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Opening of the world’s first major show on Andy Warhol

Latest update : 2009-03-17

For four months Paris's Grand Palais will exhibit the world’s first major show of portraits by US artist Andy Warhol. From Marilyn Monroe to Chairman Mao, the exhibition will give a broad-brush picture of society from the 60s until the 80s.

AFP - Days before the opening of the world’s first major show of portraits by Andy Warhol, wacky designer and onetime Warhol associate Jean-Charles de Castelbajac paid his own tribute to the "Pope of Pop."

"He was more than an artist, he is an icon," de Castelbajac, a member of Warhol’s art and fashion celebrity circles of the 1970s and 1980s, told AFP.

Ahead of the Wednesday launch of the "Warhol’s Wide World" exhibition at the Grand Palais, the French designer paraded funky dresses at Fashion Week, printed with a photo of the pop art legend and topped with a fake shock of his white moplike hair.

Adding a Warholesque touch of art as a mirror of society, the designer trotted out a dress emblazoned with a picture of President Barack Obama and added slogans reading "15 SECONDS of fame" -- a play on Warhol’s famed quote on the fleeting condition of celebrity, "15 minutes of fame."

"In these times of capitalist crisis, everything is moving so quickly," he said. "I think Warhol would’ve appreciated the times."

From Marilyn Monroe to Chairman Mao, as well as art dealers, business leaders, and royals, the Paris portrait show running to July 13 paints a broadbrush picture of society through the 60s until the 80s.

Some of the 130 works on display are coming out of private collections for the first time.

"All these portraits are another way of seeing history, the end of an era, the beginning of something new," said de Castelbajac. "There is a meaning behind each one."

Credited with single-handedly reviving portrait art, Warhol’s first were those of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, produced from newspaper clippings to his standard format -- 40x40-inch (101.6x101.6-cm) bold-lined head-shot works painted in bright colours.

Later he used Polaroid snapshots or photo booth prints, sometimes by the hundreds, reproducing the portraits on silkscreen prints at his successive New York studios, known as The Factory.

Between 1972 and 1986, the year before his death, Warhol produced 1,000 portraits, or nearly one a week, many of them ordered by clients at a set price of 25,000 dollars a piece.

His use of repetition, both in the portraits and his soup cans and other American icons, was social commentary on mass culture and consumption, showing art as a product.

"I was inspired by the way he reinterpreted daily life, gave new meaning to humble things, things no-one had noticed," said de Castelbajac, renowned for his recurrent use of Mickey Mouse and Rubik’s Cube graphics and models made of run-of-the-mill toy teddy-bears.

The Frenchman first met the US artist in 1970 in Italy, when designing provocative "Jesus" jeans that upset the Vatican, then in New York where Warhol acquired a "poncho for two," one of de Castelbajac’s own iconic creations.

"I had the shock of my life when I went to The Factory to bring him the poncho," he said, recounting the visit to the hip underground hangout frequented by the likes of Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Truman Capote and Mick Jagger.

"It was my first vision of transversality, totally different from fashion, which is individualistic and self-centred.

"I was totally shocked, bowled over, my life changed after that," said the designer, who like Warhol dabbles in music and other art forms.

"He left many children, a huge flock of descendants," de Castelbajac said of Warhol, one of the most emulated artists of his time.

"You can find neo-Warhol everywhere nowadays, in boutiques, souvenir shops, wherever. Yet the Warhol art virus was spawned before the Internet. Imagine what it would’ve been like today."

Date created : 2009-03-17