“I’ve decided something: Commercial things really do stink. As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market it really stinks.” – Andy Warhol
I didn’t see this quote at the Golden Sixties exhibition at the Alšova jihočeská galerie in Hluboká nad Vltavou. But before seeing the Andy Warhol works on display here, it was a fairly good summary of what I thought of the pop icon’s work. I basically equated Warhol with lavender hued screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. Unfair I know, but for me the colorful superficial-ness of it all was just too pop-y.
Granted, I never bothered to go too deep into the man’s work, keeping my knowledge of him at the shallow level. His life and times did intrigue me and I was excited to see this exhibition in a decidedly un-pop location – a gallery repurposed from former riding stables attached to an adjacent chateau, rebuilt on a model of Windsor Castle in the mid-1800s. The gallery is known mainly for its Gothic painting and sculpture collection. You give a little gasp when entering the gorgeous cathedral-like space. So why Warhol?
A gift to gallery, patrons
“Our gallery is celebrating its 60th anniversary and we wanted to give a gift to ourselves and all our visitors,” Aleš Seifert, the gallery’s director said. “The castle is pop icon like by itself, not so old and it’s a little like sugar. Therefore we chose Warhol because he too is a pop art icon.”
Seifert started with gallery only a year ago and he and his colleagues managed to gather the 200 plus pieces on display in roughly nine months. They partnered with the Andy Warhol Museum and Society in Medzilaborce, Slovakia, Warhol’s parents’ hometown. About half of the objects came the museum, the other half borrowed from private collectors. The exhibition includes original paintings, screen prints, famous album covers, and curious objects and artifacts.
The Golden Sixties title of the exhibition is a bit of a misnomer – there’s only Warhol on display.
“It’s about our anniversary but the 60s were also the beginning of Warhol’s career as a star – Campbell Soup can series, Monroe series,” Seifert explained. “But here we also have works from the 50s to the end of his life. The 60s were a strange time around the world, in the east and the west many things changed.
Much more than just soup cans
The gallery space is left pretty open, but temporary walls move you through and give a sense of order to what’s on display. On your right upon entering is a wall dedicated to famous portraits including Edward Kennedy and Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland from the Reigning Queens series. These are screen prints with diamond dust which looking closely you can see. The opposite wall contains pieces from his Self-Portrait series and Ladies and Gentlemen series. His famous Campbell Soup cans are here, series I-X screen prints done from the original Warhol designs by Sunday B. Morning.
Then comes the hot pink walls covered with Marilyns. To her left is the Flower series, however this I liked – colorful, but simple.
“The back part is the most beautiful part,” Seifert said. “Mao and Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century – this is the diamond of the exhibition, Kaka, Einstein, Marx Brothers.” Indeed, this is when I discovered my newfound respect for Warhol. The eyes in the Jewish collection had personality and depth.
Opposite the colorful flowers are Warhol’s Flowers Suite, black and white sketches.
“Warhol described the life and death of humans through these flowers, here you can see how he felt – some are growing, some are dying,” Seifert said.
Rare Warhol-designed LP covers on display
Turning away from the pink you are treated to a massive sketched skeleton, which Seifert referred to as the ‘wall of death.’ Hanging on it are samples from his Skulls, Electric Chair and Knives Series. The gallery’s other main wall is covered with examples of his posters – some original, some signed and some from poster exhibitions. Lithographs are sprinkled throughout the exhibition as well, and on this wall were two great ones – smaller sized prints of Mick Jagger from 1975 looking pleasantly un-Mick Jagger like. Another highlight is the complete lithograph of Love is a Pink Café.
“This is the exhibition’s second diamond and it’s something new and different compared to other Warhol exhibitions,” Seifert said of the center room. “Warhol did about 50 LP covers and the museum was able to secure about 30 of them. We believe it’s the first time someone has collected so many of his LP covers together.”
They even have the last four covers Warhol did – Aretha Franklin, John Lennon (right before his death), Debbie Harry and a special one for MTV which he signed but hadn’t finished at the time of his death.
The exhibition is impressive and put together well. At the end, you’ll find a printing carousel where you can make your own screen print t-shirt for a mere 190 CZK.
“The whole exhibition is about screen prints but many people don’t know what it is,” Seifert explained. It is interesting to see. Thick goopy paint is plopped at the bottom of the screen, and a practice run is done on paper. A tool that looks like something you’d use to wash your windows is pulled through the paint and across the motif. The design is then set using a flat iron.
Hluboká can be reached in about three hours by train or bus from Prague; most journeys have you switching in Ceské Budejovice. The small town is quite pretty and could amuse for a weekend, the chateau is spectacular, as is the English garden it sits in. There is a zoo and a big sports center.