Warhol exhibit excites Brattleboro

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(Host) Artist Andy Warhol once said that, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” The town of Brattleboro is hoping for a little bit of that fame this weekend when it celebrates a new exhibit of the artist’s work.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) The celebrity pop artist who produced the 1960s band the Velvet Underground never set foot in Brattleboro, as far as anyone here knows. But Brattleboro is embracing Andy Warhol like a native son. Shop windows on Main Street are sprouting reprints of Warhol’s iconic Campbell Soup cans and Marilyn Monroes.

(Matt Maranian) “The town has become Warholed.”

(Keese) Matt Maranian and his wife Loretta own one of the town’s numerous recycled fashion boutiques.

(Maranian) “And we’ve had people come in here and ask for disco clothes for the Andy Warhol party, like silver glittery and sparkly and metallic, or platform shoes, you know.”

(Keese) The reason for all the excitement is the preview Saturday of a unique collection of Warhol art at the Brattleboro Museum and Art center.

The collection is the byproduct of a passionate infatuation Warhol had in the 1980s with a Massachusetts-born movie executive named Jon Gould. Gould died of AIDS in 1986 but an old mentor of his, the creativity guru Robert Fritz, lives in southern Vermont now and he’s on the Brattleboro Museum’s advisory board. Fritz was talking recently with Jon Gould’s brother.

(Fritz) “And he happened to mention to me that he had all these Andy Warhols and I was pretty fascinated, but it didn’t click with me yet. Until the middle of the night I woke up and said, ‘He’s got what?'”
(Mara Williams) “And so we have ‘Andy Warhol, the Jon Gould Collection’ at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center.”

(Keese) Mara Williams is the exhibit’s curator. She’s thrilled that the show has sparked so much activity around town. Some 50 separate events are planned, including an Andy Warhol film festival in two local theaters.

All week, the museum’s windows have been colored with day-glow colored paper. Under uncommonly tight security, Williams and her interns and volunteers have been preparing for Saturday’s old-out, tickets-only preview. The exhibit opens officially on September 18.

The show includes many familiar Warhol images: the silk screened dollar signs, multi-colored Mao Tse Tungs. Williams says some of it has never been seen anywhere.

(Williams) “And then of course we have our wall of celebrities.”

(Keese) There also snapshots Warhol used as studies for his pricey portraits of the rich and beautiful: Nancy Reagan, Mick Jaeger, Paloma Picasso.

(Williams) “Many of these were taken at Studio 54. It was the place to be – people outside the velvet ropes, who got in, who didn’t get in, where the celebrities were, where the beautiful people were. It was the hot disco of 1977 to about 1985.”

(Keese) Say the words “hot disco” and a lot of people get inspired enough to want to create a disco of their own. Brattleboro’s version is Club 54. Brattleboro hairstylist Andrea Whitman is doing the decorations for Saturday’s dance party. She’s got a smoke machine and lights left over from her 60th birthday. Whitman actually went to the real Studio 54.

(Whitman) “The whole idea of Studio 54 was to get artists and actresses to be dancing with the plumber and the electrician. You could go there and dance with celebrities and they didn’t think anything and you didn’t think anything. It got to be very blase.”

(Keese) Brattleboro’s known as an inclusive town where people from all walks of life can come together in the limelight. Maybe that’s what Warhol would have wanted.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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