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Andy Warhol exhibit brings more than 15 minutes of fame to WAM

- Wits University

The Warhol Unscreened exhibition broke all attendance records at the Wits Art Museum (WAM) when it opened there on Wednesday evening, 26 July.

WAM is exhibiting 80 artworks of the iconic 20th-century pop artist in Braamfontein in the Warhol Unscreened: Artworks from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection.

More than 5000 Witsies, Joburgers and art aficionados descended on WAM in unprecedented numbers.

“We are thrilled and completely overwhelmed at the turnout tonight. Although this is the most high profile exhibition we’ve presented thus far, our programme is filled with thought-provoking, interesting exhibitions, and regular educational activities,” said Lesley Cohen, Curator of Strategy and Development at WAM.

But why showcase the works of a deceased white, gay, American man in a museum of African art in Johannesburg?

“When this opportunity by Bank of America Merrill Lynch was presented to us, it was too good to turn down,” said Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Principal of Wits University.

“Andy Warhol was an institution in his own right. He transgressed the normal boundaries of what people consider fine art. In that sense, Andy Warhol democratized access to art. He was a gay man; he was disrupting hetero-normativity at a time when it was not so popular and it is ironic that, in 1968, he was shot by a radical feminist.” (Warhol was wounded but survived).



Andy Warhol is regarded amongst the most iconic artists of the 20th Century and his legacy endures.  As a cultural icon in the 1960s, he was ahead of his time in terms of pioneering multimedia. He was one of the first people to have his own reality TV show, and he seemed to anticipate social media, sharing his daily life with the world. In addition to art, he worked in advertising and branding, film, and as a model, and he donated to wildlife conservation.

Despite Warhol’s careful cultivation of his own celebrity and commercial success, he never lost sight of his working class origins in Pittsburgh, USA.  His art disrupted the highfalutin ‘artist-ocracy’ of 1960s New York through an inimitable pop art style which demonstrated celebrity in people, myths,  fauna, and flora, amongst other seemingly ordinary subjects.


“This exhibition is one of yet another of many collaborations with WAM and Wits University and we hope that there will be many more. We are extremely grateful for the relationship that we have with these institutions, which allows us to bring art to the community in which we do business here in South Africa,” said Julia Benadie, Regional Executive for Operations and Corporate Affairs for Merrill Lynch South Africa.

In 2013 the bank sponsored an exhibition of the works of African artist Gerard Sekoto in the Song For Sekoto – Gerard Sekoto 1913-2013 at WAM.

“Everyone will be famous for at least fifteen minutes” (attributed to Warhol who confessed he never actually said that) was nonetheless true for WAM on Warhol Unscreened opening night.  In an age of celebrity when the personal brand prevails, the Museum anticipates a whole lot more.

Warhol Unscreened: Artworks from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection is on now at WAM until 8 October 2017 and was made possible by sponsor Bank of America Merrill Lynch, with assistance from Business Arts South Africa, Kaya FM, and Black Africa.