Andy Warhol is synonymous with Pop art and celebrity, Campbell’s Soup and Marilyn Monroe—but one driving force in the artist’s work that people may not know about is Warhol’s relationship to Catholicism.
“It’s not something I knew about Warhol, or that I think that most folks knew,” Brooklyn Museum curator Carmen Hermo, who organized the upcoming presentation, titled “Andy Warhol: Revelation,” told Artnet News. “I think in some ways, the art world likes to remove the influence of spirituality and religion as drivers of art production and art making in artist’s lives.”
When Hermo visited the exhibition, which is curated by José Carlos Diaz, during its Warhol Museum run”it really blew my mind,” she said. “There’s something about seeing a career-long engagement, from age 10 to the very last artworks that Warhol created. Across many different materials and technological experiments and collaborations, this theme finds its way into Warhol’s work.”
Andy Warhol, Eggs (1982). Courtesy of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 1998. ©2021 the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Born Andrew Warhola to Slovakian immigrants and raised in Pittsburgh’s Ruska Dolina neighborhood, the artist’s upbringing in many ways revolved around the church, which was the lifeblood of the Carpatho-Rusyn community.
The earliest artwork in the show, on loan from the Warhola family collection, is a Jesus of the Sacred figurine painted by the artist as a child. The last works are from the late series based on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural The Last Supper, a print of which hung in Warhol’s childhood home.
“The series has this ur-Warholian gesture of appropriating a Renaissance masterpiece, but appropriating it through its popular images,” Hermo said. “He’s approaching this iconic, well-known work through the lens of how people experience it every day in their home faith ritual traditions. It’s a Leonardo reference, but there’s also something powerful there elevating private devotion.”
Andy Warhol, The Last Supper (1986). The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, contribution the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 1998. ©2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
For a 1984 commission from dealer Alexander Iolas—who gave Warhol his first show, in 1952—the artist made more than 100 “Last Supper Works,” including prints, hand-painted drawings, and large-scale silk screen paintings, two of which will be on view in the exhibition.
That includes the copy from the Baltimore Museum of Art, where controversial plans to auction the work were jettisoned after a widespread outcry. The piece is one of more than 30 works being added to the show for its Brooklyn iteration, including Warhol’s famous 1966 film The Chelsea Girls.
“Half, if not more, of Warhol’s superstar factory gang at that time were lapsed Catholics,” Hermo said. “Seeing Chelsea Girls through the lens of Catholicism—there are references to Saint Sebastian-like forms, and an extended confessional scene—really changes the context of that work.”
Not long after completing the film, Warhol found himself drawn back to the church.