WHEN ANDY WARHOL died suddenly last year after routine gall bladder surgery, his latest portfolio of silkscreen prints, "The History of TV," was just getting underway. Eagerly awaited, it promised the perfect match of subject matter to artist: unforgettable TV images transformed into icons of art by the premier icon maker of our time.
Ten images appropriated from television were planned for the "History of TV," among them one from "I Love Lucy" and another from the Beatles' historic American debut on the Ed Sullivan show. Only one -- that of the first astronaut planting an American flag on the moon -- was far enough along to be published at the time of Warhol's death. Two variations of this image (one finished in yellow, the other in red) have since been issued in editions of 160, each three-foot square. A pair sells, boxed, for $18,000.
These two versions of "Moonwalk" comprise the centerpiece of the current Andy Warhol show at Govinda Gallery, and will doubtless prove to be worth every penny. An unforgettable image to start with, "Moonwalk" has been further transformed by Warhol into a visual time capsule by his customary wrapping of selective, calligraphic outline, benday dots and overlays of color. Combined, they lend both a sense of nostalgia and an other-worldly glow. It is as riveting an image as Warhol ever made.
Titled "Andy Warhol: The Last Prints," the Govinda show also includes 10 silkscreens from "Cowboys and Indians," the artist's penultimate portfolio issued in 1986 and featuring appropriated images of John Wayne, General Custer, Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt, Kachina dolls and an Indian-head nickel. All bust-length portraits set against a flat white background, they lack the pizazz of "Moonwalk."
More interesting here are the earlier prints on view, notably those from the 1985 "Ads" portfolio (including the Mobil and Paramount Pictures logos), the large "African Elephant" from the "Endangered Species" portfolio (1983) and a 1979 print titled "After the Party," a morning-after still-life featuring empty bottles and cigarette butts. There's also a small "$" print -- more meaningful every day as a commentary on the true meaning of art in contemporary American society, including Warhol's. The smallest and least expensive print on view, it costs $2,200 -- considerably less than the $38,500 paid at auction last November for a print of Marilyn Monroe.
Govinda Gallery owner Chris Murray knew Warhol and his Factory crowd, and as a result has photographs and other Warhol material that may be of special interest to collectors, including Chris Makos' portraits of Warhol convincingly sporting a female wig.
Murray recalls talking with Warhol the day John Lennon was shot, and the artist's reaction: "We like to say he just went uptown."
"That's what I like to think about Andy," says Murray, "that he's just gone uptown."
His spirit has certainly gone uptown. The Museum of Modern Art -- which ignored Pop Art when it happened -- has announced that it will launch its 60th anniversary year, 1989, with the first full-scale Warhol retrospective in the United States in nearly 20 years.
Jack Shainman isn't the first Washington dealer to maintain galleries in both Washington and New York, but he may end up doing it longer and more successfully than most.
He differs from predecessors Max Protetch and Diane Brown in that he says he has no intention of giving up on Washington and concentrating on the greener pastures of Soho. Meanwhile, he continues to build a highly varied group of artists, which includes Americans and Europeans, known and unknown, young and old. In the back room of his Washington gallery at present is a sampling of works by the intriguing Canadian artist/photographer Evergon, Welsh wood sculptor Paul Bowen (now of Provincetown) and Washington painter John Robinson, one of Anacostia's hidden treasures.
Shainman's featured artist this month is Boston oil painter Aaron Fink, who appears to be at an especially interesting point in his career. As in earlier shows here, Fink paints single, canvas-filling objects -- a coffee cup, a peanut or a pipe, for instance -- giving his paintings life not only by the use of bright colors and bold, simplified shapes, but also by the animated way in which he applies and reworks his painted surfaces.
This show focuses on bunches of grapes, burning candles and a large log fire. But it now takes more time to discern the imagery behind what at first appear to be large, rather smudgy abstractions. Only slowly do we begin to see the log fire blazing among the thickly painted yellows and oranges, filling the canvas and warming the room.
The deliberate suppression of the original image has been achieved by dragging a spatula across the thick, wet paint, both vertically and horizontally, thus reweaving and excavating the surface so as to reveal new skeins of color beneath. Sometimes the system works and vastly enriches the painting, as in "Burning Log"; elsewhere, it is the work's undoing. In one of the "Candle" pictures, for example, a grid-like surface pattern results that seems altogether irrelevant and superficial to the subject at hand. The results seem dangerously mannered in the way that the work of Bernard Buffet is mannered.
In the best painting in this show, however -- that of a giant bunch of pinkish grapes -- Fink seems to have moved on, past this pitfall, to the more subtle challenge of transforming simple subject matter into nearly abstract imagery that is truly monumental. More than grapes, this looks like a painting of the great sphinx of Egypt. In fact, without the two smaller paintings of grapes that hang next to it, this painting might have remained an evocative, monumental abstraction that only hinted at what its subject matter might be. The installation of these three works in ensemble is an instructive one. It will be interesting to see where Fink goes from here, as he continues to explore and exploit the boundary between abstraction and representation.
ANDY WARHOL -- "The Last Prints." At the Govinda Gallery through March 12 at 1227 34th St. NW. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5.
AARON FINK -- "Recent Paintings." At Jack Shainman Gallery, 2443 18th St. NW, through March 5. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 7; Sundays 2 to 6.