DISCOVERED: A CERTIFICATE OF WARHOL’S BIRTH (as an artist)
THE DAILY PIC: The world of Warhol studies is about
to be rocked (or at least lightly tossed) by new revelations about his
early exposure to avant-garde art in Pittsburgh.
A documentary by Pittsburghers Cayce Mell and Scott Sullivan, being launched at the Carnegie Museum of Art
on May 21, is about to spell out the gloriously cutting-edge
programming that went on in the city’s Outlines gallery, so far known
more as a myth than a fact. The film unpacks a pair of scrapbooks that
are all that are left of a space which, from 1941 to ’47 – the heart of
Warhol’s teenagehood – hosted such radicals as John Cage, Joseph Cornell
and Maya Daren, plus an endless, barely believable list of great
modernists: Walter Gropius and Josef Albers, Edward Weston and Berenice
Abott, even Langston Hughes and Joseph Campbell, who lectured to local
worthies on James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake”. Warhol could and would have seen them all. Is it any wonder that he went on to make great modern art?
few weeks ago, however, when I was given a look at the scrapbooks
themselves, those great names got me less excited than the
modest-seeming object that is today’s Daily Pic: an announcement for a
silkscreen show that might not seem that big a deal, beyond showing
Warhol’s early exposure to what became his signature medium. But reading
the invitation’s fine print made me realize that there was much more at
stake: In just a few words, Betty Rockwell, founder of Outlines, mounts
a powerful and idiosyncratic polemic that bills silkscreen as a medium
for a new kind of specially democratic painting, rather than as
just the latest in a line of printmaking techniques. And that is
precisely the polemic mounted by Warhol two decades later and beyond,
when the new-minted Pop artist used silkscreen as … a medium for a new
kind of specially democratic painting.
As I’ve argued before,
the greatness of Warhol lay as much as anything in his magical skills
as a sponge, sucking up the ideas of others and spewing them out, much
enhanced, as his own. But until the revelations gleaned from the new
Outlines data (expect more in this space over coming weeks) who knew
that his sponging began quite so early, and could wait for so long to
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Great insight into Warhol’s creativity.