There's a great story about Andy Warhol semi-crashing a party where the invited guests were all top-notch abstract expressionists. According to tradition, it was a heavily intellectual scene, and Warhol had arrived as the guest of his friend and colleague Marisol, who had broken into the New York art scene as an abstract expressionist but was moving more and more in the direction of Pop.
The deeply serious abstract artists were suspicious of Warhol and his paintings of soup cans and sculptural Brillo boxes. Painter Mark Rothko was allegedly overheard asking the host what might be done about the intrusion. And what could be done? After all, the profoundly superficial upstart had arrived with Marisol, a rare and extraordinarily gifted female presence in a notorious boys' club.
In conjunction with Memphis Brooks Museum of Art's exhibition, "Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper," the Art Museum at the University of Memphis (AMUM) is exhibiting a collection of Andy Warhol portrait Polaroids, black-and-white photos, and silkscreen prints. "Andy Warhol Portraits: Art and Irony" looks at the New York scene through the lens of Warhol's camera and contrasts those shots with portraits of American turmoil and tragedy.
"People always talk about how Warhol commodified things that hadn't been commodified before," says AMUM Director Leslie Luebbers. "Today we might say that he monetized these things. He turned them into money. Even a photograph of the Birmingham race riot. And a picture of Jackie Kennedy. He was able to monetize tragedy."
The U of M's exhibit was assembled both as an enhancement for Brooks' show and to resonate with another AMUM show collecting images of the civil rights movement from the archives of the Memphis Press-Scimitar.