Art & Books in Omaha: “In Living Color” at the Joslyn Art Museum & The Bookworm

Andy Warhol's "Camouflage"

Andy Warhol’s “Camouflage” at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

A friend’s abstract painting of a lake, the water and sky tousled by blues,  yellows,  greens, and purple, has changed the way I look at art. It calms me in the winter.  It helps me focus on the colors that will return in spring.  I don’t pay much attention to the prints I bought at museum shops.  All you need is one painting.

I have always enjoyed museums, but in recent years I have developed a more intense need to look at art. Sometimes I skim the art criticism in The New Yorker, though I don’t read it too closely, or it will make me unhappy, because I won’t have an opportunity to see the exhibits.

“Wouldn’t you like to go to New York to see the Matisse Cut-Outs show at MOMA?” I idly asked my husband.

Nothing will compel him to go to New York, but he will go on jaunts to museums in nearby cities.  Over the weekend we went to the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha to see the superb exhibition, “In Living Color:  Andy Warhol and Contemporary Printmaking.”

If you’re not a Warhol fan, you will be after you see this stunning exhibition. The show consists of more than 110 works by Warhol and other twentieth-century artists, among them Louise Bourgeois, John Baldessari, Helen Frankenthaler, Keith Haring, and Richard Diebenkorn.  Karin Campbell, the curator of contemporary art at the Joslyn Art Museum, selected these works from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation for a show centered on the theme of how Warhol’s “use of color impacts both subject and viewer, creating a dialogue between Warhol and nineteen contemporary artists who all use color to shape how we understand images.”

Seeing the screen prints “live,” so to speak,  gave me the thrill of the experience of Warhol’s powerful art.  I shivered looking at “Camouflage,” a series of prints based on cloth Warhol bought at a military supply store.  In the sixties, anti-war protesters had, and this is from the placard, “appropriated camouflage, turning it into a symbol of the unbridled power of the military industrial complex and the hubris of the American government.”  Warhol applied inorganic colors to the camouflage designs “to nullify its power of deception.”  The Joslyn displays seven of the camouflage prints, whose colors range from psychodelic to muted.  The camouflage becomes something altogether different when the colors are changed.

Warhol reacts to contemporary culture in his art, and nowhere is it more apparent than in his flamboyant portraits of pop icons.  The show displays nine of the Marilyn Monroe portrait screen prints, identical except for the color scheme.  I got a sense of the diminution  of character caused by celebrity.  The colors can make her look sad, vapid, depressed, worried, cruel, or ugly.   I have never been a Marilyn fan, but thesmudging out of her personality is painful, particularly in the green screen print at the bottom right.

Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe

Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe

We also saw  the Mao portraits, a portrait of Edward Kennedy commissioned for a campaign fundraiser, a lovely portrait of Liza Minelli, and the chilling Electric Chair series.

Yes, the flowers were there, too, and I want a bedspread with that beautiful print.

We were fascinated by three in the Cowboy and Indian series, Annie Oakley, Geronimo, and John Wayne.

You will see that I have written only about Warhol, but he has star power that few other artists do, and who knows when I’ll get a chance to see his work again?

THE BOOKWORM.   When we arrived at the site of The Bookworm in Omaha and found an empty store, we panicked. We love The Bookworm, one of our favorite indepdendent bookstores. Had it gone out of business?  Fortunately, no.  It has moved about a mile away to Loveland Centre, a new shopping center at 90th Street and West Center Road.

I love the new space, the light wood and the high ceilings.  It reminds me a bit of the old Borders stores.  I limited myself to one book this time,  Nicola Griffith’s Hild, finally in paperback.   I’ll be back.