When JFK was in the White House and New York was the capital of the world, a little-known artist named Andy Warhol had his first solo exhibition in Manhattan. It was 1962 and the show included his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Campbell's Soup cans and Coke bottles. The Peter Pan of pop art had crafted an aesthetically provocative vision of all that was crass and ironic in American culture and somehow made it fun. The world would never be the same, and although pop's glory days are long gone, it remains a symbol of a stylishly naive and uniquely American extravagance, perhaps because we remain a preternaturally adolescent nation forever fixated on a neon vision of fulfillment. Whatever the reason, these pop pieces by Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann and others at the Octavia Gallery look almost as fresh now as they did then.
Warhol's evolution is illustrated in his 1967 lithograph of Marilyn Monroe in which she appears with a lurid green face and purple-crimson lips, an expressionistic treatment appropriate to Vietnam War-era angst, but his Jane Fonda of 1982 is paradoxically prettified, as was typical of his Reagan-era work. There also is a Lichtenstein Landscape Mobile that is a wacky pop take on Alexander Calder, as well as some Dine variations on his traditional graphical hearts and bath robe themes, and a nice selection of iconic Wesselmann works, sensuously minimal nudes by the Matissean master of pop soft porn. And there are some surprises including a 1981 Oh! Calcutta! subway poster transformed by Keith Haring's seminal graffiti figures. Local artists' works in the show include Jeffrey Pitt's Haring-esque marker paintings, and Sarah Ashley Longshore's Trophy Wife Junk Drawer painting of high heel pumps, lipstick and derringers, a reminder that Warhol started out as a shoe illustrator and survived being shot by a woman with a handgun at the peak of his fame. History has a way of repeating itself, and we are lucky when it remains confined to acrylic on canvas. — D. Eric Bookhardt