When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas nearly 50 years ago, pop artist Andy Warhol immediately focused on the media circus surrounding his death.
"I'd been thrilled about having Kennedy as president," Warhol once said. "He was handsome, young, smart, but it didn't bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing."
Five years after the president's assassination, Warhol created "Flash-November 22, 1963," a provocative portfolio of 11 screenprints reflecting upon the assassination and providing insightful observations about media coverage that, in many ways, seem even more relevant today in our 24/7 news culture.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy, Telfair Museums will present "Warhol/JFK: November 22, 1963, A Selection of Andy Warhol Prints from the Herbert Brito Collection," a fascinating exhibition focusing on the events surrounding a defining moment in American history. This focus show, featuring rarely
seen Warhol prints, will be on display at the Jepson Center beginning Oct. 18.
The centerpiece of "Warhol/JFK" is Warhol's "Flash - November 22, 1963" screenprint portfolio, including a complete collection of 11 images inspired by this tragic event. The show also includes the artist's innovative packaging, designed to simulate newswire copy.
The images on display at the Jepson Center include Day-Glo television stills of a smiling JFK, the presidential seal riddled with bullet holes and other symbolic representations of the Kennedy assassination. The exhibit also features "Jackie II," Warhol's iconic 1966 double portrait of grieving first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
"What is so interesting about this show is that we're showing a portion of Warhol's work that hasn't been explored or exhibited extensively," says Lisa Grove, director and CEO of Telfair Museums. "It allows us to talk about issues that are very relevant today."
Genesis of an exhibition
The "Warhol/JFK" exhibit started when Grove reached out to Warhol collector and former Savannah College of Art and Design Professor Herbert Brito in April. Brito agreed to lend a portion of his collection to the Telfair, enabling Grove to fast-track the exhibition.
"We already had our schedule booked, but we decided to make this exhibit happen to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination," she says. "Our goal is to exhibit more modern and contemporary art at the Jepson Center and to show prominent artists like Andy Warhol."
Brito, an accomplished architect and interior designer in Miami, started collecting Warhol's work in college, purchasing a Marilyn Monroe screenprint while attending the University of London.
"I've always been fascinated by Warhol," he admits. "Of all the 20th century artists, no one chronicled their life and times better than he did."
Brito acquired the "Flash" portfolio rather unexpectedly in 2000, when a top client and close friend gave him the rare collection as a gift.
"It's definitely the best gift I've ever received," he laughs. "The Flash portfolio marks a turning point, when Warhol went away from consumerism and made a record of an important piece of American history."
Brito says he is delighted to loan his exhibit to Telfair Museums.
"I'm all about sharing my art," he enthuses. "This is history. Andy Warhol captured that moment and that media circus, before iPhones and computers. He did it so eloquently."
The nation's collective obsession with JFK's assassination served as a powerful source of creative expression for Warhol, who was fascinated by the potent blend of celebrity and tragedy.
Above all, "Warhol/JFK" reflects Warhol's response to the media blitz that followed the incident. From grainy Zapruder film stills to documentary-style photographs of the book depository building in Dallas where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired the fatal shots, Warhol strategically manipulates iconic images of the Kennedy assassination, which left an indelible mark on America's collective memory.
"This particular show is interesting for its thematic content and the way we think about the world today," says Grove. "Good art makes you think. We hope this exhibit encourages people to pause and think about the role media has in our society and how it affects our understanding of what's going on in the world."
ABOUT ANDY WARHOL
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is synonymous with American Pop Art. Born in Pittsburgh and raised in McKeesport, Penn., Warhol studied art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He is best known for his iconic screen prints of commercial objects like Campbell's soup cans and Brillo pads and for his portraits of celebrities like Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. ARTnews magazine has named him one of the 25 most influential artists.