Six hundred and ninety-eight spools of red, yellow and white thread hang from steel chains on a wall at The Jewish Museum. From a distance, they look like a pixilated, mostly red rectangle. But peer into a clear acrylic sphere positioned several feet from the wall, and it all comes into focus as a thumb-sized refraction of Andy Warhols familiar Campbells soup can.
The display is part of a pair of Warhol-centered exhibits opening at the museum on Fifth Avenue on Sunday. They include a series of paintings called Warhols Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered which couples 10 portraits of 20th-century Jewish figures with the photographs, sketches, collages and paintings Warhol used to develop the final silk-screen prints.
The Jewish audience that saw the series, said exhibit curator Gabriel de Guzman, many of them saw it as an affirmation of culture and pride.
In 1975, Warhol, who was a practicing Catholic, was commissioned to create a series of five portraits of Israels fourth prime minister, Golda Meir. The portraits were displayed in a gallery in Israel in 1975, and afterward, a friend of New York gallery owner Ronald Feldman suggested that Feldman commission Warhol to do 10 more portraits of Meir.
Feldman rejected the idea, according to Guzman, and instead asked Warhol to do portraits of 10 Jews, a project that would include the Marx brothers, Gertrude Stein and Sigmund Freud.
The original Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, which debuted in Miami in September 1980, withstood criticism from people who claimed that Warhol, an artist who was a frequent friend of commercialism, had created the portraits in an effort to exploit a wealthy demographic.Part of the exhibition features the list of possible portrait subjects, handwritten by Feldman. Four neat columns list names of twentieth century Jewish political, cultural and philosophical figures, flecked with check marks and other small notations, such as NJ, which Guzman said he believes stood for Not Jewish.
Although the original list of perspectives included living Jewish figures, Guzman said that fairly early in the process, Feldman decided to include only historic figures who had already passed away.
The most complete illustration of Warhols process in developing the series is a portrait of famed physicist Albert Einstein. The display includes the original photograph of Einstein, whose characteristically big hair hangs limply. Also on display are Warhols line drawing of the photograph and an acetate collage of the photograph consisting of a line drawing and colored paper, which Warhol used to play around with the look of the piece before finalizing the silk screen.
A black-and-white painting of Einstein is next. Warhols traditional method, which Guzman said he began using in the 1970s, involved painting large blocks of color on the canvas and then screening the enlarged photograph over top. This series involved the line drawing as well, which he used later in his career.
Warhol never met the selected 10, which included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis; philosopher Martin Buber; Sigmund Freud; the Marx Brothers; George Gershwin; Franz Kafka; Gertrude Stein; and Sara Bernhardt.
Both Art, Image and Warhol Connections and Warhols Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered will open to the public on March 16 and run through August 3. The museum is open Saturday through Wednesday, 11 AM to 5:45 PM and Thursday, 11 AM to 8 PM. Visit www.jewishmuseum.org or call 212-423-3200 for more information.
-- Emily Meredith
Photo: Hot Grill on Flickr