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  • Stephanie Ryan

"American Icons" Andy Warhol at the Fralin Museum

When asked to visit the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Fralin Museum, I wasn’t sure what my experience would be.  I think most everyone is familiar with some of Warhol’s art.  His Marilyn Monroe picture probably comes to mind first for a lot of people.  Not being a huge fan of modern art, truthfully, I walked in with little expectation. 

As soon as I entered the Icons exhibit, there she was.  Marilyn.  Marilyn times four, I could say.  Her iconic look captured four times in different hues, obscured in different ways.  Her sexy look, with sadness behind her eyes. To me it seemed the same picture accented differently by, well, rather offensive colors.   Perhaps I’ve see too many pictures of her.  Never the less, how could Warhol, who did so many celebrities, leave Marilyn out?  She is one of the most recognized women in history.

Then I saw the second woman on display.  Venus. Venus, from Botticelli’s, The Birth of Venus.  I was mesmerized.  What was it about her that I found so intriguing?  Perhaps it was that she wasn’t looking at me but her eyes were downcast?  It made me wonder about her.  What she was thinking? Was she looking at someone, or just peaceful, deep in thought?  Being a fan of Sandro Botticelli, I don’t think had anything to do with what was so intriguing about Warhol’s Venus to me. There were three pictures of her, all of the very same image and all so different.  One seemed to be an Irish version of her – red hair, fairer skin similar to the original in coloring.  The second was a black faced Venus with bright red-orange hair, much like the color tribal women might have.  The third, probably most like the original, in soft beautiful blue hues.  There was beauty in all of them.  Really having no idea behind what Warhol was trying to get across, I thought perhaps he put her in different cultures showing a beauty in all or that Venus is universal, someone who is in all women.  I was surprised that my favorite picture in this exhibit was of a mythological person.

The next subjects I found so interesting where the Cowboys & Indians.  Seeing Geronimo, Teddy Roosevelt, and General Custer all on display together made me remember what these people had in common.  Pulling some American History filed away in memory, I remember Custer was famous for his relentless efforts on driving out the Native Americans. Warhol’s depiction of him was cold, stone-faced, and angry.  (Perhaps if Custer had chosen his battles more wisely he wouldn’t have ended up buried in the middle of nowhere!)  I recalled, as well, the famous march Geronimo made in Roosevelts inaugural parade in full Indian headdress.  I understood Warhol’s intent here. 

Liza, Queen Elizabeth, Saint Apollonia, and of course, the Tomato Juice Boxes were all fun to see as well.  But the two that made me think the most were the Birth of Venus, and the Cowboys and Indians. 

Walking into the museum, I expected to look at some fun art.  I expected pictures of celebrities, bold and exotic.  What I didn’t expect was that I would walk out with much more.  I didn’t expect to have experienced as much thought as I did behind Warhol’s art.  I left more curious about his subjects.  I left wanting to go home and Google Saint Apollonia, and find out why the Tomato Juice boxes were so significant (that I didn’t get).  Warhol’s art made me think.  It made me remember.  It made me appreciate this modern art.  I’m so glad I went.


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