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First Chapters

Marc Awodey
art critic *Seven Days*
Burlington, Vermont

The Fleming Museum, Burlington, Vermont.

'Warhol needed acting lessons from Ritchie Cunningham's mom '

Aficionados of *The Loveboat* will tell you that the October 12th, 1985 episode is famous for two reasons. The first is that all three of Ron Howard's TV parents appeared together in the same show. Tom Bosley and Marion Ross of *Happy Days*, shared the cruise with Andy Griffith. The second reason is because of the second Andy. The Pacific Princess' guest star manifest for program #223 included Andy Warhol. Warhol played himself but was nervous about his acting anyway. Ross later recalled that "He was very scared to be an actor. He was very sour-looking and damaged-looking, but he turned out to be the sweetest guy in the world."

The Fleming Museum's current exhibition "Andy Warhol Work and Play" captures elements of both the sweetness and vulnerability of Warhol, while offering at least one explanation for why Warhol is one of America's most famous artists. Warhol successfully marketed a product, and that product was himself. But his initial artistic successes are what catapulted him into pop star status. The show provides glimpses of Warhol's early career as a graphic artist, and presents a small but intriguing collection of some of Warhol's best known works. A companion exhibition includes photographs and memorabilia from the height of his reign as king of the New York avant-garde.

Like many of his utterances, Warhol described his fascination with multiples as if he had learned elocution from Yogi Berra. In 1963 he stated that one of the reasons he worked on series' is because "You do the same thing... over and over again." But that sameness was at the heart of pop culture and Warhol knew it. He exploited the tools of his trade as a graphic artist, particularly screen printing, to emphasize that sameness. A Campbell's soup can, examples of his Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy series' appear in the Fleming show. The Marilyn was begun shortly after the actress' suicide in 1962, and the Jackie Kennedy prints are based on AP photographs from shortly before and after her husband's assassination. While both Jackie O, and Marilyn can be seen as commodities, and it has often been asserted that is why they are linked in Warhol's work, an additional relationship seems to be that they became symbols of death. If Warhol's work is remembered 100 years from now it may well be because of his subtle and persistent linkage between decadence and consumer culture. Unlike his Op, and Abstraction Expressionist contemporaries of the New York School Warhol was looking into the future, rather than refining artistic movements of the past.

In doing so he created a flat and brightly hued, almost cheerful apocalyptic vision of what America had become in the post World War II era.
The ten pieces of Warhol's 1971 *Electric Chair* folio are included in "Andy Warhol Work and Play" and they emphasize his deathward leanings, as do Warhol's drawings of the early 1980's. The drawing are more intimate, as Warhol allowed his hand to reenter his work. Crosses, Buddha's, and other religious symbols appear, as do skulls. Ironically, he also used a slide projector at about this period to infuse his drawings with the consistency of his screen prints.

Warhol's achievement was not technical. In the late 1960's he stated "I think someone should be able to do all of my paintings for me." Warhol's innovative use of screen printing was so clean, quick, and simple that he was able to achieve that goal. He was a well schooled colorist, not an original thinker in the field. His chromatic ideas were variations on the studies of Josef Albers, and successful applications of textbook recipes. A superficial view of his career might seem like nothing but a feast of of cotton candy, and the Fleming Museum might leave some viewers feeling a little hungry. But there was more to Warhol than meets the eye despite his 1967 assertion that "I am not trying to educate people to see things or feel things in my paintings. There's no form of education in them at all."
Perhaps he wasn't willing to teach, but Warhol was willing to learn.

By the time Warhol appeared on the *The Loveboat* he had produced nearly 50 films, but as his co-guest star Ross later remembered "I told Andy, 'You know, you're a really terrible actor'" so she started giving Warhol acting lessons. Warhol appreciated Ross' instruction. His posthumously published diary recorded at the time "I really love [Marion] so much.
She's a wonderful person, and she helps me." It's hard to believe that Warhol needed acting lessons from Ritchie Cunningham's mom so that he could better play himself- but that fact alone is enough to make him more interesting than Jackson Pollack.

© Marc Awodey 2003

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