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A Fresh Look at Andy Warhol

Hirshhorn curator Evelyn Hankins discusses the new Warhol show, on view through January 15, 2012

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Andy Warhol, "Shadows," 1978-79. Dia Art Foundation. Copyright 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Bill Jacobson.

As of this month, all 102 paintings from Warhol’s 1978-79 series, Shadows, are on display together for the very first time at the Hirshhorn Museum. Hung edge-to-edge, the series extends an impressive 450 feet around the museum’s curved, second-floor gallery. It really is a sight to behold.

Here, Evelyn Hankins, associate curator at the Hirshhorn, talks about the making of Shadows and what it meant in the context of Warhol’s career, as well as what goes into displaying it.

Why haven’t all 102 canvases been shown together until now?

The number of paintings you install is dependent upon the architecture of the space where you are showing them. It requires 450 linear feet to have 102 paintings, and so I think it has been just a matter of not having the space. When the show was originally installed in Soho in 1979, the Heiner Freidrich Gallery showed 83. My understanding is that most of them were in the gallery, but then there were some in the office as well.

How was the series made?

It was made in Warhol’s Factory. With a lot of Warhol’s work, you don’t know how involved he actually was, because he had his assistants and the whole idea of the Factory was that there was no single hand. Warhol claimed at one point that the shadows were just shadows in his office, and someone else has claimed that they used a maquette to cast them. Each of the canvases are painted with sponge mop in a brightly-colored acrylic paint. Then, the shadow image is silk screened on top, primarily in black. There are a couple in silver. They are negatives and positives.

Who decides the order of the paintings?

It is a predetermined order. My understanding is the first 83 follow the installation at the Heiner Freidrich Gallery and then the rest have been determined by Dia Art Foundation.

In 1978 and ’79, Warhol was thinking of it as an installation that changes, that takes the form of the architecture, of the space around it, and thus changes with each iteration. But as with all of our works, we try to adhere to the artist’s wishes and work within the spirit of the artist’s intentions.

Did Warhol ever comment on what inspired the piece?

He published, in New York Magazine, a statement as much about the opening as it as about the Shadows. He played them down. I think what’s important about the Shadows though is that they are abstractions. For artists coming of age in the late 1950s and 1960s, there was this incredible weight of the influence and power of abstract expressionism. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still were about this direct outpouring of psychoanalytic, unconscious energy onto the canvas. It was about pure abstraction and this very close relationship between the artist and the paint on the canvas, this indelible, undeniable relationship between the two. And Warhol upended that with pop art. He didn’t paint the paintings himself. The subject matter was banal subject matter found in the everyday world. So for him to turn to abstraction, I think, reflects larger changes in the art world as a whole. The Shadows are among a group of works in the 1970s, where Warhol began to explore abstraction, which is something he would pursue until his death in the 1980s. So it is this real shift for him, in terms of subject matter.

“Andy Warhol: Shadows,” on display through January 15, is part of “Warhol On the Mall,” a fall celebration of the artist organized in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art. “Andy Warhol: Headlines” is on exhibition at the National Gallery through January 2.

The Hirshhorn is hosting several related events, including a lecture series, an After Hours event and a film screening. For more about the exhibition, read: “Bringing Andy Warhol’s Shadows to the Hirshhorn.”

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