Pop Art on the Bible Belt

Warhol Nashville FristIn 1934,during the Great Depression, the WPA workers built the main Post Office on Broadway in Nashville. The impressive Art Deco building on Broadway, flanked by the old Customs House and the Estes Kefauver Federal Courthouse on one side, and the Union Station on the other, went largely unappreciated by the residents. Ten years ago, in the midst of downsizing by the Post Office, Senator Bill Frist established a foundation for the arts, and set up the Frist Center for the Visible Arts in downtown Nashville. Works exhibited there have included everything from Russian iconography to Porter Waggoner’s suits. The Frist has become known for displaying anything of artistic value, regardless of the item’s provenance or age.

For several months, the Frist was fortunate enough to host a huge exhibit of the works of Andy Warhol. The exhibit was displayed in rooms laid out sequentially, so you could start with some of Warhol’s early work, then progress to the left, until you had completed a full circuit of nine rooms, which brought you back to where you started.

Naturally, there were the iconic Campbell’s Soup Can painting. Not just one. But a wall covered with images of soup, ranging from plebeian Tomato to the aristocratic Cream of Shrimp, each reproduced in Warhol’s signature technique of realism, using a combination of photography, silk screening and painting.

Many other works were multiple images of the same figures. A portrait of Michael Jackson, in normal tones, paired with the same picture, but in brilliant rainbow colors. A depiction of Lana Turner, where the primary discernible feature were her brilliant red painted lips. That painting was coupled with a piece in subdued hues. The goal seemed to be to display the dichotomy between the public face of the artist, and the private side.

One of the most striking paintings which illustrated this goal were the two pair of ballet slippers. One pair were petal-soft pink, on a pink ground, enrobed with diaphanous ribbons. Next to this, hung the same pair of shoes on a very dark canvas. The shoes were still pink, but they were slashed through with wide brush strokes of crimson. It seemed to be showing the stage presence of the ballerina: the pink shoes and tutu, then the back stage misery of bloodied feet and maniacal choreographers.

There were also some exhibits that are not what most consider “typical Warhol”. There were a series of videos, many displayed on tape loops, of simple acts like eating. There was an eight minute film of couples kissing. There was a 26 hour long piece showing the New York skyline. In one room, in an exhibit entitled “Silver Clouds”, the visitor walked through blackout curtains into a room filled with a combination of air and helium filled square Mylar balloon “clouds” floating just above the floor. A large flat screen was mounted in the wall, where the viewer could watch dancers cavort amongst these same clouds in a studio, as they imagined the various stages of weather. Another similar curtain led the curios into a light show.

Frist WarholMany aren’t aware that Warhol created the covers for record albums as well as for Opera News, the publication of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. He was very active in the arts, even having a hand in designing staging for the opera.

Warhol was friend to the famous and the infamous. Few escaped his brush. Many of them are depicted in this exhibit.

The traveling exhibit has left Nashville, and has moved on to the De La Warr Pavillion at the Bexhill Museum in England.

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