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Warhol Wednesdays

Iconic Artists, Iconic Images: Leonardo, Picasso, Warhol

Jo Ann Caplin, Lecturer, Center for Contemporary Writing, Department of Critical Writing at the University of Pennsylvania
Virtual event
Andy Warhol, ca. 1965-67

Wednesday, May 4, 2022, 5:30-7:00pm

This event will be presented via Zoom.

Register to get the Zoom link

In preparation for the Warhol exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania, the three iconic artists—Leonardo, Picasso and Warhol---in synthesis, will be presented as a lecture with images for a Warhol Wednesday at the University of Pennsylvania.

First one must define “iconic images”.  Oxford Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp in his book From Christ to Coke defines an iconic image as one that transgresses its original intent, with widespread recognizability and “has come to carry a rich series of varied associations for a very large number of people across time and cultures.”   For Leonardo: The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper; for Picasso:  Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Guernica; for Andy Warhol:  Campbell Soup Cans, Coke bottles, Brillo Boxes, and the celebrities, Mao, Liz, Elvis, and of course Marilyn.  Of these three artists, Leonardo and Warhol seem a fit, since Warhol make his own versions of the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.  But Picasso is necessary, because without his giving birth to the Modern Era in art, Warhol wouldn’t have been possible.  Each of the three made an impact that helped change the direction of art in their eras.

In addition, Picasso’s use of photography and his “ready-mades” (collages and use of “ready-made” things a bike seat and handlebars in a sculpture of a head of a bull), predate Warhol’s own use of photography and Brillo Boxes, with a quick jump in between to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, Wine Rack or Urinal. The difference is that Warhol created his Brillo Boxes out of wood, assembled factory style.  Unlike Duchamp’s ready-mades, the Brillo Boxes were not the original Brillo boxes from the grocery store.

We recognize that currently these three artists have been and are currently being talked about and looked at.  Leonardo exhibitions and books and major documentaries throughout 2019 and 2020 have celebrated the 500th anniversary of his death. Warhol had a major exhibit which traveled in from the Whitney in 2018 to the San Francisco MoMA then to the Chicago Institute of Art in 2019. This month Netflix has 6-part documentary series on Warhol, call The Warhol Diaries.  And if you want to buy an important Picasso at an auction, be prepared to spend over 100 million dollars.

Critics call Warhol the most important artist of the last half of the 20th century.  After all, as so many critics note, have you seen any other artist who received new headlines for being shot, or for dying?  Both were headline news for Warhol, shot in 1968 by a disturbed member of his Factory, and died during a gall bladder operation in 1987.

The lecture will include briefly the religion and the religious iconography of the three, their upbringing and education, and certain traits of personality.  Then there will be an overview, with images, of each artist’s very different approaches to art: the detailed studies of Leonardo and his experimentation with technique, including Mona Lisa and The Last Supper; Picasso’s desire to create something totally new by seeing the whole in a seemingly fractured abstracted way, ultimately creating Cubism; and Warhol’s transition from commercial art to art created by Warhol as a “human machine” by which turned out creating a new painterly technique.

The Warhol section will be the longest, with examination of his Campbell Soup Cans, Brillo Boxes, Mona Lisas and Last Suppers, his adaptive use of silk screens for multiple images, and finally the celebrity profiles, which used mixed media, giving emphasis to the Marilyns.

For 13 years Jo Ann Caplin has been a Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Contemporary Writing, the Critical Writing Program, for years teaching courses such as The Science of Leonardo da Vinci, and Einstein and Picasso.  Her expertise has been in the relationships between science and art.

In her previous career, as an Emmy-winning producer at ABC News and CBS News, she produced a segment on the restoration of The Last Supper for CBS News. Caplin went on to become an executive producer of a primetime magazine for Westinghouse, and finally entered academia as the Park Professor and Distinguished Chair at Ithaca College, teaching journalism, starting their journalism department.  It was there, before coming to Penn that she began to focus her intellectual interest more on the scientific underpinnings of art.

During her time in Ithaca, she was a visiting scholar at the University College London with neurobiologist Semir Zeki, who chartered the visual brain.  While with Zeki the group was doing fMRIs on students looking at art.  That summer she also lectured at the Slade School of Art.  While in England she met Oxford Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp, and subsequently helped him in the authentication of La Bella Principessa, a small Leonardo drawing done on parchment.

In preparation for the Warhol event at the University of Pennsylvania, Caplin attended both the recent Warhol exhibits at Whitney Museum and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern. San Francisco MoMA had more exhibition space, many more images. In January, although Caplin personally has a large library of these three artists, Caplin also went to Paris to see the Leonardo exhibit at the Louvre for the 500th year celebration of Leonardo’s death.

Caplin has a degree in English with a minor in chemistry from the University of Michigan, a MA in English from Yale, and an MA in Cinema Studies from New York University.