ST. PETERSBURG — Since the new Dalí Museum opened a bit more than three years ago, 1 million visitors have come through its doors to see its comprehensive collection by Salvador Dalí, the Spanish painter associated with the Surrealist movement.
That number will likely rise considerably with the Saturday opening of a big new non-Dalí show of works by Andy Warhol.
The special exhibitions wing is packed with 125 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs by the artist who defined a new genre of art in the latter part of the 20th century known as Pop Art and whose influence is still felt 26 years after his death.
At a preview Wednesday, executive director Hank Hine said that "Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality." is the "first big show since our opening" and characterized Warhol's work as an extension of Dalí's in that both understood the blurring lines between high and popular culture. Dalí's early work in television, for example, was a precursor to Warhol's as TVs became a common presence in American households.
And Warhol (1928-1987) is such an American artist, every bit as much as another, very different icon, Norman Rockwell. Like Rockwell, he recognized and represented in his work some of our most fundamental concerns even though they were completely opposite in intent. Rockwell's sweet evocations of small-town life and homey values become paintings of Campbell's soup cans — how American! — from Warhol.
This show doesn't have the soup cans, though it does have reproductions of shipping boxes of Heinz ketchup. Same idea: What preoccupies us most? Stuff.
Dalí's special exhibitions curator, William Jeffett, selected a terrific group of works from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. It includes photographs ranging from early ones of Warhol to those he took of his many celebrity friends. His own celebrity allowed him to lure the famous to interviews and chats on several television shows he filmed and produced in the 1980s. A selection of these are in the show. Also in continuous loop are some of his films, which caused controversy when he made them because they have no plot line and not much happens in them. The bulk of this show is prints, drawings and paintings, both the enhanced silk screens with which we're most familiar and later acrylic works that pay homage to earlier painters.
Visitors can also experience a version of Warhol's "screen tests" in which the subject was asked to sit motionless in front of a movie camera until the spool of film ran out (about three minutes). An old camera similar to the one Warhol used is in a corner of the gallery, but made digital, and will film the individual, then send it to his or her e-mail address.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was the first to try the interactive at a Wednesday preview and commented that "the time goes by so fast when you're talking but this seemed like forever."
He did remain still during filming but helped the time pass by crossing his eyes a lot. Warhol probably would have hired him.