Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe were also exploring themes along these lines in the 1980’s
In 1981 Pop Artist Andy Warhol in collaboration with his friend Christopher Makos worked on a series of photographs with a transgender theme. The Artist’s conceptual basis for the series of 350 stills was to explore the way you are seen by others. This subject was very much the zeitgeist in an armory of ideas floating around the New York scene in the early 1980’s. It was a device that was already being explored by photographers such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman which would be extended to become the basis of an important part of art at the end of the 20th century. Warhol was always fascinated by the counter culture of drag queens and by using seven different wigs and a dash of slap the artist transformed himself into a series of striking female alter-egos.
A newly curated exhibition at The Lowry at Salford Quays presents an important collection of some of Andy Warhol’s most iconic works, focusing on the most alluring divas of his time. ‘Warhol and the Diva’, compiles iconic prints such as Marilyn Monroe,and Liz with a collection of rarely seen Polaroids, in an attempt to redefine his fascination with the female face and celebrity.”Warhol’s like a rock star,” Makos says. “He’s a big icon. I always say the best career move is to drop dead. He did that and that was a big career move. Six of Warhol’s Marilyn portraits appear in The Lowry exhibition, alongside 15 additional silkscreens and acrylics of his other favourite characters of the 1950s and 1960s, including Judy Garland, Joan Collins, Jane Fonda, Pia Zadora and Liz Taylor. Over 30 Polaroid images of some of his sitters, including music legends Dolly Parton and Diana Ross and supermodel singer Grace Jones, will also feature in the display alongside five Makos photographs of Warhol exploring his identity and several covers of the publication he established, Interview Magazine. Many of the pieces are on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, USA, and, says The Lowry’s curator of special exhibitions Kate Farrell, they will not be shown as a collection anywhere in the UK other than in Salford.
Kate Farrell, The Lowry’s Curator of Special Exhibitions, says: “Exploring Warhol’s fascination with the most revered performers of his generation within the context of The Lowry is a perfect match, allowing us to present internationally renowned artwork with an emphasis on the theatrical. Warhol admired and adored the subjects he depicted in his work, immersing himself in their lifestyle and living and breathing the glamour of their existence which offers an incredible body of material for the exhibition.”
The exhibition came about initially by researching into the history of the diva in performance, and quite quickly it became apparent that Warhol’s portraits of performance figures could translate into an exhibition solely about Warhol’s divas – their ‘real’ and ‘performance’ personas or identity. As I researched potential material, I also came across a series of photographs of Warhol taken by his good friend Christopher Makos where the artist had been glamourised into an exaggerated version of himself, wearing heavy make-up and a series of wigs. The title Warhol and the Diva then became even more relevant: describing the divas depicted within his work, and Warhol’s own inner diva.
It is nearly 25 years after his death, Warhol’s reputation has soared again, driven perhaps by unprecedented levels of interest in celebrity.
Warhol and the Diva: Sat 25 June – Sun 25 September 2011, the Lowry, Salford Quays.