A Lesser-Known Warhol: Melbourne

In 2018 the National Gallery of Victoria held an exhibition of 200 keys works on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Iconic pieces of art from the last 130 years were to be displayed and all the big names, would be there: Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso as well as works by Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, just to name a handful.

New Shelton Wet/Dry Doubledecker, Jeff Koons, 1981
A Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein 1963
A Portrait, René Magritte, 1935

My trip coincided with school holidays so the exhibition was packed. The biggest crowds assembled in the Pop art section around the instantly recognisable Andy Warhol silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe (Untitled from Marilyn Monroe, 1967).

Much like Marilyn in real life, you couldn’t get near her and if you did it wouldn’t be long before another eager fan muscled their way in front of you, camera (or in this case phone) in hand.

I’ve never had someone cut in front of me to look at a painting before. It happened multiple times and it was odd and really, really irritating. I don’t know if this is par for the course at the bigger galleries like MoMA, the Louvre or the Uffizi, but being constantly jostled and elbowed out of the way was making my blood boil. After about 30 minutes, I left the crush and headed for the quieter, saner upper levels of the gallery.

Interestingly, the same names that were being frantically photographed downstairs were also present upstairs, but the crowds were not.

There was even another Warhol silkscreen print. A lesser-known portrait he made of Loti Smorgon.

Loti Smorgon, Andy Warhol, 1981

Loti was an Australian philanthropist and patron of the arts who, with her husband Victor, donated some $40 million dollars worth in cash and art works to the National Gallery and 154 paintings to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Although Warhol was known for his colourful, silkscreen portraits of famous faces like Liz Taylor, Elvis and Mao Tse Tung he was also commissioned by socialites and the very wealthy. As Loti’s husband Victor was a wealthy industrialist, I imagine it wasn’t that difficult to organise a personal sitting with the artist.

During their time together, Warhol took hundreds of Polaroids of Loti and told her to pick the best ones, which he would later transform using his signature silkscreen technique. Loti was happy with the finished product, if a little surprised by the Warhol’s depiction of her:

” I said he shouldn’t make (the portrait) too pretty…But he did the opposite. He did what he wanted and seemed to see in me something that was quite serene…”

Loti Smorgon

In 2013, Loti passed away at the age of 94. The following year, Loti’s children followed in their parents’ footsteps and donated the portrait to the National Gallery of Victoria.

Today, Loti’s image, painted by one of the most recognisable contemporary artists of the 20th century, hangs alongside the works of the contemporary artists she loved so much.

The best place for it, I’d say.

3 comments

  1. It’s difficult when there are so many in the museum which is why I try to pick quieter times. I’ve often found myself wandering around almost on my own, ideal for taking photos.

  2. A Frida Kahlo exhibition in Berlin broke all the records once. People were lining up around street corners … Once inside, it was really, really diffficult to have a decent look at anything. Still amazing work but not really all that fun …

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