Postcard from Naples, Italy: The church of Andy Warhol

In 1984, gallerist Alexandre Iolas commissioned Warhol to create a group of works based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper (1495-97) for an exhibition space in the Palazzo Stelline in Milan, located across the street from Santa Maria delle Grazie, home of Leonardo’s masterpiece. Warhol exceeded the demands of the commission and produced nearly 100 variations on the theme. Indeed, the extent of the series indicates an almost obsessive investment in the subject matter, which takes on an added significance in light of the revelation of the secret religious life revealed after Warhol’s death, which occurred only a month after the opening of the Milan exhibition in January 1987.

“Andy Warhol: The Last Supper” from Past Exhibitions of the Guggenheim

Encountered an Andy Warhol exhibition our first weekend wandering around Naples. The setting seemed so unlikely. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore alla Pietrasanta, constructed atop the remains of a Temple of Diana by a Bishop of Naples in the year 525 and purportedly the first sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Of course, that church was remodeled numerous times, and I really am unsure how it became an art venue. But Pop art is occupying the sanctuary through February 23: “The True Essence of Warhol.” The exhibition is presented by the Arthemisia Association.

The pairing of pop culture and religious altars is unusual. A neon “Warhol e il Brand” crosses in front of a painting of the Virgin Mary. “Warhol e l’Italia” glowing in front of a crucifixion. Mick and Keith staring down from niches?

Church is not what my memory associates with Andy Warhol (1928-1987). My memories place him more in the throbbing celebrity melee of the Studio 54 disco scene. Or hanging with the Rolling Stones.

His art was sensational via his calculated and stated commercial associations.

Mr. Warhol’s keenest talents were for attracting publicity, for uttering the unforgettable quote and for finding the single visual image that would most shock and endure. That his art could attract and maintain the public interest made him among the most influential and widely emulated artists of his time.

“Andy Warhol, Pop Artist, Dies,” Douglas C. McGill, The New York Times, February 23, 1987

We played around in this church of Warhol….

 

But it was not until several months later I learned that Andy Warhol’s Catholic upbringing was lurking close to the surface of his wild partying veneer. He was frequently spotted on Sundays in a pew of St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side of New York.

People are complicated.

I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph, and name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say “figment.”

Andy Warhol

It does not. His headstone in Saint John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh bears standard name and dates, and he rests amongst his Warhola relatives. His memorial mass was held in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.