6 June 2024

Had Andy Warhol not died prematurely in 1987, he would be turning 92 this August. He never came to Thailand and neither did his artworks, though his famous pieces like Campbell’s Soup Cans or Marilyn Manroe silkscreen painting (Marilyn Diptych) are known to most Thais.

“Andy Warhol: Pop Art” is the first exhibition of original art of the world’s most renowned pop artist to be staged in Thailand. It takes place more than three decades after the creation of those famous 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans. The series is among the showcase of 128 original artworks and memorabilia by the international icon of popular art.

All the original art comes from the private collection of Gianfranco Rosini and is one of the broadest and most representative of Warhol’s works. The exhibition in Thailand has been two years in the planning by River City Bangkok management.

Although the coronavirus pandemic made it much more difficult, nothing could prevent it from happening. “Andy Warhol: Pop Art” is poised to become one of the most anticipated exhibitions of the year.

Pop art is for everyone

When Andy Warhol said “Pop art is for everyone”, he really meant it. He used techniques such as silk screening to make his artworks in big numbers. His arts are very accessible, and, as he once pointed out, producing a larger number of works brings in more income.

Strolling through the collection of original art at the Bangkok exhibition, it’s easy to see that Warhol was true to his word. Everyone can relate to his works as they reference everyday objects. His art objects such as Coca-Cola represents the masses. He painted the Coca-Cola (Coke) artwork in the 60’s before creating the print series. He uses the popular drink to portray equality in society.

“A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it,” he wrote.

That is the gist of Warhol’s artworks: anyone can appreciate his artworks and be inspired whether they portray Campbell’s Soup Cans, Coke cans, a Brillo pad box or underground record covers.

“We have brought this exhibition of original works to Thailand because we would like everyone, especially the young generation, who may not have the opportunity to see them overseas, to be inspired by the genius of Andy Warhol,” said Linda Cheng, managing director of River City Bangkok.

Art as an escape

Believing that he was “ugly”, Warhol said that he produced art because there was nothing else for him to do. In fact, this sentiment is quite contrary to the public perception decades after his death, as Warhol has become an international icon of his era and is still an influential figure in today’s art world.

At first, it seemed art was his escape from the world. Warhol also became part of his art; indeed, we can say that in some works he and his art are one – visible or invisible. Through the exhibition, the viewer can trace his passage from immigrant boy to art icon.

Take the Campbell’s Soup Cans, they were part of his childhood, something to remind him of his mother-and-muse Julia. The son of immigrants from Slovakia, he had Campbell’s soup every day. The soup was his comfort food and it is unsurprising that the Campbell’s art was his all-time favorite.

Art is how Warhol could show himself to the world. He became comfortable with portraying himself in arts. His portrait photography on show at the exhibition is an outstanding example. He designed other art elements of the photograph. According to several art lovers, his photography is in a way an early version of today’s selfies.

In short, Warhol drew widely from popular culture and many of his artworks and portraits including his own likenesses have become iconic images of the 20th century. His artworks spanning paintings, illustrations, printing, photography, books and films portray not only popular culture but also an American concept.

Michael George DeSombre, US Ambassador to Thailand, says his favorite work in the exhibition is the portrait of actor-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger as it represents an immigrant who has become a globally known American figure.

Perhaps the portraits in “Interview” magazine , founded by Warhol and still published today, tell stories beyond American life. As the artist said: “It’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.”

“ANDY WARHOL: POP ART” is at River City Bangkok until November 24, 2020.
By Thai PBS World’s Culture Desk