The notion that the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA was going to have an exhibition comparing Rockwell with pop art icon Andy Warhol may have sounded strange to many people. When I bought the catalog for the exhibition – and I almost NEVER do that! – even the saleswoman in the gift shop had thought it didn’t seem obvious. Yet we agreed that, somehow, it really worked.
Both artists were cultural icons who worked a great deal in commercial art. Some of their subject matter – Jackie Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Judy Garland, for example. Warhol owned at least a couple pieces of Rockwell art, including her Jackie piece and the Christmas piece Extra Good Girls and Boys.
They were both considered apolitical, yet there were partisan glimmers in some of their works. It was clear that Norman had some influence on Andy; see the Razor’s edge picture of Tyrone Power by Rockwell (left) compared with the male fashion model by Warhol (right).
They were both city kids. Rockwell grew up in Manhattan’s West Side, which he did not enjoy, preferring instead his summers on Long Island or upstate New York. Warhol was a poor coal miner’s son from Pittsburgh; his parents recognized that the youngest of three sons had talent and scraped to send him to art school. Eventually, he found his way TO New York City, where he thrived on the Upper East Side, living with his mother for the last two decades of her life.
Of course, they did have their differences. Rockwell was a generation older, e.g. But they were both misunderstood. Rockwell was supposedly doing treacle, Warhol simplistic items such as soup cans, when both their bodies of work were far more complex.
The third artist represented in the exhibit is James Warhola, Andy’s nephew, son of Andy’s brother Paul; the family kept the final A. He has done everything from paperback book covers for science fiction books of Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke to Garbage Pail Kids cards (asked to do so by Art Spiegelman of MAUS fame) to MAD magazine.
He was also a devotee of Rockwell, but of course was affected by Uncle Andy. In fact, Paul and his family would surprise Andy with their visits to New York, when James and his brother would end up stretching canvases.
The show continues through October 29. It is HIGHLY recommended!