Warhol, Mao and Nixon remembered at NSU Art Museum

June 17, 2022, was the 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal. The anniversary is being commemorated by a new exhibition at NSU Art Museum in South Florida featuring works by pop artist Andy Warhol and political cartoonist William Gropper. The presentation showcases works recognizing two landmark events of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency: Nixon becoming the first United States President to visit the People’s Republic of China in 1972 and the break-in of the Watergate Office Building. Debuting on July 30, History in the Making will be on view through fall and present two iconic works drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection: Andy Warhol, Mao Tse-Tong and William Gropper, Watergate Series

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was fascinated by the role mass media played in producing fame. He knew photographs were a powerful tool for creating Hollywood legends and transformed publicity photographs or his own Polaroids of stars into modern-day icons by silkscreening their images onto his canvas. After President Nixon’s landmark visit to China in 1972, he began a series of ten vividly colored screenprints of Chairman Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung). For these screenprints, used the photograph reproduced in the Chairman’s so-called Little Red Book (published from 1964 to about 1976), which compiled statements from his speeches and writings.

Warhol realized the potential of the democratization of fame, in which anyone could achieve “fifteen minutes of fame.” He also understood that fame is fleeting, and the identity of the famous individuals who he created works based on – Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, even Mao – might eventually be unfamiliar to future (and perhaps present) viewers of his work. Although Warhol was considered to be apolitical, this Mao series suggests his deeper involvement in politics and signifies a clear intersection between pop culture and politics. 

American political cartoonist and social realist William Gropper (1897-1977) was well known for his satirical cartoons in a variety of newspapers and publications such as the New York Tribune and Vanity Fair. One of Gropper’s favorite subjects was the United States Congress, which he covered in person in 1930 for Vanity Fair. He returned to this subject in the series of ten lithographs of an animated congressional hearing on view in this exhibition. Gropper actually made these illustrations in Paris in 1972 before the Watergate scandal broke, thereby predating the U.S. Senate Watergate Hearings in 1974. 

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