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Review: John Wayne meets Andy Warhol
Reviewer gives high praise to Averitt Center art exhibit
Wes Cochran chats about one of the featured works in the Andy Warhol collection he and wife Missy own during Thursday's opening at the Averitt Center for the Arts.

An art icon making art of icons — that’s the best way to describe “Works by Warhol” at the Averitt Center through Nov. 10. You’ll walk in the door of the gallery and grin — you won’t be able to help yourself. Enormous images of heroes and celebrities in eye-popping colors greet you. John Wayne, Annie Oakley, Mick Jagger, Mickey Mouse, Neil Armstrong. The neon and glitz is the confetti in Andy Warhol’s parade of the legendary and mythic, the rich and famous.  And you can’t resist going along for the ride.
    Frankly, that’s all anyone needs to know to enjoy this exhibit. But let me add one more fact that kept me staring and thinking and talking. Once upon a time, this now mainstream art was the craziest kind of revolutionary thinking. 
    Warhol was an art scene outsider. He was the son of a Czech coal miner in Pittsburgh who moved to New York City in 1949 to be part of the art capital of the universe. While he became one of the city’s most successful advertising artists (he earned enough to own a Manhattan apartment building), Warhol’s approach was too “commercial” for the reigning giants of abstract expressionists. Theirs was the world of Jackson Pollock drip painting -- no recognizable imagery, all energy.  
    Then came the ’60s. Ideas about everything from politics to fashion were shifting like colliding tectonic plates. Pop art became the imagination of the revolution; Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and Marilyn Monroes electrified it.
    That energy still crackles in these 20 silk screen pieces, taken mostly from Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians series. John Wayne’s incandescent rainbow image brandishes a six-gun in the general direction of an equally colorful Annie Oakley, one piece over. Farther down the wall you meet Teddy Roosevelt as a psychedelic Rough Rider, Geronimo in dark and brooding tones, and a shining silver Indian-head nickel.
    Turn a corner, and you’re suddenly face to face with a totally different legend – Mickey Mouse, beaming in bigger-than-life graphic splendor, the happiest face on earth. I think he’s taunting another Mickey – a rather sullen-looking Mick Jagger – hung directly across the gallery. One piece over, Donald Duck seems to be doing a cartoon caricature of Mick’s Rolling Stones strut.  
    And don’t miss the pieces in the second-floor Legends Gallery. You’ll see two Warhol silk screens of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, one in hot pink and blue, one in neon yellow and aqua. They’re part of a series of television art Warhol was working on when he died in 1987.  If you’re “of a certain age,” you can’t help seeing the image as evocative of both the original historic television news coverage and the pop art version of it used in another historic event -- the TV commercial that launched MTV. Warhol knew that about us.
    Make plans to see this show. Learn more about it at the lecture “Works by Warhol” by Sheila Stewart Leach, Gallery Curator, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 6 p.m. in the Emma Kelly Theater.  Take your curiosity, your doubts, your sense of adventure, your inner art critic, inner child, and inner culture vulture (both fine and pop) to the Averitt. You’ll all come away smiling.

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