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Andy Warhol, “Self-Portrait” (1986)
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987), “Self-Portrait” (1986). Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 40 × 40 in. (101.6 × 101.6 cm).The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 1998.1.821. © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Exploring Andy Warhol’s queer creative conflict with Catholicism

Andy Warhol: Revelation exhibition takes us through the artworks that entangle Catholic iconography with queer desire

“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings, and there I am. There’s nothing more,” the legendary artist once claimed. But he’s not so unambiguous and transparent as he’d have us believe.

It’s all too easy to reduce Warhol to a caricature: the distinctive hair, the glasses, the mannerisms; the misleadingly simple aesthetic and mores of pop art. Yet, despite the huge body of work and the accessibility of his visual language, his extensive personal diaries, and the fact that he lived in apparent plain sight as one of the most highly recognisable celebrities of his day, Warhol still evades so many assumptions. He remains a figure steeped in contradictions. 

Andy Warhol: Revelation, an upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, explores a lesser-known aspect of this seemingly irreverent and deceptively ambiguous character. Bringing a new perspective to Warhol’s work, Revelation examines his life-long engagement with Catholicism and the tension between the doctrines of religion and his life as an out gay man moving in such eccentric and iconoclastic circles. 

“Warhol both flaunted and obscured his religion and his sexuality, and these dualities are explored in Revelation along with the push and pull between sincerity and superficiality, revealing and hiding, traditional and avant-garde,” says Carmen Hermo, Associate Curator of the Brooklyn Museum. “This exhibition gives viewers an opportunity to unpack some of those poignant – and very human – contradictions that functioned as one of the drivers of his art production.” 

The young Andrew Warhola was brought up in the Byzantines Catholic Church tradition and grew up in Pittsburgh, in a working-class immigrant enclave where the church was at the heart of the community. As a child, he attended weekly services with his mother, Julia, who had emigrated to the US from present-day Slovakia sometime in the earlier part of the 20th century. Spirituality remained a fundamental aspect of his life and he continued to attend church in New York City. A statement from the Brooklyn Museum says, “Even after legendary parties at his studio, the Silver Factory, Warhol returned to the quiet home he shared with his mother, who prayed with him every morning before he left for another day of prolific, history-making work.”

The thread of religion can be traced throughout his work, explicitly in his preoccupation with heaven, hell, and immortality; his appropriation of Western masterpieces; his depiction of Christ and the recurring religious iconography. More implicitly, he also created works impregnated with spirituality and which enmesh queer desire with Catholic imagery. 

This expansive exhibition will include rare, obscure works including an unfinished film reel from 1967 depicting the setting sun, which was actually funded by the Roman Catholic Church. Personal effects including religious objects and ephemera, including items relating to his own baptism and funerals, and his audience with the Pope, will also go on display alongside drawings made by Warhol’s mother during the two decades they lived together in New York. 

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of some of the artworks included in this upcoming exhibition. 

Tickets for Andy Warhol: Revelation at the Brooklyn Museum go on sale June 17 and the exhibition opens November 19