Warhol’s portraits of Gertrude Stein and Franz Kafka. (Photo by C-M.)
Back in 1980, the Jewish Museum in New York put on a show of Andy Warhol’s 10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century. The exhibit, to put it mildly, was not well received. People publicly wondered what could possibly inspire an artist to make a series of portraits devoted to a single ethnic group. (Update: An oversight on my part: Warhol was commissioned to do this project. Though people still wondered what inspired him to take it on. See the comments section below for more info.) Hilton Kramer, in the New York Times, offered this terrifically melodramatic evaluation:
To the many afflictions suffered by the Jewish people in the course of their long history, the new Andy Warhol show at the Jewish Museum cannot be said to make a significant addition. True, the show is vulgar. It reeks of commercialism, and its contribution to art is nil. The way it exploits its Jewish subjects without showing the slightest grasp of their significance is offensive – or would be, anyway, if the artist had not already treated so many non-Jewish subjects in the same tawdry manner. No, the Jews will survive this caper unscathed. So, very likely, will everyone else. But what it may do to the reputation of the Jewish Museum, is, as they say, something else.
Whoa. Who says art critics aren’t occasionally a histrionic bunch?
Twenty-eight years later, the museum has once again gathered the paintings under one roof in Warhol’s Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered, opening Saturday. The exhibit includes all ten original silkscreen canvases (definitely worth checking out), as well as images of the photographs that Warhol worked from, tracings and original prints. There’s even a clip of Kramer’s review.
On the third floor, there is also an adjacent exhibition Art, Image, and Warhol Connections, that shows pieces by a number of Jewish artists that display Warholian influences. (Check out Devorah Sperber‘s piece, After Warhol, a reproduction of a Campbell’s soup can made out of spools of thread.) Whatever you do, don’t miss the five-minute video of Warhol at the show’s original premiere in Miami, which includes interviews with Miami Beach grandmas wondering who the heck this Andy Warback is. Also included: spectacular footage of Warhol’s likeness carved in chocolate. Too bad the museum didn’t reproduce that piece for this show. It would have had great gift shop potential.
Money shots after the jump.