New Exhibit on Gay Artist Andy Warhol Focuses on His Relationship to Catholicism

Andy Warhol, “The Last Supper (Detail).”

A never-before-seen side of Andy Warhol is on display at a new Brooklyn Museum exhibition. Religion News Service reports that “Andy Warhol: Revelation is the first project to focus on Warhol’s Catholic faith, with works that differ radically from the Campbell’s soup can and infamous pop art.

The art is more intimate, even agonizing, while retaining Warhol’s trademark irreverence. “Raphael Madonna– $6.99” opens the exhibit as a floor-to-ceiling mural of Mary and Child juxtaposed with a large red price tag. In additional pieces, Jesus appears on a nightlight ad and on a series of punching bags entitled “Ten Punching Bags (The Last Supper).”

As the son of Slovakian immigrants, Warhol was raised in the Byzantine Catholic Church and maintained a complicated relationship with the tradition his entire life. The exhibit highlights this tension, writes Jillian Cheney for RNS, as its “focus on the artist’s faith touches on the conflict, and sometimes the horror, of being a gay man in a tradition that deeply disapproved.” In addition to the artwork, personal items belonging to Warhol are on display, including crucifixes and evidence of his visit with Pope John Paul II.

In his recreation of religious Renaissance art, Warhol at once expresses both longing and faith, both love and anguish, Cheney observes. He features only Mary and Gabriel’s hands in “The Annunciation,” emphasizing the physical touch or lack thereof in the painting. And in one of over 100 renditions of “The Last Supper,” Warhol pairs off the disciples around the table, such that Peter and John now seem to be sharing a physically tender moment. Often seen as his response to the AIDS epidemic following the death of his partner, Warhol’s take on da Vinci was his final series before his death in 1987.

Perhaps the most intimate piece is entitled “Be Somebody With A Body” and juxtaposes a bodybuilder image with Jesus’s head next to Warhol’s own bare torso, gunshot scars from an attempt on his life years earlier on full display. The 1986 work “comes across as the work of a man in anguish,” contemplating his own physicality and embodiment in the context of popular culture and religious identity.

“Andy Warhol: Revelation” is open in Brooklyn through June 19, 2022.

Angela Howard McParland (she/hers), New Ways Ministry, December 22, 2021

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