Fall arts: Two Warhol exhibits and the (E)merge Art Fair kick off the season

The season begins with a burst of Andy Warhol, as two shows in two major museums explore very different aspects of the pop pioneer.

An exhibition at the National Gallery of Art called “Warhol: Headlines” arrives in the late afterglow of the Rupert Murdoch scandal and explores the artist’s fascination with tabloid media, celebrity and appropriation (Sept. 25). Billed as the first comprehensive exhibition to explore Warhol’s use of headlines and newspapers, the show will include some of the source materials on which he based his images, allowing viewers to analyze the road from cheap scandal sheet to high art, via the ironies of pop and the subtle improvements of an artist who was uncommonly good at tweaking the ordinary into something visually compelling.

If “Headlines” is Warhol engaged with the so-called real world and the pretensions of the gallery circuit, the Hirshhorn exhibition “Andy Warhol: Shadows” takes up his sophisticated dialogue — or was it a monologue? — with abstraction (Sept. 25).

In the 10 years before his death in 1987, Warhol created 102 brightly rendered canvases of shadows, based on distorted photographs. From a distance you may think that perhaps you’re seeing his famous celebrity silkscreens, minus the celebrities. But the Warhol brand is operating very differently, challenging abstract art on Warhol’s own terms, forcing it to explain why it, too, can’t be appropriated, manufactured and mocked. Or perhaps Warhol was mocking his own facility, and tendency to the facile, by working on a giant scale, fusing together an enormous work that is born of pop, bathed in conceptualism and articulated in the language of abstraction.

The Hirshhorn will display all 102 panels edge to edge, running together in an uninterrupted series that extends almost 450 feet around the museum’s famous curved gallery space.


CRITIC’S PICK: “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” Oct. 14-Jan. 22 at the National Portrait Gallery. Although Gertrude Stein wasn’t a visual artist, she was a major collector, coddler and promoter of visual artists. (Courtesy Therese Erhman Papers, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life)

The two Warhol shows arrive almost simultaneously with the first iteration of the (E)merge Art Fair, to be held at the trendy Capitol Skyline Hotel (Sept. 22). Billed as an attempt to create a serious forum for emerging artists in Washington, it offers good reason to hope that the curators and collectors involved with mounting it may bring some heft, order and gravitas to the often diffuse and erratic world of the generic art fair. Think Artomatic with brains, or perhaps Artomatic with actual art . . . if everything goes right.

And then, in October, yet more contemporary art, again with hopes that it may be better and more substantial than usual. The Corcoran will host “30 Americans,” a survey of work by African American artists over the past 30 years (Oct. 1). The work is drawn from the collection of Don and Mera Rubell, the Florida-based entrepreneurs and art collectors who have expressed interest in converting the empty Randall School in Southwest Washington into a new museum, cultural center and hotel complex.

The Rubells have assembled a rich and comprehensive trove of contemporary art, and “30 Americans” promises to be a serious primer in African American art, from the canonical to the most recent and experimental. The exhibition will include works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nick Cave, Glenn Ligon, William Pope.L, Lorna Simpson, Shinique Smith, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems and Purvis Young, among others.

Then there is the rest of art history, several thousand years of it. Along with its Warhol exhibition, the National Gallery will present “The Invention of Glory: Alfonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries” (Sept. 18) and “Antico: The Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes” (Nov. 6).

The Pastrana tapestries are four monumental works depicting a siege by the king of Portugal against two cities in Morocco. Woven in the late 15th century, the tapestries are recently restored and are being exhibited together in the United States for the first time.

Antico, a sculptor and goldsmith from Mantua, made loving reproductions of classical statues in bronze, idealizing in Renaissance terms the art of the ancient world. The exhibition is billed as the first devoted to the artist in the United States.

The Walters Museum will display the fruits of a fascinating project that has occupied conservators, scholars and scientists for 12 years: “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes” (Oct. 16) is devoted to the careful study of the Archimedes Palimpsest, a 10th-century parchment document that contains a copy of the writings of the Greek mathematician, scientist and inventor. In the 13th century, a monk erased the writing, reformatted the pages, recycled the parchment and turned it into a Greek Orthodox prayer book. Modern science has recovered what medieval religion almost destroyed. Using imaging techniques, much of the Archimedes text has been recovered.

Also worth attention: The Phillips Collection takes a sustained look at the one of the most popular works in its collection, Edgar Degas’“Dancers at the Barre” (Oct. 1). Using preparatory studies and works in different media, the exhibition will seek the artifice under Degas’ elegant contortionists. And among the don’t-miss photography exhibitions, the National Gallery’s “Harry Callahan at 100” will focus on one of the great innovators of the form (Oct. 2).

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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