Andy Warhol: The Athletes, a series of ten portraits of famous athletes commissioned by Warhol’s friend and collector Richard Weisman, are on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art from January 31 through April 27, 2014. In Warhol’s signature screenprinting format—photos were printed on canvas and embellished further with paint—the portraits include representations of Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, Dorothy Hamill, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chris Evert, Jack Nicklaus, Willie Shoemaker, Rod Gilbert, Tom Seaver, and Pelé. The paintings will be showcased in the Museum’s Great Hall entrance.
Sports personalities were an interesting departure from Warhol’s usual society portraits and the paintings mark a period in which top athletes first began to inhabit the world of celebrity.
Weisman, who now resides in Seattle, was once a part of the inner circle of The Factory, Warhol’s infamous New York City studio. In 1977, Weisman proposed the idea of depicting sports figures to Warhol. The artist agreed despite knowing little about sports, and Weisman subsequently selected the athletes.
Weisman has commented, “I felt putting the series together was natural, in that two of the most popular leisure activities at the time were sports and art. I thought that having Andy do the series would inspire people who loved sports to come into galleries, maybe for the first time, and people who liked art would take their first look at a sports superstar.”
The Museum’s Contemporary Art Curator David S. Rubin, who coincidentally interviewed Warhol in 1978, the year he was working on the athletes, hosts “A Conversation with Richard Weisman” on March 21, 2014 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. He will interview the collector about his experiences with Andy Warhol and on growing up in a home that housed work by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, William DeKooning, and other prominent figures of the 1950s New York School.
“We are thrilled to host this series,” said Rubin. “The Warhol exhibition complements the Museum’s current focus on portraiture.” A concurrent exhibition features a major survey of portraits by nineteenth-century American painter Thomas Sully, and in the contemporary galleries, viewers can see a variety of portraits created in the last two decades.