STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The artist Andy Warhol died almost a quarter century ago in 1987, but he's making his presence felt these days around the nation's capital. He's being featured in an art fair, as well as in restaurants, galleries, and two major museums. The Hirschhorn Museum in Washington is exhibiting silkscreens and paintings Warhol did of photographs of shadows, silkscreens of photographs of shadows ? classic Andy Warhol.
And the National Gallery of Art has its first one-man Warhol show. NPR Special Correspondent, Susan Stamberg, went to check that one out. It focuses on a series of paintings Warhol made of page one tabloid headlines.
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SUSAN STAMBERG: The National Gallery went all-out for this show - with a DJ and Breakfast at the press preview. Usually NGA press breakfasts are quiet, staid events - with fancy croissants and nicely diced fruit. The Warhol menu was different. No Campbell's Tomato Soup, but?
It's glazed donuts, bananas, and little bitty hot dogs wrapped in - you know, what they wrap hotdogs in.
Pigs in blankets. That's it! Saving room for the art, I guess. There is lots of Warhol art on view - and not just canvases. There are clips from movies he made, there's audio from an LP, and there's the man himself, on a screen in one gallery, co-hosting the 1983 cable show "Andy Warhol's TV."
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ANDY WARHOL: I am Andy Warhol and this is Maura Moynihan.
MAURA MOYNIHAN: And tonight on the show we have...
STAMBERG: In his trademark white fright wig and a blue turtleneck, Warhol stares at the camera, face immobile even when his lips move. Uneasy, enigmatic, shy, but always courting fame, and presenting the famous in his art. Headline-makers, the point of this art show. Andy Warhol collected, and painted, front page headlines from the New York tabloids.
MATT WRBICAN: Madonna on nude pics ? so what?
STAMBERG: Matt Wrbican of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The 1985 New York Post headline was about photos Playboy ran of Madonna, clad in little more than attitude. She didn't care, but the public did. Readers snatched up these tabloids for sensational headlines like that. And Andy Warhol turned them into paintings. He had a point, according to Headline Exhibition curator, Molly Donovan. For Warhol, the media - its impact, how it operated - was a preoccupation.
MOLLY DONOVAN: I think Warhol was trying to get the consumers of the news to think about the truth in the news overall. The news is a product that we buy, as consumers.
STAMBERG: Warhol was fascinated by consumerism - he started off as a commercial artist, making illustrations designed to sell products. Molly Donovan says throughout his life, certain other themes obsessed Warhol. Again, the subject of headlines: Death. Disaster?
DONOVAN: ?tragedy, celebrity, celebrity babies was a subset of celebrities that he was fascinated with.
STAMBERG: The very first headline painting he sold - in 1962 - was about a celebrity baby.
DONOVAN: ?A Boy For Meg.
STAMBERG: Page one of the New York Post on Friday, November 3rd, 1961, announced the birth of a son to Princess Margaret of England - the present Queen Elizabeth's younger sister. Warhol painted what looks to be an exact replica of the tabloid headline.
DONOVAN: But he cropped information out of this. He edited it. And so in his transcription, he's editing. And in so doing, in cutting out information, he's really getting us to look more carefully.
STAMBERG: Here's how Warhol worked. He traced the page one tabloid image onto a canvas by using an opaque projector.
DONOVAN: Remember those from school? A light is shone on a mirror and it projects the image onto the wall and enlarges it.
STAMBERG: So how is that artistic?
DONOVAN: It's about the selectivity of the artist. He's choosing from among volumes of newspapers he read daily.
STAMBERG: And, curator Molly Donovan says, Warhol was trying to get us to see ourselves in these headlines. He loved the name of the New York Daily Mirror - felt it mirrored - reflected - its readers in the news it published, the news we consumed. We, too, have babies. And at least in that, we commoners are just like royalty.
DONOVAN: A Boy For Meg.
STAMBERG: Elevating headlines to the status of art, one critic observed. Warhol collected and saved hoards of tabloids. Warhol Museum archivist Matt Wrbican says the painter was a packrat. He filled cartons with all kinds of stuff, a cultural historian gathering evidence of the world around him.
WRBICAN: He was taking these objects, that were common everyday objects, and drawing our attention to them by putting them onto canvas and making them much larger, in some cases seven feet tall, and making them the icons that they are.
STAMBERG: Headlines. Soup cans. Movie stars. But is all that really the stuff of art? Is there a there there with Warhol?
DONOVAN: Look deeper. Look below the surface. His taunt to us, that we simply need look no further than the surface, is simply a challenge. Underneath every surface there's something he's telling us.
STAMBERG: Maybe there's just another surface.
DONOVAN: I think this body of work would argue otherwise.
STAMBERG: Molly Donovan is curator of Warhol: Headlines - at the National Gallery of Art until early January. A show in which pop goes the easel becomes a headline attraction.
In Washington, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
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STAMBERG: What do you think he'd make of this communications world in which we live, 24 hour news cycle and twit, and Twitter, and twitches, and all that...
WRBICAN: I think he would have a hard time sleeping.
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STAMBERG: And you can see some Warhol Headlines at npr.org.