The pop-art pioneer's iconic hairpieces are currently on display in a retrospective also featuring his rarely seen erotic drawings.
When Tate announced that it would be staging an Andy Warhol exhibition this Spring, it was hard not to be sceptical. A Warhol retrospective is, after all, a safe bet and a chance for the art institution to sell as many (overpriced) tickets as possible without showing the public anything they haven’t already seen before.
But as further details of the exhibition trickled in, it became clear that the curatorial approach wouldn’t just be sticking all of his best-known works in a room together. Instead, the focus is on the two sides of the artist — Warhol as both a cultural icon and an introverted guy from Pittsburgh — with meticulous research exploring his biography.
Considerable attention is given to exploring Warhol’s image and, in particular, his hair. Going bald in his 20s, his milky ‘do was achieved via a collection of “fright wigs” which are on display in the UK for the first time as part of the exhibition,“They are incredible objects, which he would have had a say in, in terms of their design,” said co-curator Gregor Muir, explaining their importance in conversation with The Guardian. “The wigs are part of Warhol’s persona, and Warhol himself was an artwork.”
Alongside the wigs, visitors can check out lesser-known Warhol works from the pre-fame years. Among these are a tender series of drawings of men, shining with an understated eroticism. This is the first time these have been exhibited, being rejected by galleries in the 1950s due to homophobia.
There are also paintings from Ladies and Gentlemen: the biggest commission of Warhol’s career. After being offered 900,000 dollars to paint 105 canvases of trans and gender-non-conforming individuals by a private Italian collector, Warhol ended up producing 268 canvases. A significant contribution to queer portraiture, the works were first exhibited in 1975 and have, since then, been largely ignored due to their subject matter.
There’s plenty to see here beyond Campbell soup cans and screen-printed divas — and it’s the more obscure works that remind us of why a Warhol retrospective isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Andy Warhol is at Tate Modern until 6 September. Check out some images from the show below.
13 March 2020