Capturing the Zeitgeist

The life and art of Andy Warhol are depicted in two complementary shows

In the cataclysmic year of 1968, Andy Warhol brought a cavalcade of hipsters from the Big Apple to the Baked Apple.

The plan was to shoot Warhol's gay Lonesome Cowboys flick at Old Tucson Studios, a movie set more accustomed to John Wayne than the mop-top pop artist from New York City. Not surprisingly, cultures clashed; the shoot lasted a whole day before park guards pitched the Warhol entourage out on their collective rear ends.

"Old Tucson did not like what they were doing and kicked them out," says Bob Broder, a Tucson freelance photographer who was assigned by The Arizona Republic to document the shoot. "But they went to Rancho Linda Vista the next day."

Invited up to Oracle by Charles Littler, a co-founder of the commune-style ranch and a UA art professor, the Warhol contingent stayed a week and finished the shoot, which notoriously included some naughty cowboy sex.

"I don't think they had a script," Broder says. "They were making it up as they went along."

The Republic published a half-dozen of the black-and-whites Broder shot at Old Tucson and Rancho Linda Vista, most emphatically not printing the pics of the sex scenes. Ever since, Broder says, his Warhol cowboy collection has languished in storage.

It's being exhibited for the first time anywhere, right here and right now in Tucson, in the new Eric Firestone Gallery on Sixth Avenue in the arts Warehouse District. The Broder photos may be 42 years old, but they're instant classics.

A pasty-white Warhol in a 10-gallon cowboy hat squints through an old-time movie camera, wrapped in plastic against the day's rain. In another picture, tickled tourists in scarves and raincoats peer out from behind a rope and smile at the über-famous artist, who's trudging around the mud in his boots.

Assorted New York pretty boys, including Factory regular Joe Dallesandro, cavort in fetching Western garb. Broder even captures them out of those chaps and spurs, frolicking nude on blankets on the prickly Rancho Linda Vista hills.

These previously unknown Tucson images are the highlight of a mega-show of photographs of Warhol made by a couple dozen photographers. Guest-curated by Eric Kroll, the exhibition includes celebrity shutterbugs Robert Mapplethorpe (natch), Nat Finkelstein, Bob Adelman, Cecil Beaton and Annie Leibovitz.

Warhol: From Dylan to Duchamp documents, if any documentation were necessary, the almost unbearably public life of the artist. Here's Andy with Bob Dylan, Andy with Bianca Jagger, Andy with Lou Reed, Andy with Edie Sedgwick, and, in the 1980s, Andy with Keith Haring. (Some Haring portraits of Warhol as a dollar-mad Mickey Mouse are on view in a concurrent show at Tucson Museum of Art.)

When Andy posed with Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1985, for a photo by Michael Halsband, the older icon gave the new young superstar artist a fake knock-out punch. Both of them were dead within a couple of years, Basquiat at 27 in 1988, Warhol at 58 in 1987.

The exhibition title refers to two movie screen tests that Warhol made, of the artist Duchamp late in his life, and of a young Bob Dylan. Both screen tests run on continuous loop in the exhibition, focusing tightly on the artists' faces. Each artist stares, flinches, blinks and otherwise silently lives, for endless minutes, a reminder of just how tedious Warhol's movies could be.

The dull movies aside, Warhol energetically leapfrogged media boundaries, making paintings and silkscreens, filming, mentoring the Lou Reed rock band The Velvet Underground.

He was a prescient figure who was among the first to locate art at the nexus of pop culture, media, celebrity and consumerism. Like the bloggers who've succeeded him, he made life in that celebrity hothouse its own subject. Before Twitter, there were Warhol's Time Capsules, now stored in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, chronicling every minute of a much-chronicled life. Before the Internet, there was The Factory, the 24-hour New York City studio where the Warhol entourage hung out night and day. And before YouTube, there were Warhol's movies.

Warhol started out as a commercial illustrator, and in his first solo show in 1962, he exhibited paintings of his soon-to-be-famous Campbell's soup cans.

That work was groundbreaking: Warhol was among the first to take a lowly commercial object, so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible, and raise it to the level of fine art. Like it or not, these mass-produced objects, his work suggests, are the art of the 20th century. (A great Bob Adelman photo at Firestone shows Warhol in 1965 at a grocery in New York City, his cart laden with brand-name Brillo pads and Cokes, soon to follow the soup cans into his artworks.)

At first, Warhol painted each flavor of soup lovingly on canvas, but he soon turned his back on the old idea of art being a single luxurious object. Mirroring the infinite replication of images in the commercial world, he employed assistants to crank out print after silkscreen print of tomato soup.

"I tried doing them by hand, but I find it easier to use a screen," he once said. "This way, I don't have to work on any object at all. One of my assistants, or anyone else, for that matter, can reproduce the design as well as I could."

With Warhol's genius for celebrity and penchant for image reproduction, it's easy to forget that he was actually an immensely talented visual artist. The show of silkscreens at the Tucson Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Portfolios: Life and Legends, gives us a chance to remember that.

Some of his most famous works are on view: the Campbell's soup cans and the neon-colored portraits of celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali, and the "Myths" series, featuring everybody from Howdy Doody to the Wicked Witch of the West to Warhol himself.

But it's easier to be moved by the works that are less familiar. A series of 1979 silkscreens called "Space Fruit: Still Lifes" are gorgeous. Freed from having to copy commercial design, Warhol made loose and lively drawings in black, of pears, peaches, watermelons, grapes.

Warhol was a gifted colorist, and the screenprints gave him the chance to layer planes of brilliant color. The bright-green "Pears" are set against a fuchsia-pink background and shadowed in inky black. The "Peaches" are orange, set off by shadows in purple and green. The backdrop is shimmering ocher. This pop artist made his colors pop!

The same is true for his glowing "Sunset" series from 1972, in which a shimmering sun is already partially hidden as it sinks in the west. In the examples on display, a tangerine sun merges into red-orange; yellow sinks into pinkish-purple; red spills into cerulean, pink, orange and mint green.

Likewise, in "Flowers," a screenprint series from 1970, Warhol experiments with multiple colors in a repeated composition. The image is simple: Four flowers set against a background of grasses. Warhol tries orange-juice yellow against summer-green grass; dusty pink against pale lavender; screaming hot pink against Kelly green and black.

Interestingly, the Firestone show brings those art flowers back to Warhol's pop-arty life. Bob Adelman photographed Warhol in color at The Factory, standing in front of a "Flowers" print, with the posies colored bright red and yellow.

A second one is to the side, its colors not yet screened, its surface black and white, a blank surface awaiting transformation. Standing nearby, Warhol himself is similarly blank and inscrutable, his face obscured by his shades, an impossibly famous figure waiting to embody the next big thing.

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