Arts & Theater

Crocker exhibit offers close look at Warhol’s pop portraits

There’s nothing quiet about the Crocker Art Museum’s newest exhibit.

“Andy Warhol: Portraits” is so saturated with color and emotion that it seems to burst off of the museum’s walls. Featuring 168 works from the early 1950s to the 1980s, the exhibit opening Sunday offers a wild ride through Warhol’s foray into pop art and portraiture, and a wave of nostalgia for patrons who lived during the artist’s career.

The collection, on loan from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, is the Crocker’s first and only dedicated Warhol show, said Diana L. Daniels, curator of contemporary art. It chronicles Warhol’s portrait work in silkscreen, Polaroid, 35 mm camera and even pencil, highlighting his then-rare use of media images such as news clippings and photographs as well as his affinity for serial imagery.

“He liked the photo booth strip, like a strip of film,” Daniels said. “It was something of the era. Everyone was obsessed with repetition.”

Many of the portraits are hung in sets of twos and fours. Some of the pairs are nearly identical with just a tiny detail askew, while others offer drastically different interpretations of the original. Daniels makes special note of a series of Jackie Kennedy portraits that capture the first lady’s facial expressions both before and after her husband’s assassination.

Warhol, who grew up during the golden era of Hollywood, drew much of his inspiration from the world of actors, dancers, fashion designers and filmmakers. As he gained notoriety as a commercial artist in the 1950s and 1960s, he called on a mix of major celebrities, avant-garde creatives and personal influences to sit for portraits.

Among the most recognizable faces in the Crocker display are actors Judy Garland, Sylvester Stallone and Jane Fonda. Political figures such as Mao Zedong and Arnold Schwarzenegger make an appearance, as do writers Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

“He grew up in an era that fostered this cult of personality,” Daniels said. “Portraits used to be rare. They used to be something only the wealthy had. Then after the war, people’s faces were everywhere.”

Warhol is best known for bringing “pop art” to the forefront. While many scoffed at his renderings of bananas and soup cans, his followers saw him as a revolutionary.

In a nod to the counterculture that surrounded Warhol’s work, Crocker staff created a “factory” adjacent to the portrait exhibit, reminiscent of the all-silver warehouse where the artist made his screen tests and other creations. A projector shows a steady stream of commercials for Slinky toys, Barbie dolls and skateboards that are surely familiar to Generation X patrons, while the sound system runs a punk music playlist similar to what Warhol might have listened to.

“People are hugely excited about this exhibit,” said Elena Macaluso, museum spokeswoman. “Andy Warhol is relatable to a lot of people. You don’t have to be an art student to know his work.”

Ciara Cumiskey, a Sacramento painter who does pop art of her own, said she is excited that Sacramentans will be exposed to more Warhol portraits than the Marilyn Monroe work that most are familiar with.

“He’s taking some pop culture, non-art staples and turning it into a screen printing process and posterizing the colors,” she said. “Whether you’re a Warhol fan or not, that whole semblance of taking something familiar and turning it into something more artistic is something anyone can get behind.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

“Andy Warhol: Portraits”

Opens Sunday, March 13.

Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays, open until 9 p.m. Thursdays.

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