It is always an exciting treat when a famous artist shows work in your city. Long lines, advertisements around the city and just an opportunity to be in the same room with art pieces that have shaped generations of artists and their thought processes.

Andy Warhol at the AGO is a delight. When I arrived, there was a long line of people who had already booked their visit by an appointment scheduled online. We waited to show our tickets three times and had to answer COVID-19 related questions about where we have been and if we have had any fun in a maskless environment. If all your answers weren't “no” then entry into the AGO would not be permitted.

On the Second Floor, the Andy Warhol exhibit is through a pink and yellow hallway. It is a stark contrast to the white and sometimes black walls typically used as a backdrop for displaying art.

Cow (1966) by Andy Warhol. Image inside the AGO Andy Warhol exhibit by Patricia Ellah.‌‌

Walking through these colours builds momentum, a reminder of Warhol’s use of bright colours and playfulness. At the end of the hall, is a blue wall with Andy Warhol written in yellow font. Here is where the exhibit begins.

The first artwork I see sets the tone for the rest of the show, the piece is titled I like dance. It features six figures in motion. One red figure is doing a split with one hand raised on a purple block. The largest figure is covered in red, yellow and brown checkered print. The yellow checkered leg reaches into another figure, right in between its raised hands and is placed by the curve of its neck. The piece is lively and energetic, I didn’t know that Warhol made work like this.

Silver Clouds by Andy Warhol. Video courtesy of Patricia Ellah.

On the same wall is work from his college days, Nosepicker I: Why Pick On Me. It was originally titled The Lord Gave Me My Face but I Can Pick My Own Nose (1948) and The Broad Gave Me My Face but I Can Pick My Own Nose. It is a humorous child-like work featuring a character picking their nose, eyes looking directly at the audience. The background and the shirt of the character include abstract elements. On one hand it is an obnoxious piece, perhaps because someone picking their nose will always be obnoxious, and on the other hand it is liberating because it makes room for all the characters we know that pick their nose wherever, whenever.

This work was rejected from his senior show at Carnegie Institute of Technology by a jury of professional artists. Most likely, those who thought it was more obnoxious than it was provocative. I went to see the show with my eight-year-old nephew who giggled upon seeing this piece and who insisted we take a photo for reference later.

Andy Warhol as an artist has been branded the father figure who introduced the concept of celebrity into the art world. He is considered to be one of the only artists that would understand our media, brand and current celebrity obsession as these things are prominent in his work.

The AGO hopes to reintroduce Andy Warhol from a different perspective.

“The view of Warhol as a celebrity obsessed with fame has overshadowed the struggles that affected this shy gay man, the son of working-class, Catholic, Eastern European immigrants, as he worked to become an artist,” writes a description on a wall at the AGO.

“By focusing on Warhol’s personal story, we gain a better understanding of how his lived experiences enabled him to redefine art in ways that are still relevant today.”

Ladies and gentlemen, a collection of works celebrating the trans community in New York is also on display at the AGO. It features famous faces like Marsha P. Johnson, one of the key figures in the Stonewall uprising. Seeing Marsha P Johnson’s face in the AGO at a really large show in the city is important. At times she has been left out of the retelling of history, especially when it comes to the Stonewall riot.

The work promotes UN Sustainable Development Goal number five; Gender Equality. All women identifying persons should be granted the freedoms to be accepted as equal within the global community. One of the goals is to end all discrimination of women everywhere. When going through the show and seeing Marilyn Monroe and Marsha P Johnson in the same exhibit, you can see that Andy championed women everywhere to be free.

Marilyn Monroe from the Marilyn portfolio, screen print on paper by Andy Warhol. Image by Patricia Ellah.

You can buy tickets to visit the Andy Warhol exhibit on the Art Gallery of Ontario website. Admission is free for AGO members, annual pass members and visitors aged 25 and under.

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