Warhol and the West

5 minutes
Andy Warhol, "Cowboys and Indians: Sitting Bull", 1986. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 1998.1.2494.4

Andy Warhol, "Cowboys and Indians: Sitting Bull", 1986. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 1998.1.2494.4

Pop culture is culture.

When I think about the ephemera of today, I rarely consider any of it worthy of long-term study or attention. I look at some of the shows and books and music my kids consume and I cannot help but think:

“This won’t last.”

And maybe it won’t. Maybe my daughter’s obsession with hair-styling games or my son’s deep and abiding love of Beyblade will bear no fruit. But that kind of thinking is a failure on my part, especially after visiting The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s new exhibit Warhol and the West.

Pop art and soup cans and a giant plume of white hair—that’s what I think of when I think of Andy Warhol. I never considered the cowboy boots he wore when painting. I never considered his John Wayne portraits. I never considered that Warhol came of age when films and TV shows and albums and books were obsessed with a different kind of pop culture: Westerns.

Warhol and the West, however, is all about the artist’s enduring love for the West and how, as his untimely passing loomed, he was set to showcase that love through his work. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum developed this exhibit with The Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia and the Tacoma Art Museum, including a book and reams of research on his later Western works and how the hints about his obsession are sprinkled liberally throughout his previous paintings and films.

Andy Warhol, "Cowboys and Indians: John Wayne", 1986. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 1998.1.2493.1

Andy Warhol, "Cowboys and Indians: John Wayne", 1986. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 1998.1.2493.1

“OK, Greg, but I still don’t have to take Billie Eilish seriously.”

Cool story, bro. But what about Franz Lizst? Certainly we can agree that a classical composer from the 1800s should be taken seriously. Have you ever heard of Lisztomania? In the 1840s, the fervor for Liszt’s music was basically a precursor to Beatlemania, with fans (and there were a lot of them) almost attacking the pianist and fighting over his handkerchiefs and gloves. That’s pop culture behavior all the way.

That’s what I reflected on while touring Warhol and the West. Here was a guy who drove the idea of pop culture into our daily lives. He elevated and transformed ephemera into art simply by taking it seriously. And, while many of us associate him with New York and Studio 54, inside he was this kid who read, watched, ate, and slept Western pop culture into his bones. Shortly before his death, he was ready to share that love with the world.

Not every piece of art lives forever, whether it’s an episode of Pokemon from the show’s seventeenth season, a book by Stephen King, or a painting by Andy Warhol. But Warhol and the West shows how foolish it is to discount any art form, any genre, as “unworthy.”

Warhol and the West is on display at The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum through May 10, 2020. The museum has months of planned events surrounding the exhibit, including “paint and sip” classes, parties, scholarly talks, and special tours. Learn more and sign up nationalcowboymuseum.org.

Get There
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63rd St Oklahoma City, OK 73111 or TravelOK.com
Written By
Greg Elwell

Web Editor Greg worked for newspapers, medical research organizations, and government institutions before he joined *Oklahoma Today*. He also is the publisher of the website I Ate Oklahoma.

Greg Elwell
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