SAN FRANCISCO.- Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered will be on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum from October 12, 2008 through January 25, 2009. The series depicts ten luminaries of Jewish culture: Sarah Bernhardt, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Golda Meir, and Gertrude Stein. This exhibition will be the first showing on the West Coast of a complete set of paintings that Warhol made in this series. Also on view are an edition of the final-silk-screen print portfolio, the photographs that Warhol used as source images, several preliminary sketches, and a preparatory collage. The drawings and source photographs have not previously been exhibited alongside the finished pictures. When it premiered in 1980, Andy Warhol's Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century aroused much conversation and some controversy. An extensive range of documentary materials related to the portraits, including the list of nearly 100 "famous Jews" prepared by Warhol's dealer, advertisements, media clippings, and television coverage of the artist's trip to Miami for the world premiere of the series, will shed light on their creation, display, and reception. Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered was organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco and The Jewish Museum, New York.
"We are so delighted to present Warhol's Jews and provide the first opportunity on the West Coast to exhibit the original paintings from this important series," stated Museum Director and CEO Connie Wolf. "This exhibition, like the Contemporary Jewish Museum's mission, explores contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The exhibition not only offers great insight into Warhol's artistic process, but it also examines the contributions of these ten luminaries to modern culture, and provides new layers of social and art historical context for Ten Portraits, context which has never before been presented in conjunction with the series."
In 1980, Warhol's Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century was shown at the Lowe Art Museum in Miami and The Jewish Museum in New York. There were five original sets of paintings, of which only three remain intact. Print portfolios of the series in an edition of 200 subsequently toured to Jewish museums and organizations around the country, including the Bay Area's Judah L. Magnes Museum in 1980, for the next three years. While Jewish audiences tended to embrace Warhol's series, several leading art critics dismissed it when they were first exhibited. In the twenty-eight years since its debut, Ten Portraits has continued to confront viewers with these questions: Why did a Pop artist who otherwise displayed little interest in Jewish culture or causes create a series devoted to eminent Jews? How do we reconcile Warhol's commercial motives with the high-minded portrayal of cultural and historical icons? How has our view of Ten Portraits changed since its first showing?
Unlike many of Warhol's portraits, Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century depicts subjects whom the artist never met, because none of the subjects were alive at the time. Warhol was evasive when asked to divulge his selection criteria for the series and once told a reporter that he chose these ten subjects "because I liked the faces." The idea for Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century originated with Ronald Feldman, a New York gallerist, who commissioned it with Israeli art dealer Alexander Harari. Warhol dubbed the series his "Jewish Geniuses."
A sustained process of research and discussion resulted in the selection of a group of Jewish figures representing great achievement in the arts, sciences, philosophy, law, and politics: celebrated French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923); the first Jewish Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis (1856-1941); renowned philosopher and educator Martin Buber (1878-1965); the great theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein (1897-1955); the hugely influential founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939); vaudeville, stage and film comedians, the Marx Brothers: Chico (1887-1961), Groucho (1890-1977), and Harpo (1888-1964); Israel's fourth Prime Minister and one of the founders of the State of Israel, Golda Meir (1898-1978); distinguished American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937); the eminent novelist, Franz Kafka (1883-1924); and avant-garde American writer, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). The collective achievements of this group shaped the course of the twentieth century and may be said to have influenced every aspect of human experience.
Andy Warhol, one of the preeminent figures in American Pop Art, transformed contemporary art by blurring traditional distinctions between fine art and pop culture. In the 1960s, when literal representation in the visual arts had fallen out of critical favor, he was instrumental in reviving the portrait genre, finding ways to blend the mass medium of photography with the "high art" of painting. Obsessed with fame and media hype, he appropriated images from popular culture and created unforgettable portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.
Warhol's portraits, typically produced in multiple, defy customary expectations for a unique or psychologically revealing view of the individual. By openly embracing commercialism and the trappings of fame, and by employing photography and silk-screening, he challenged modernist concepts of originality and self-expression.
Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered is organized by guest curator Richard Meyer, Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Project at the University of Southern California , and coordinated by Gabriel de Guzman, Curatorial Assistant at The Jewish Museum, New York. At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the exhibition is organized by Dara Solomon, Assistant Curator and Fred Wasserman, Deputy Director for Programs.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco and The Jewish Museum, New York are co-publishing Warhol's Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered, which is being distributed by Yale University Press. The 64-page book features 50 color and 20 black-and-white illustrations, and includes an essay by Richard Meyer, with contributions by Gabriel de Guzman. The hardcover book will sell for $15.00 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum Store and at bookstores everywhere.
Throughout the duration of the exhibition, the Museum will offer a series of public and education programs that will explore themes raised by Warhol's Jews as well as the achievements of the artists' subjects. In addition, the Museum will offer free public tours of the exhibition daily, except Wednesday when the Museum is closed, as well as special tours for schools.
The exhibition was organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, and The Jewish Museum, New York, with guest curator Richard Meyer, professor of Art History at the University of Southern California.