The Andy Warhol Exhibit currently featured at the Rochester Art Center explores the famous pop artist's work and his influence on Southern Minnesota artists
Around every corner and on every wall of the Rochester Art Center’s new exhibition “Andy Warhol: Minnesota Goes Pop” lies a surprise.
At first turn into the galleries, you’re greeted by a massive wall of diamond dusted Warhol prints featuring the likes of Dracula, Mickey Mouse and Superman. The first impression is powerful and sets you up with a promise for an exciting experience.
And the exhibition delivers on that promise.
As you move into the next gallery, electronica music pours out from a side room displaying wild neon animation. The techno sounds are a backdrop to the main room with both big and small pieces from a display of ceramic chickens to a single iPhone, each with their own message of consumerism and anxiety, respectfully.
The next room brings you into a world of playfully controversial cowboy and Native American art. More Warhol prints adorn the walls amidst other work with strong messages about culture and difficulty that stimulate conversation.
Behind the final corner turn awaits a surprising army of ornately Native American-costumed Star Wars figures and a final set of thought-provoking pieces, all of which manage to both inspire and amuse.
With every room a vibrant mix of style, subject and surprise, “Andy Warhol: Minnesota Goes Pop” lives up to its name – it pops.
The exhibition is on display until May 14 at the Rochester Art Center, and features 26 Warhol prints as well as the work of 11 Minnesota artists displayed right alongside the Warhols. The show is already the art center’s most attended exhibition to date boasting 830 attendees on the first Saturday of the show opening.
“It’s just been so much fun,” Chad Allen said. The variety of reactions to the arts, the stories and the excitement of the show has been a joy to see, he said.
Allen is the Director of Community Engagement and Interim Manager at the art center. He said the impact of first stepping into the gallery matched with the interweaving of the Warhols and Minnesota artists is one of the things that makes the exhibition stand out.
“I think it’s the way that the show is hung… everything is in conversation with each other,” Allen said.
That conversation starts with two Warhol prints series – “Myths” and “Cowboys and Indians.”
“We have the two sides of Andy,” Allen said.
“Myths” is comprised of the cheeky pop culture icons and fictional legends that as more of what audiences think of first when thinking of Warhol, he said, whereas the “Cowboys and Indians” is a lighthearted but thought-provoking take on the Native American plight.
Hung amidst the Warhols are the Minnesota artists, who also have embraced that combination in their pop art. They also represent a diverse group of individuals, hailing from all different backgrounds and walks of life.
“How often do you walk into a museum and it’s all straight white guys hanging on the walls?” Allen said. “There’s only one straight guy in the show.”
It’s a point of pride for the art center, which is working its way more and more toward a place with open doors to anyone.
“We’re shifting gears to become more a of a community-based art center… we think of ourselves as a “third place.” There’s home, work, then communal place,” he said. “We have positioned ourselves to be a third place.”
One of the artists who has found her place at the Rochester Art Center is Bianca Pettis who is one of the featured artists in the show.
Pettis is currently finishing the MFA art program at the University and said she was delighted to be invited to be in “Andy Warhol: Minnesota Goes Pop.” She chose to exhibit “Portrait of the Gear,” a 15-foot painting accompanied by a poem.
“It’s kind of an imaginary landscape of my favorite music gear used in the band,” she said. “At the center of the piece is a mixing board - which connects all the instruments and controls their volume and mix.”
“Then there is a modified Speak and Spell, a Denon CD-J… the AM Radio with Flash Cameras and the Animal Organ. The instruments are very unique as music set up go,” Pettis said, adding that each element has their role in creating the overall piece.
Pettis’ thesis moves between poetry and writing so she chose to include a poem which is an introductory excerpt from her thesis paper, at the request of Sheila Dickinson, the exhibition curator.
Pettis said being a part of the show is a dream come true and that over the years she’s found Warhol inspiring in different ways, whether it was his exciting Studio 54 days, the parties at the Factory or his nuanced visual art.
That ability to fascinate and intrigue is part of why Allen believes Warhol has stood the test of time.
“I think it’s just that he was so out there – he was such a character. He was pop culture,” he said. “He had such a presence… Andy was such a tour de force.”
Pettis echoed Allen’s words, adding that Warhol’s work has the ability to reach many different audiences.
“I've always wanted my work to speak to as many people as possible. I think Warhol's work succeeds at that. He's able to create different layers of engagement,” she said. “There really is something there for everyone. That's what's exciting about pop art as well.”
“It's quite an exciting exhibition,” she said. “I think the Warhol works that are featured are quite extraordinary.”
Editor's Note: This is the poem that accompanies Bianca Pettis' work in the exhibit:
WHEN YOU FIRST LEARN ABOUT ANDY WARHOL
by Bianca Pettis
You are 14.
Your friend Travis gives you a book.
It’s called WARHOL.
You cannot put it down.
The Velvet Underground.
Jean Michel Basquiat.
You write a poem.
You make a video.
You start a band.
You buy a camera.
You take a photograph.
You have a party.
You decide that your life will be a work of art.
Megan Proft is a Southern Minnesota freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SouthernMinn Scene. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org