Aurora Garrison | February 2018
Andy Warhol always had his artistic eye on the infinite, the famous and the divine. His art dances around sacred themes and iconography that infuse the spiritual into the profane and secular world. The Vatican is honoring Warhol’s spirituality both as a devout Catholic and as a religious artist in an unprecedented show of his religious-themed art sponsored dually by the Vatican Museums and the Andy Warhol Museum, set to open in 2019.
Fittingly, this exhibition will not be Warhol’s first appearance in Vatican City. As a life-long Catholic, the artist made a religious pilgrimage on April 2, 1980, meeting Pope John Paul II. Thirty years after his death in 1987, this exhibition constitutes Warhol’s second coming to the Vatican.
The fact that the seemingly outrageous Andy Warhol was a devout, practicing Byzantine Catholic is surprising to most people. Born in Pittsburgh to Slovakian parents, Warhol was raised in the Ruthenian rite, an Eastern rite in full communion with Rome. Later in his life, in New York, he would attend mass or sit at the back in silent prayer at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. He also volunteered at a soup kitchen and even financed his nephew’s studies for the priesthood.
Barbara Jatta, who has been the Vatican Museums’ director for just over a year (as well as the first woman to occupy the position), said that the institution will be exploring the “mystical” and “spiritual side” of the artist. In fact, Jatta has plans to continue upsetting the status-quo, planning expansions, re-openings, and controversial contemporary exhibitions. Vatican officials are in the final stage of talks with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, planning to show the exhibition there as well as in Rome.
The new director told The Art Newspaper, “It is very, very important for us to have a dialogue with contemporary art. We live in a world of images and the Church must be part of this conversation.”
The proposed Warhol Vatican exhibition in 2019 will feature such paintings from Warhol’s The Last Supper series (1986), inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan fresco of the Biblical scene. Classic memento mori pieces by Warhol such as his silkscreens of skulls, as well as films and archival materials will be used in the show to highlight the artist’s pious and Catholic nature.
Religion and religious art intensified in the last years of Warhol’s life. He produced more than 100 images inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, similar in execution to The Last Supper, 1986 piece that currently resides at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
With the upcoming 2019 Vatican show honoring and celebrating his religious art and his artistic legacy, Warhol’s famous lifestyle, art and religious beliefs are enjoying a strong afterlife celebrating the passion and poetry in his evergreen art which are still speaking – and loudly – from the grave.
Warhol’s last words on the longevity of his art and his legacy: “I don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
And The Vatican, Mr. Warhol, is a fan.