MMFA Meets Warhol Mania

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”           – Andy Warhol


I’ve been living in Montreal for the past 18 years and for some reason, I had never stepped foot into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It is very close to my house, my school, and my Grandmother gives weekly tours; however, nothing compelled me to check it out. I have nothing against museums, in fact, I always go to the major museums whenever I travel and have a great time discovering new pieces and artists. Something was holding me back from going to this Museum, and my to-do list , and the fact that there was an Andy Warhol exhibit changed that.

Andy Warhol is famous for being the leader of the American Pop Art movement– however, there is more to him than that one famous Marylyn Monroe piece you know. Warhol was an advertising mastermind. Being into the advertising and communications world myself, and I am inspired by the works he has created. From November 6th, 2014, to March 15th, 2015, fifty of Warhol’s posters and thousands of his illustrations will be displayed at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts for the general public to admire.

The Marilyn Diptych, 1962

The Marilyn Diptych, 1962

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was created in 1860 by a group of Montreal art collectors and patrons. It has over 41,000 works from antiquity to today, making it remarkably unique in Canada. The museum holds the record for the highest museum attendance in Canada, which is between 600,000 to 1 million visitors. It has four major pavilions which feature different sculptures, paintings, photographs, graphic arts, and decorative art objects. The first pavilion is entitled the Jean-Noel Desmarais Pavilion, and it highlights international art. The second, the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, displays world cultures. The Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion exhibits decorative arts and design. The most recently added pavilion, the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion, presents Quebec and Canadian art, and it also includes a 444-seat concert hall. They are planning on opening a fifth wing devoted to international art and education in 2016, to launch Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations. The museum’s mission is to reach out to the largest and most diverse audience in order to provide full access to the world’s artistic heritage. The resources available to the public at the museum include a boutique, a bookstore, a café, a press room and documentary resources. There have been many past exhibits worth mentioning, however, some that come to mind include last year’s Chihuly exhibition, Tom Wesselmann’s “Beyond Pop-Art”, and Jean-Paul Gautier’s “From the Sidewalk to the CatWalk.” Today, along with the Warhol Mania Exhibition, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is also displaying the “Fabulous Fabergé” jewelry exhibit, Peter Doig’s “No Foreign Lands” paintings, and plenty of other breathtaking showcases.

Andy Warhol was born in 1928 in Pittsburgh to a working class family. At the age of 8, Warhol was bedridden for months with cholera. It was then that his mother gave him his first art lessons. Warhol didn’t stop when he got better; he continued practicing and learning different art forms. After school, he moved to New York City and started his career in magazine illustration and advertising. Warhol’s work explores artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement. Warhol was sometimes seen as a controversial artist, creating things no one had ever seen before, however, he eventually became the leader of the pop-art movement.

Advertising was an important medium to him because it was a language that everyone could understand; therefore, large audiences always admired his work. Andy Warhol was able to make people see art differently than they were used to. He took objects that were omnipresent and turned them into art. For example, he took 32 Campbell’s soup cans and turned them into widely recognizable art symbols. He was a cultural icon who took a satirical approach to the celebrity portraits he created. Warhol rose to become one of the most legendary artists of the 20th century, whose influence still continues to grow.

Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

Warhol worked for 10 years as a commercial illustrator for higher in New York in the early 50’s. He started working for magazines like Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar, and then began creating ads for companies that were featured in the New York Times. It was at this time that his advertising career really took off. Warhol took nationally known brands, like Coca-ColaCampbell’s Soup, and Brillo, and created advertisements for them that were targeted at working-class consumers. The reason he did this is because the brands he chose to work for allowed him to create what he wanted because the manufacturer or distributor owned them, while other generic or private brands only allowed advertisements by their retailer. He targeted the working-class because they were thought to be less likely than their wealthier and more educated peers to succumb to the growing appeal of the private brand’s advertisements. Even though Warhol’s advertising reflects the 50’s and 60’s, he anticipated how marketing works today. Warhol basically knew what would be popular before it even saw the light of day. His obsession with collaboration, celebrity, repeated images, and dissolving the boundary between public and private lives are key factors in online marketing today. Warhol was living proof that the artist could be an entrepreneur because he produced artwork so differently from what the world was used to that they had no choice but to pay attention.

The museum was everything I had hoped it would be. The building itself was a piece of art in my opinion; I loved its architecture. I made my way to the “Warhol Mania” exhibition and immediately started analyzing each piece. There were a few posters that I had recognized, like the Perrier bottle ad and his famous pink cows, however, I had definitely never seen the majority of the illustrations and posters and I was really intrigued by them. The exhibit was full of colour and people who were admiring what they saw just as I was. I spent an over an hour walking around and discovering new pieces and information. What had struck me the most was that Warhol only started making commission from his posters was mid-career, after 1964. I am fascinated in exceptional art that takes a while to understand (if you even get to that point), but what I love about Warhol’s work is that since they are meant to be advertisements, they are created to be understood in seconds, so that any passersby would get the message that is being told to them.

Andy Warhol is someone who will always be an inspiration to me. He makes art fun and lively and his advertisements interesting. Studying communications myself, I have learned a lot from Warhol that I could hopefully use one day for my own advertisements.

After visiting the Museum, the only reason I could come up with for never going before was that it is so close to me that I didn’t feel pressured to go; there was no expiration date. It’s not like I’m in Paris for the week and only have a limited time to go to the Louvre! Our own fancy museum is basically in my backyard, and I have all the time in the world to go. I’m glad I finally checked out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts because now I will definitely go back for other exhibits…perhaps I’ll even get my grandmother to give me a tour.

Click on the pictures below to see a description of some of the posters and illustrations I saw at the Warhol Mania exhibit.

Warhol Mania!


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