid photo-taking; the photos here were snapped on the sly.) Nearly all of the works can be seen here, which is the installation in Milwaukee. If those photos are correct, it seems like Milwaukee hung the show more symmetrically. For example, in Milwaukee, the two Rorschach Test paintings hang side by side. But at the Modern, they’re opposite each other, across a long salon. If you gaze up at one, then turn around -- boo, you’re facing the other. It's a neat "gotcha."

Andy Warhol's "Self-Portrait (Strangulation)"Right at the entrance you’re greeted with a slice of Warholian wit: There’s an L-shaped salon covered with "Andy Warhol wallpaper", with a grid-like pattern of his head and shoulders. Other paintings are then hung on top of the wallpaper, including Self-Portrait (Strangulation), a polyptych with 10 images of Andy’s head and a pair of hands wrapped around his neck. The juxtaposition of the Strangulation self-portrait on top of the self-portrait wallpaper is enough to bring a smile.

As part of the exhibit, a TV broadcasts Warhol's cable-TV interview shows Andy Warhol's TV and Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes, where he drones on and on about trivial things with his interview subjects or else shoots pretty people. A note on the wall explains that he was being deliberately anti-intellectual, but I had the same reaction this person had: It made me think we have Warhol to blame for the empty-headed state of TV today.

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