Andy Warhol is having a moment. Pop art’s favourite prince is currently the focus of four museum exhibitions – Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality at Florida’s Dali Museum (until April 27), To Jane, Love Andy: Warhol’s First Superstar at the Norton Museum of Art, Florida (until May 25), Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men at Queen’s Art Museum, New York (April 27 to September 7) and Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (until May 6). Why, then, should an intimate show of some 50 Warhol paintings, grouped into 20 individual works, at New York’s Blain Di Donna gallery prove so engaging? For the compelling reason that Warhol: Jackie is the first exhibition to focus solely on the artist’s portraits of the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis – and because some of these powerful images are waiting for new owners (at prices ranging from $1.2m to $10m).
The show’s blunt title highlights the fact that both artist and subject became their own iconic brands. Culture and celebrity converged when Warhol took centre stage in a rapidly shifting art world just as Jackie Kennedy was at the heart of a swiftly changing political scene. Warhol began the Jackie series in February 1964 following the media’s extensive coverage of President John Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. Turning to the picture press, especially Life magazine, Warhol chose photographs of Jackie from the news coverage (including those pictured) and set about raising photo-reportage to the status of fine art. Here we see Jackie Kennedy in her signature pillbox hat arriving, smiling, in Dallas and follow her through the motorcade to a stunned moment aboard Air Force One witnessing Lyndon B Johnson’s presidential swearing-in ceremony and finally to her husband’s funeral, pictured grieving in a veil.
Black acrylic was used to silkscreen the cropped magazine images onto blue or silver canvas or paper. This monochrome palette echoed the period’s black-and-white television sets on which the tragic news was broadcast, and the pared-down artistic vocabulary proves emotionally powerful. The silkscreen technique allowed for serial imagery and the elements in the Jackie series can be arranged in various permutations such as grids, friezes, diptychs or triptychs, singles or repeats. Examples of these combinations are presented in the exhibition thanks to loans from the Sonnabend collection, The Andy Warhol Museum and private collections. Curated in collaboration with Bibi Khan, former curator of the Andy Warhol Foundation, and accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, the show reveals just how potent Warhol’s work remains.