Warhol By The Book: The Orbit Review

Book cover for Andy Warhol "In the Bottom of My Garden"

“In the Bottom of My Garden”, 1955-56

Two decades ago, this blogger bought a cookbook. Back in those dark ages, we didn’t have the same opportunities to immediately share this groundbreaking news with the world, but thank goodness that wrong can be righted today.

It was in an antique shop in rural Virginia where I found a beat up copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook for a couple bucks. Amy is an 800-page Doubleday hardback, published in 1961, that contains all the (quite literal) meat & potatoes recipes of mid-century middle America: Turkey a la king, Swedish cornets, potatoes au gratin, “Pablo’s Spanish rice.” In the pre-Epicurious days, people still needed nuts-and-bolts cookbooks like Amy Vanderbilt.

"According to the Evidence", 1953

“According to the Evidence”, 1953

It wasn’t until some time later that I noticed a small credit on some of the book’s breeze-through front matter: Drawings by Andrew Warhol. The simple line figures that illustrated cut lemon garnishes or rolled Roquefort tea sandwiches never stood out to me as particularly noteworthy and my knowledge of Andy Warhol’s pre-fame commercial work was pretty limited, so I wasn’t even sure if this was the same guy.

Well, it was. Or it is. Whichever. Andy Warhol had a wealth of pre-soup can commercial work (roughly the full decade of the 1950s, and then less frequently in the ’60s) and much of this was in the context of book illustration. Those early drawings, along with photography and silkscreen work from the second half of Warhol’s career, make up the terrific new show Warhol By The Book, up now at The Warhol Museum through January 10, 2016.

Andy Warhol "So Meow" print

So Meow [note: the print in the show has a green cat]

The exhibition is a fantastic deep-dive into anything book-related that Warhol worked on. Included are gorgeous dyed lithographs, original pencil drawings, (rejected) book proposals, correspondence with publishers, fountain pen-through-paper towel ink drawings, celebrity photographs, late-career silkscreens, and many final-product trade reproductions. And yes, there’s a copy of Amy Vanderbilt.

silkscreens of book art from "Warhol By The Book" exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

1980s era silkscreens

While the photos and silkscreens are interesting, this home-cooking art fancier’s socks were quite figuratively knocked off by the drawn-by-hand half of the show. The rooms of Warhol’s early illustrations have always been my favorite part of the museum and this new show opened up that world in entire new ways. Aside from maybe some of the 25 Cats pieces, I’m not sure I had encountered any of the hundreds of original prints and drawings that make up that section of the exhibit.

Warhol’s Factory-era silkscreens are of course iconic and interesting in their own right, but seemingly lost in that fame was the incredibly beautiful drawing hand of the artist. The coupling of his great, loose style, tastefully deployed bursts of color, Warhol’s distinct schoolyard cursive captions, and the Carnegie Tech-educated, less-is-more design sense make each of these wonderful little new discoveries.

"Borderline Ballads", 1955

“Borderline Ballads”, 1955

Back in February, The Orbit gushed over The Warhol’s Sister Corita Kent show, which had just opened, calling it “the best Warhol Museum show this blogger has ever seen.” We’ll stand by that that assessment. But the By The Book exhibit is right up there. Book it.

lithograph and watercolor illustration from "25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy"

Illustration from “25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy”, 1954

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