Andy Warhol and Smalltown, Kentucky

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Andy Warhol’s name is synonymous with pop art, a movement that began in the 1950s and used items from popular culture in different ways, sometimes out of context and sometimes as a representation of how images from (mainly) American consumerism affected and manipulated society. He was an American artist who lived from 1928-1987. Some of his more popular works include his rendering of the Campbell’s soup can and his portraits of celebrities with colorful backgrounds.

I first learned about Warhol in one of the numerous mandatory and special elective art classes I took throughout middle school and high school alongside other definitive artists such as Seurat, Picasso, Van Gogh, and Dali; artists that were so instrumental to their own art movements and generations that nearly everyone who isn’t fluent in art history can probably conjure up an image of at least one of their major works. During my first semester of college, I took art appreciation–mainly as an easy elective–and further had major artists and their works drilled into my head. Being a huge art nerd, I naturally thrill over seeing these remarkable artists’ works in person. The last time I was able to do so was during my last trip to Chicago in 2010 when I visited the Art Institute of Chicago. I almost had to be dragged out of the place.

Me, drooling over George Seurat’s masterpiece, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” at the Art Institute of Chicago. I made a reproduction of the work in middle school using Q-tips to represent the pointillism.

With all of my art history fangirling, imagine my surprise at reading a small blurb in my hometown’s newspaper about a local connection to Warhol. Mr. Warhol did a series or works focusing on the front pages of newspapers and magazines from all over the world, but mainly concentrating on tabloid news. A recent Warhol exhibition called Headlines features these front pages of tabloids as parodied by Warhol. He frequently changed names or titles and added his own spin in his recreations. The local “blurb” said that what may be one of the first works from this series is an ink drawing from my hometown’s newspaper, then called “The Princeton Leader”. Warhol changed the newspaper’s name to “The Princton Leader” and added his friend’s name (Charles Lisanby) into one of the articles he transcribed. The article where Mr. Lisanby’s name replaced a local Princeton man’s name had to do with the man becoming a plumber, a profession Warhol’s friend would have been about as far from as a CBS and television professional in New York could be. Nonetheless, Warhol’s drawing shows

“…a glimpse of…keen awareness (as a child of poverty himself) of the social stratification in 1950s America.”

Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

At the link above, you can also see a side-by-side picture of the actual front page of the August 23rd, 1956 paper, as well as Warhol’s reproduction. The National Gallery of Art actually had to get permission from my town’s newspaper to be able to use image in the exhibit, which my town took as an opportunity to get publicity. Can’t say I blame them; Princeton doesn’t have many notable claims to fame anyway. Besides, I’d rather have my town known for something in art history, even if it’s just as a commentary on social classes. The crudeness of the drawing seems to me like Warhol was trying out his idea for the Headlines series on random domestic local papers before advancing to more well-known national and international ones. An added more interesting bonus factoid is that my dad was born in the same week of the paper Warhol used!

It’s hard for me to fathom that Princeton, Kentucky has any kind of connection in the art history realm, but I’m quite pleased that it does! One unanswered question, however, lingers for me:

How did Warhol get a copy of the Princeton Leader?

That’s a mystery we may never know.

The Headlines exhibit was at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. from September 25, 2011-January 2, 2012. The exhibit can currently be seen until May 13, 2012 at Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt. It will then be at Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna, Rome, from June 11–September 9, 2012, and at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, October 14, 2012–January 6, 2013.

If someone happens to be reading this and actually sees it in person, please comment and let me know!

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