What was once a term bestowed on only the majestic and sonorous ladies of classical opera, the word “diva” has been chipped away at over the centuries until you arrive at the modern interpretation, most closely associated with those who inhabit the world of popular culture.
As an awkward teenager I couldn’t help but be inspired by the glamour of women like Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Harry, and Liza Minnelli (particularly the latter in her role as Sally Bowles in Cabaret). So when I saw the posters for Warhol and the Diva at The Lowry in Salford Quays, I knew that this was one exhibition I’d have to visit.
This collection of Warhol’s work, together for the first time thanks to curator Kate Farrell, comprises some of his most celebrated pieces, and leaves you with a new impression of this seminal artistic figure, shaped by the fact that Mr Warhol himself loved to imitate the aesthetic of his subjects by dressing in drag and posing for photographer Christopher Makos.
Kate, who travelled to Warhol’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to select the work for this exhibition and who was on hand the day of our visit, explained: “Warhol admired and adored the subjects he depicted in his work, immersing himself in their lifestyle and breathing the glamour of their existence.”
The collection of work was realized in a gallery space of acid colours and black walls highlighted with splashes of fur print, creating a real diva’s boudoir. Everything from the sequence of the images, beginning with the initial Polaroids from which the artist worked up his screen prints, to the typography quotes such as “it would be very glamours to be reincarnated as a ring on Liz Taylor’s finger” were rendered in is perfectly pitched to draw visitors into a world of glamour, and often of destruction.
The inner sanctum of the space housed the Marilyn pieces. A vivid image of the woman who will forever embody Hollywood decadence adorned a leopard print wall, a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and in the center of this throne room was a velvet chaise lounge.
A series of the famous prints hung on the opposite wall across the room, and to either side these works were juxtaposed by the lesser known photos of Warhol in drag. There was a disarming link between these contrasting images, portraying at once the intense vulnerability and extreme exhibitionism of both Warhol and Monroe.
Aside from the screen-printed images of women that immediately spring to mind when you think of Andy Warhol, we found some unexpected highlights on our visit. An image of Mick Jagger is almost Picasso-like in the way that square blocks of colour and thin pencil distort his sultry face, revealing several angles and expressions in a single viewing. Further along in the exhibition we saw vintage covers from Interview magazine and a film depicting process behind the Christopher Makos photoshoot, images from which we had previously seen in Marilyn’s throne room.
For anyone besotted with pop art you can check out Warhol and the Diva at The Lowry for yourself until September. 25th And we really recommend you do – not only a feast for the eyes and an exploration of the term “diva” in a modern context, this exhibition gives real insight into the mind of one of the most fascinating and influential artistic figures of the last century.