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Paris steps into Andy Warhol’s ‘Wide World’

Paris — Paris is tipping its hat to pop art legend Andy Warhol, whose portraits of movie stars, world leaders, soup cans and other American icons made him one of the most emulated artists of his time.

Warhol’s Wide World, an exhibition opening at the Grand Palais this month, is already shaping up as one of the year’s top art happenings, with some of the 150 works coming out of private collections for the first time.

It also marks the first time that a French museum is showcasing Warhol since his death in 1987, bringing a French perspective to the works of the quintessential American artist, said curator Alain Cueff.

Credited with single-handedly reviving portrait art, Warhol made his mark by using Polaroid snapshots, news photos and photo booth prints — sometimes hundreds of them — and reproducing them on silkscreen prints.

He used repetition as social commentary on mass culture and consumption, showing art as a product.

The Paris show opening March 18 features dozens of commissioned portraits of famous and not-so-famous people he produced from 1967 until his death.

An eclectic mix of film and rock stars — Elvis, Debby Harry, Brigitte Bardot and Sylvester Stallone — are shown alongside fashion designers like Giorgio Armani with piercing blue eyes and artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat posing as Michelangelo’s David.

A portrait of Marilyn Monroe shares space with Most Wanted Men, the grainy blownup shots of 13 men most wanted by the FBI, juxtaposing a goddess of beauty with doomed men, Cueff said.

American archetypes of consumerism come to life with a print of Coca-Cola bottles and the Dollar Sign while Warhol’s take on death is depicted in the Big Electric Chair.

One of Warhol’s first works, a 1948 painting The Lord Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Nose is on display in Europe for the first time.

A giant print of Chairman Mao, wearing hot-pink lipstick and showing off a Marilyn-Monroe-like mole is on loan from a private collector in London for the Grand Palais exhibition.

"Warhol wanted to produce portraits that showed not just people, but a society, a whole wide world," said Cueff.

When wealthy arts patron Robert Scull commissioned a portrait of his wife, Warhol took her to a photo booth on New York’s Times square and convinced her to pose for more than 300 shots.

The result is Ethel Scull, 36 times, which is considered one of the most vibrant of Warhol’s portraits series.

Born to Slovak immigrants, Andrew Warhola grew up in the American steel mecca of Pittsburgh and came of age with television: a world of appearances and short attention spans where anybody can enjoy "fifteen minutes of fame."

He began his career as a commercial illustrator in New York at the age of 21 and soon opened his Manhattan studio "The Factory" that quickly became a favourite hangout for celebrities and various hangers-on.

Although best known for his portrait art and for uttering some unforgettable quotes, Warhol also delved in film and founded the magazine Interview in 1969, dedicated to the cult of celebrity.

By the 1980s, Warhol had lost some of his lustre, with many in the American art intelligentsia labelling him a self-promoter and his work as kitsch. But he continued to enjoy a strong following in France.

Warhol often visited Paris — he owned a flat on rue du Cherche-Midi in the fashionable Left Bank — and his works were on show at the Sonnabend Gallery.

"There are strong prejudices about his portrait art,” said Cueff. “It’s no secret that he had more European clients than American ones." The exhibition is scheduled to run until July 13.

Carole Landry/AFP/Expatica