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Andy Warhol's rare print, Sleep, on view for the first time at the National Gallery of Canada
Sleep, 1965. Serigraph on wove paper. Gift of Marla and Larry Wasser, Toronto, 2010. Photo © NGC, Ottawa.

OTTAWA.- Sleep (1965), an exceptionally rare serigraph by Andy Warhol, one of the late-twentieth century’s most celebrated artists, is on view for the very first time at the National Gallery of Canada until May 1st 2013. The print, given to the NGC in 2010 by Marla and Larry Wasser from Toronto, immortalizes a member of Warhol’s glamorous entourage, often known simply as “Warhol superstars.” The work’s image is taken from Warhol’s earlier experimental film of the same name, which shows, for nearly five-and-a-half hours, the poet John Giorno sleeping. Sleep is one of only four related prints, and predates the artist’s larger and more popular editions of the late 1960s.

“We’re so pleased to share such an important work by Warhol with the public,” NGC Director and CEO, Marc Mayer said. “It’s a testament to our strong collection of American Pop art that Marla and Larry Wasser chose to donate the work to the National Gallery. A portrait of poet John Giorno, Sleep shows us a lesser-known aspect of Warhol’s art-making. Unlike his popular images of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, or even Wayne Gretzky, here Warhol shows real tenderness. We’re afforded a glimpse of Warhol as we don’t often see him.”

“Sleep has had a very special place in our collection for many years,” explained Ms. and Mr. Wasser, “however, we always believed that such a historically important Warhol deserved to be seen by as large an audience as possible. As a result of our gift, visitors to the National Gallery will now have an opportunity to view this wonderful and rare work of art.”

Warhol likely made Sleep in preparation for a Plexiglas sculpture called Large Sleep (1965; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh), which features two sequential images from the film arranged vertically. Another work on Plexiglas, now lost, showed three successive frames from Sleep. This particular example features black and red smudges visible in the margins of the silkscreen print, as well as the presence of another, as yet unidentified, image in red ink on the reverse, which supports our understanding of this work as a unique trial proof. As such, it provides a glimpse into Warhol’s distinctive working method. Prints, paintings, sculptures, films and photographs were made, often collectively, at his frenzied studio – which he famously called The Factory. While Warhol made silkscreen prints using stills from his other films, including Kiss (1963-64), Eat (1964) and Empire (1964), this work serves as a rare still image of one of his love interests, John Giorno, who himself was a celebrated “superstar.”

The National Gallery of Canada has a long history of exhibiting and collecting Warhol’s work, beginning in 1968 with the controversial purchase of his Brillo Soap Pads Boxes (1964) and most recently as the sole North American venue of Pop Life, which included over eighty works by the artist (2010).

The sixth work by Warhol to join the collection, Sleep is shown in a suite of newly installed galleries of Pop, Conceptual and Minimal art, which opened at the end of January 2013. These new galleries include works by, among others, Dan Flavin, Peter Halley, Donald Judd, Joseph Kosuth, Barbara Kruger, Agnes Martin, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, and Frank Stella.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is among the most celebrated and popular artists of the second-half of the twentieth century, working in painting, printmaking, sculpture and film. Beginning as a commercial artist, by the early 1960s he largely devoted himself to painting and his work from this period counts among the earliest examples of American Pop art. Drawing from commercial culture and advertising images, as in his iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), his use of screen printing on canvas effectively removed the hand of artist. Warhol’s work is held by the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tate Modern, London, and numerous other institutions.

Marla and Larry Wasser are avid collectors and supporters of the arts. Larry Wasser is a Board Member of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Marla Wasser is an independent museum curator who created the original exhibition “The Art, Inspiration and Appropriation of Andy Warhol” for the Waterloo Regional Children’s Museum in 2009, and more recently “RAM: Rethinking Art and Machine” for THEMUSEUM, Kitchener, Ontario in 2011.

Also on view, is the black and white 16mm film from which the still image was taken. A loan from the Collection of the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburg, it is among Warhol’s earliest films and his first long-duration work. Nearly five-and-a-half hours in length, the work comprises twenty-two repeated and rearranged close-up shots of the poet John Giorno. Warhol found his inspiration by watching Giorno sleep off a hangover; the next day, on a return train to New York, Warhol told Giorno, “I want to make a movie of you sleeping.” Sleep combines Warhol’s interest in experimental film with an erotic fascination – realized again in Thirteen Most Wanted Men (1964), his controversial project for the World’s Fair in which he enlarged mug shots from the New York City Police Department’s files. In the latter work, the artist used existing images; in his serigraph print Sleep (1965), presented alongside the film, Warhol cites his own work: a single frame from the lengthy film that makes static – perhaps even iconic – Giorno’s slumbering image.

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