Joburg goes pop for Warhol

When you’re from a small town, there’s nothing more thrilling than telling people:
“I met her in Bankside, London, close to the river Thames”.
The story almost makes me feel like a noir star like Humphrey Bogart, with a life filled with international love affairs.
But our meeting wasn’t that intimate. Bogart would have met her in a secluded bar where they can stare into each other’s eyes for hours. Maybe reminisce about mistakes.
Maybe I have an exhibitionist side I wasn’t aware of because I think I liked our first meeting the way it happened.

The weather was drab, there were long lines of people and their loud ooohs and ahhhs
coupled with excited chatter in too many languages to recall.
None of it mattered, of course, because after scouting around the Tate Modern for a while, I finally saw her. The lines on her face and that famous smile. Marilyn Diptych – better known as Marilyn Monroe – a subject in many of Andy Warhol’s works, has a way of hitting you the first time you see it.

I was just lucky that my first introduction to his work was his famous homage to Monroe. It’s the simplicity of it, or maybe that it speaks to millennials like myself who use pop
culture and its references every day. But it was a special moment of frisson.
It’s not every day that you get to experience the leader of the pop art movement’s work. Hell,

Hell, it’s not every day you get to experience the work of somebody who changed art in its entirety. We have great art in Africa, but sometimes we miss out on the work of
the masters.

But since last year, there’s been a rustle in the grass. Last July, Standard Bank
Gallery hosted Henri Matisse’s Rhythm and Meaning exhibition, the first full-scale showcase of the French modernist’s work in Africa.

Since July 26 the Wits Art Museum (WAM) is broke away from the tradition of featuring predominately African exhibitions by hosting Warhol Unscreened: Artworks from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection.
Warhol’s work is in South Africa and it’s time to wrap your head around pop art – and
the beauty of its explosive vibrancy, banality, excitement and unique place in the world.
It also creates incredibly important references for us to give more appreciation to the work of people like Brett Murray and Anton Kannemeyer.

Why Warhol?
The exhibition will comprise more than 80 of Warhol’s major screen prints – each likely to be as thrilling as the next.
While WAM’s commitment to local and African art has never wavered, the university is hosting the exhibition thanks to an unprecedented opportunity to provide access to the work of one of 20th Century Western art’s biggest anti-establishment artists.
Your feelings toward Donald Trump and America aside, The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection and the bank is bringing the exhibition to WAM at no cost as part of
its Art in Our Communities programme.
The firm is supporting an educational programme that includes bus sponsorship for
under-resourced schools, a publication for schoolchildren and support of the museum’s Teen_Connect workshops. Warhol is still revered because

Warhol is still revered because he managed to collapse the boundaries between high art and pop culture, art and business and bricked the foundation for myriads of artists who started using unique visuals in their work.
It showed the world that art is more than paint or sculpture. Warhol was one of the first artists to bring silkscreen printing to fine art. The marriage is still prevalent today, even in South Africa where we use some of the same visual cues created by Warhol.

Richard Gush, country executive for Merrill Lynch South Africa, says: “We recognise the important contribution that organisations like WAM make to society, both in terms of the stimulus they offer the local economy and the cultural enrichment they
provide.”
There’s a number of walkabouts as well as art-making opportunities during the exhibition’s run.
What is setting Warhol’s exhibition apart is the fact that it’s not commercial, but also not
meant to be stuffy like a museum exhibition. It’s a visual experiment and it’s up to you to be surprised by every print you encounter.

  • The exhibition runs from July 27
    to October 8.
  • Wits Art Museum is open daily, but closed on public holidays.
  •  Address: Wits Art Museum, corner of Bertha (ext of Jan Smuts
  • Avenue) and Jorissen Street,
    Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
  •  For more info call 011-717-1365 (Monday to Friday), 011-717-1358
    (Saturday and Sunday).
  • Entrance is left off Jorissen Street, just after the Station Street intersection.
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