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Bellagio’s Andy Warhol exhibit helps put the pop-art icon into perspective

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Andy goes west: The pop artist’s works seem even more provocative in the context of the Strip.
Photo: Leila Navidi
Dawn-Michelle Baude

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Warhol Out West
February 8-October 27; daily; 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; $11-$16 ($8 for locals on Wednesday, 5-7:30 p.m.)
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 693-7871

There’s Art Before Warhol and Art After Warhol. For a few decades in between, a skinny guy in a white wig went around shaking up absolutely everything—and he’s still doing it 26 years after his death.

Warhol Out West—curated by Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art Executive Director Tarissa Tiberti—showcases 59 works on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum. The iconic paintings, photographs, sculptures, prints and wallpaper seem even brighter, shinier and more weirdly provocative because they’re here, on the Strip.

Andy Warhol was always headed for Las Vegas. He was one of the first artists to understand the irrepressible appeal of popular culture. The Bellagio exhibit includes key works from the 1960s, including Heinz Tomato Ketchup box sculptures and Campbell’s soup can paintings. At a time when top international artists were struggling to express inner thoughts and feelings through abstract paintings, Warhol caused an uproar by serving straight-up Americana.

Warhol Out West

He got the glam, too. Warhol was fascinated by celebrity faces; he drew, painted, photographed and filmed the famous from the late ’50s until his death in 1987. Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Mick Jagger are among those on display at the Bellagio. And surely, the “Double Elvis” series has found its rightful home in Las Vegas (one of its prints recently sold for more than $37 million). Elvis, playing a cowboy and aiming a gun at the viewer, can be read as a defense of celebrity itself.

Warhol came to understand celebrities by turning himself into one. His DIY rise to stardom worked; he is the rare artist whose own face is as recognizable as his art. The 20-some self-portraits included in the Bellagio show flaunt Warhol doing Warhol. Instead of striving for the single portrait that captures the sitter’s identity, Warhol focused on the many faces each of us has. Postmodernist long before the word was current, Warhol roved among fine art, performance, film and TV, repeatedly using the same beautiful people as his subject, often in a single work.

At the core of Warhol Out West is the 1986 “Cowboys and Indians” series. Despite the presence of vintage-Vegas colors and neon-like contour lines, poignancy reigns, particularly in the portraits of Native Americans. Here, as elsewhere, the ultimate artist of cheerful surface actually has a deeper message about the myths of American identity for us to consider.

Dawn-Michelle Baude’s prose has appeared in Art & Auction, Vogue and Newsweek International.
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