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Andy Warhol is back in the 'Headlines' at NGA

ArtistsArtNewspaper and MagazineAndy WarholMuseumsConnie Francis

Andy Warhol died in 1987, but he continues to make headlines.

This is almost literally the case with a National Gallery of Art exhibit, "Warhol: Headlines," that showcases screenprints and paintings whose design imitates that of a newspaper front page.

A second Washington exhibit, "Andy Warhol: Shadows" at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, presents an ambitious painting done late in the artist's career.

Although there have been many Warhol-related exhibits over the years, "Warhol: Headlines" is the first to focus so closely on his newspaper-derived artwork. Ths important aspect of the artist's career is hardly surprising in biographical terms.

When Warhol was struggling to establish himself in New York during the 1950s, he made his living as a commercial artist. Drawing shoes and other fashion items for newspaper advertisements, he saw how routinely advertising art and news stories shared the same page.

Obsessed with melodramatic news stories, Warhol avidly read such newspapers as the New York Daily News. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he started to emulate that design sensibility in his own artwork.

There's a pencil-drawn reproduction of a newspaper story about 900 cruise ship passengers being held hostage by pirates in the Caribbean, for instance, that playfully distorts the number of passengers: "Pirates Seize Ship with 900,000."

Initially, Warhol made pencil drawings and hand-painted reproductions of newspaper headlines and accompanying photographs. He soon turned to the more impersonal-looking silkscreen process that became his preferred working method.

Warhol was naturally attracted to attention-grabbing headlines about plane crashes, blizzards and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; and, of course, Jacqueline Kennedy also would show up in one of his most famous silkscreen portraits.

Show business celebrities often made the front page, so here's your chance to revisit such now-ancient scandals as Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher splitting up.

There is campy humor to be had in perusing a National Enquirer front page from 1961 on which a photograph of the singer Connie Francis is accompanied by the headline: "Connie Francis Tells Why ... Hollywood Took One Look at Me and Said: 'TOO FAT!'" Incidentally, below that headline is a smaller headline for a separate news story: "Frozen Food Can Kill You!"

At the top of that same page, you learn that news consumers only had to pay 15 cents for this edition of a newspaper that shamelessly billed itself as the "liveliest paper in the world."

Although the straightforward silkscreening process favored by Warhol often left little distinction between the source newspaper page and the resulting silkscreen, you can sense how he attempted to creatively rejuvenate himself in his later years.

A 1985 collaboration with the much younger graffiti-oriented artist Keith Haring included their joint acrylic, synthetic polymer and Day-Glo painting "Madonna, I'm Not Ashamed."

It emulates a front page from the New York Post in which a saucy photo of the performer is accompanied by the headline: "Madonna: 'I'm Not Ashamed.' Rock star shrugs off nudie pix furor."

The artists have painted vivid shades of red, yellow and blue on and around that headline and photo, as if it makes them seem even more lurid; and Haring added one of his distinctive humanoid figures.

The newspapers that served as source material for such artwork were stored by Warhol in cardboard boxes that he aptly called "time capsules." Some of these boxes are on display in order to offer graphic proof that this guy never threw anything away.

The one newspaper front page that the artist did not live to see was the Feb. 23, 1987, edition of the New York Post, whose headline read: "Andy Warhol Dead at 58."

Over at the Hirshhorn Museum, the exhibit "Andy Warhol: Shadows" features 102 silkscreen-derived, identically sized paintings whose edge-to-edge installation makes for one very long painting extending for 450 linear feet along this museum's curving wall.

Unlike the obvious realistic basis for the "Headlines" exhibit, what amounts to the single 1978 painting in "Shadows" is a total abstraction. Ominous shades of black predominate, but red, yellow and other colors make for a lively mix. Incidentally, the paint was applied with a sponge mop. This late-career gesture is actually gestural, as if Warhol wanted to demonstrate that he could be an abstract expressionist, too.

"Warhol: Headlines" runs through Jan. 2 at the National Gallery of Art, at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Call 202-737-4215 or go to http://www.nga.gov. "Andy Warhol: Shadows" runs through Jan. 15 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, at 7th Street and Independence Avenue in Washington. Call 202-633-1000 or go to http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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