From November 3, 2012 through February 10, 2013 the Tacoma Art Museum will have Andy Warhol’s Flowers for Tacoma exhibit for the public to view. Rock Hushaka, curator of contemporary and northwest art, explained: “Andy Warhol is probably the most influential American artist in the 20th century. He’s best known for his Marilyn and Elvis soup cans and also his range of interests, from film, to photography, and collaboration with other artists: like Jean-Michelle Basquiat and Keith Haring.”
Rock discussed the Tacoma Dome Project, “Andy Warhol’s flowers for Tacoma exhibit is how the Tacoma Dome proposal from 1982 came into being. Warhol showing floral through his art was an important part of his whole career, not just the Tacoma Dome project.
This is our first exhibition of Andy Warhol’s flowers in the museum. The idea came from a blogger at the Tacoma News Tribune and talking about the possibility if Warhol’s proposal was realized and so they had a digital image of the flower over the current Tacoma Dome. Well, the roof needs to be replaced in a few years and this was what could’ve happened.
There was a national call for artists in 1982 and 1% for the arts ordinance in Tacoma, a committee selected five artists and Warhol was one of them. There was a large process to recommend work for the Tacoma Dome and the jury and the advisory committee made a recommendation to the arts commission and the arts commission recommended the neon work in the Tacoma Dome for artist, Stephen Antonakos. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a lot of work with neon. The folks selected him and Tacoma had a great history with neon signs in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in downtown Tacoma there are a lot of fond memories.”
Rock provided further background on the Tacoma Dome Project: “Dale Chihuly and Pilchuck Glass School was coming into national prominence and a lot of interest in glass and neon art took place in the 1970s and 1980s.
The contractor for the Tacoma Dome would not guarantee the roof with neon art on top of it, since the city couldn’t guarantee that, the City Council voted against the neon project. So the arts commission had to re-negotiate with the artist and they came to the agreement to have neon art inside the Tacoma Dome instead. This was a pretty complicated issue to resolve as a result the arts commission had a little extra money and acquired artist, George Segal whose work is also in the Tacoma Dome of a person walking on a tight rope.
It became more complicated as the citizens in Tacoma were unhappy even though there was a public process, a referendum to turn down the 1% arts ordinance in 1985 and was only re-instated in the year 2000. It became complicated because Tacoma became a case study for a law book for public process and arts funding and is a cautionary tale on how complicated this can be.
Because the situation was so contentious, Warhol became in part the reason why the ordinance was overturned. People were upset because New York artists, four of the five were out of state artists and most people were unhappy at that. There was a moment of change and mining industries were being replaced and downtown Tacoma was bleak before the Tacoma Renaissance was happening. So people were upset because Andy Warhol had no connection to Tacoma and he was known for being aloof, ironic, a persona studio 54 and he didn’t reflect people’s perceptions of what Tacoma should be.
So part of the controversy was this moment of change in Tacoma’s history and we think how different Tacoma is; we don’t have aroma of Tacoma, the museum district and the hospitals have grown, and people that locate their businesses down here have changed. It’s become an education and information economy versus natural resources. If you look at Pacific Avenue, the Federal courthouse, and UW Tacoma it’s really different than it was in 1982.
Warhol’s proposal was to see the Tacoma Dome as a giant flower and so that’s how his proposal began in 1982 that probably sounded stupid for the aroma for Tacoma, the blue collar industry, at the time. The intriguing idea for me is what would have happened to Tacoma had this been realized?
If you think of Google Earth, what if there was a giant flower on the roof of the dome? A daisy-like flower made up of different flower photographs and we have a couple of those in the gallery especially a Polaroid photo of a fabric daisy.
Warhol tried to show in his exhibition that flowers were always part of his thinking and he’s such a visual thinker. We have an early illustration in the 1950’s of a single pink daisy, the composition and isolation very similar to his proposal in 1982. The idea of the Tacoma Dome proposal came from Warhol always keeping these ideas turning. He had this amazing ability to pull up an old idea and designed it into something new for a new project.”
Some more information Rock mentioned specifically about Warhol: “Warhol comes from Pittsburg also a town that was changing. Tacoma and Pittsburg approximately had the same population and they were heavy industry, steel mills closing in the 1980s and changing into an information economy. It’s tempting to think Warhol felt infinity for Tacoma.”
There are 110 works of Warhol’s art including: paintings, photographs, prints, and a good number of materials that Warhol used to make flower images, such as some of his collages and drawings.
Rock commented on what he thought of the exhibit: “It’s a moment where Tacoma was in the front of the mind; one of the most important American artists. Warhol was thinking about how art could change the city and I think that story is really important to remember and understand.
From a historical perspective, it’s interesting to see how flowers were a constant part of Warhol’s thinking from the 1950’s until 1986.”
Rock discussed the best thing about the exhibit: “In a weird way, it pre-figures the museum district for Warhol’s proposal as he somehow understood how art could change the city and so this one proposal kind of signaled that art was going to change Tacoma somehow.”
Rock mentioned what many people may not know about the exhibit, “The important part is that the Tacoma Dome Proposal wasn’t just a thing that Warhol threw together and forgot about. He did a print series called “Flower for Tacoma” and he made multiple variations and it was something that engaged him for awhile…something more than his ‘15 minutes’ of fame. He thought of Tacoma for more than 15 minutes (Rock laughs). I think the surprising thing is how lively all this work is there’s so much joy in these images and the walls pulsating with energy: the colors, the forms, the drawings, the photographs….there’s so much life in these works. You don’t expect that…you expect flowers.”
Rock discussed the uniqueness of the Warhol exhibit, “I can’t remember a single flower exhibit here. To me, it feels like the Normal Rockwell exhibit we had. Everyone thinks they know him, but there’s so much surprise when you get in-depth study and think a little bit deeper. In that sense, I hope people come away with that same kind of experience.”
When asked who he recommended visit the exhibit, Rock replied, “There are a couple obvious people: 1. People who remember the Tacoma Dome controversy and can come and think about that again with all the changes to Tacoma and while I talk with people that were there, it’s really interesting; they have very vivid images of how contentious the Tacoma Dome Proposal was. 2. People who know Andy Warhol through soup cans and Marilyn paintings. Jacklyn Kennedy, most people know mostly about him. People who know him for his name and people in Seattle and Tacoma can come and see how he saw Tacoma in 1982.”
For more information about the Andy Warhol exhibit, please visit: TacomaArtMuseum.org. Rock leaves us with something to think about, “What if the proposal were to be realized? How would that change the perceptions of our city?”
By: Carly Calabrese, staff for Tacoma.com