In the summer of 2021, a formerly little-known museum at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn presented a blockbuster exhibition of 25 paintings and drawings by famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo from the Museo Dolores Omedo in Mexico City. It proved to be a huge hit, drawing 102,000 people from 43 countries and all 50 states.
The immediate question afterward was what to do as a comparable follow-up. And the answer is a multifaceted look at the life and work of Andy Warhol, one of the most famous and influential artists of the second half of the 20th century. Titled simply “WARHOL,” the exhibition opens June 3 and runs through Sept. 10.
“The idea is that every other year, the museum space works with the entire arts center to create not only a really unique experience for our visitors but also a key draw in DuPage County,” said Justin Witte, the show’s curator.
The centerpieces of this summer’s presentation in the college’s Cleve Carney Museum of Art are 94 works from the wide-ranging Bank of America Collection called “Andy Warhol Portfolios: A Life in Pop.”
The touring show features some of Warhol’s best-known original screenprints, including such portfolios as “Campbell’s Soup Cans II” (1969), “Flowers” (1970) and “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” (1979).
Bank of America began collecting art in the mid-20th century, and it acquired additional holdings as it merged with other banks in subsequent decades, developing strengths in photography, contemporary art, regional art and such styles as American Impressionism.
Since 2009, more than 170 exhibitions from the bank’s collection have been loaned to non-profit art spaces around the world at no cost. “Once we realized we had this extraordinary repository of works, we wanted to make the art more accessible,” said Kerry Miles, Bank of America’s senior vice president and art and heritage program manager.
“Andy Warhol Portfolios” is one of Bank of America’s longest-running shows, and it has been seen in American institutions including the Fresno (California) Art Museum and Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, New York, as well as the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.
Warhol had his first solo gallery show in 1952, but he did not achieve widespread success until the 1960s with the explosive rise of pop art. His now instantly identifiable imagery parodied and commented on mass media, mass marketing and celebrity culture.
The celebrated artist made sense as a subject of a major exhibition, according to Diana Martinez, director of the McAninch Arts Center, where the Cleve Carney Museum is located, because he has the name recognition to attract substantial crowds and a life story that holds considerable interest in itself.
“With Frida, we were able to tell her whole story, and the same with Andy,” Martinez said. “We love an artist with a good story as well as someone who has a broad range of appeal.”
To help recount that story and give visitors a broader look at Warhol’s impact, organizers have added a series of supplementary offerings beyond “Andy Warhol Portfolios.” They fill up the entirety of the college’s 11,000-square-foot McAninch Arts Center, turning it into what Martinez called an “interactive experience, in a way.”
In addition to an extensive timeline of Warhol’s life in the lobby, these extras include a Studio 54 experience, a printmaking workshop for children and an exhibition of 157 Warhol photographs from the 1970s and ‘80s from the College of DuPage collection.
The Cleve Carney Museum was one of 180 college and university art spaces around the country to receive an allotment of the more 28,500 photographs that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts donated in 2007 as part of the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Project.Â
“So, it’s a really thorough, fun experience,” Martinez said. “There is even a selfie station, where you can stand in a soup can and a Brillo box. I think Andy Warhol would love it, because you can take pictures and have fun in that area.”
If all that wasn’t enough, 20 communities across DuPage County are undertaking related Warhol and pop-art events during the run of the show, including Studio 54 parties, art classes and restaurant specials. In addition, the museum commissioned local artist Geoffrey Bevington to create Warhol-style outdoor portraits of four notable persons from each of the participating towns.
“It’s been fun to see everyone getting on the Warhol bus,” Martinez said, “and it’s super exciting to see the ideas and creativity that are coming out all over.”
The McAninich Arts Center is committed to presenting a high-profile, summer exhibition like those devoted to Kahlo and Warhol every two years. And planning is already under way for the 2025 offering.
College officials had a recent meeting with an Italian agent who represents a group of major art collections in Europe. She came to the college to see the facilities and how it was handling the Warhol show.
“So, we’re talking with them about what we can do in two years,” Martinez said. “By the end of the summer, we need to know.”