Andy Warhol is one of the most recognizable artists of the 20th century whose Pop art creations made him a superstar. After graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1949 he moved to New York City and began a career as a commercial illustrator. By the mid 1950s, Warhol started exhibiting drawings depicting his friends and lovers at places such as the Bodely Gallery and Hugo Gallery. In 1956 the Tanager Gallery located at 90 East Tenth Street rejected a proposed exhibition by Andy Warhol about boys kissing boys. Although the proposal was rejected, he created a series of drawings showing boys kissing boys. This unapologetic use of queer identity in his early art started to become a problem in his goal to become a “real” artist because many art world figures would avoid him. As a result of these actions, Warhol began to change his artistic style in the early 1960s, taking out sexuality and the homoerotic aspects and replacing them with the Pop Art style he has become famous for. In 1962 Andy Warhol had his first solo show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles where he debuted his Pop Art creations, the “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans”. Later that same year, Warhol had his first solo exhibition in New York City at the Stable Gallery where we showed “Marilyn Diptych”, “100 Soup Cans”, “100 Coke Bottles”, and “100 Dollar Bills”.
The 1960s marked the creation of The Factory where not only was his famous silk screens created in an assembly line fashion but it also became a meeting place for other artists, musicians, actors and friends. At The Factory while the more main stream Pop Art creations were being produced, a return to blatant sexuality and homoeroticism had begun with the creation of movies. Underground movies were being shot using straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender actors based around themes of nudity, drug use, and explicit sexuality (both straight and same sex). These explicit movies with titles like “Handjob”, “Blowjob”, “Taylor Mead’s Ass”, “Harlot”, “13 Most Beautiful Girls”, “13 Most Beautiful Boys”, “My Hustler”, and “Lonesome Cowboys” were being shown in underground theaters that would be raided and the staff members arrested for obscenity. Warhol continued to make these types of underground movies until the late 1970s. The same themes seen in the movies, were also visited in Warhol’s Polaroid photographs created beginning in the 1970s showcasing many of the Warhol superstars.
Andy Warhol, like many LGBT people, seemed to have many facets to his personality that he would show in various social and professional situations. Early in his life he was not afraid to be seen as the “sissy” or an “out” homosexual man. This translated into his early works until he realized that he could not achieve his professional goals unless he hid his true nature. This led to the move toward Pop Art which he is now most famous for. His Pop Art creations, like many during this time period, were seen as devoid of any sexuality or if there was sexuality it was very scaled back in order to be accepted by the general population. An example of this type of Pop Art can be seen in six sculptures titled “Campbell’s Tomato Juice” on view at the Newark Museum. These works are reproductions of Campbell Tomato Juice boxes made of plywood and silk-screened to look like the real thing. Once his career took off, Warhol returned to his more sexual and homoerotic side through the use of movies, photography and the company he kept in the underground setting of The Factory. Very few people saw the complete picture of Andy Warhol because he learned early on what personality facets to showcase at any one time depending on the situation. Was he the quiet asexual Pop Artist giving the world some of the most recognizable Pop Art creations ever made? Was he the highly sexualized movie director creating underground movies deemed pornographic by the authorities? Was he the life of the party at Max’s and Studio 54? Maybe we will never know who Andy Warhol was for sure but we do know he was an artist, he was a homosexual man and he did achieve his fifteen minutes of fame.
-Jason Wyatt, Senior Preparator
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