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Warhol exhibition is one very, very long painting

By Sally Holland, CNN
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Mon October 17, 2011
: Andy Warhol's painting entitled
: Andy Warhol's painting entitled "Shadows" is longer than a football field. It's currently at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum. "Shadows" is 450 feet long and it marks the first time all of Warhol's 102 abstract "shadows" series have been shown together, as he intended.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This is the first time all of the canvases have been displayed together as Warhol intended
  • In the late 1970s, Warhol experimented with abstractions, departing from pop culture inspired works
  • The canvases, each measuring four by six feet are hung edge-to-edge as the artist intended

Washington (CNN) -- One hundred and two canvases all with similar composition but different colors hung edge-to-edge make up the totality of Andy Warhol's painting called "Shadows" currently on display at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

This marks the first time all of the canvases, which were completed over thirty years ago, have been displayed together as Warhol intended. There aren't many museums with enough unbroken wall space to hold the entire piece.

The canvases, each measuring four by six feet are hung edge-to-edge as the artist intended covering a continuous 451 linear feet on the gallery wall making it longer than a football field.

"These galleries are just curved enough to give you flow, or push our visitors through the space," said Associate Curator Evelyn Hankins. "There's this kind of beautiful dialogue or conversation between the art and the architecture."

"It gives you goose bumps. It shows the elasticity of the painting and the concept," said Yasmil Raymond, a curator at the Dia Art Foundation that owns the painting.

Only 83 canvases of the work were shown at the first displayed in 1979 at the Heiner Friedrich gallery in New York. They took up several galleries, the continuity broken every time the work came to a corner or a door.

"On the one hand, this installation is about the gestalt, the overwhelming effect of seeing all of these paintings that continue beyond the realm of sight," said Hankins. "And then, it's about looking at the individual objects at the same time."

The artist used seventeen different colors from chartreuse to Day-Glo acid green to a dull brown to create the backgrounds for the canvases. Then one of two styles of "peaks" was silk screened onto the backgrounds, creating a repetitive pattern when the canvases are hung side-by-side. The type of paint stroke used for the backgrounds varies, so that even the canvases with similar colors look different up close. The silk screened image or "shadow" is always flat.

"It's a silk screen that I mop over with paint," said Warhol about the Shadows when it was first displayed. And the curators believe that Warhol, or perhaps one of his assistants, did use an actual mop when creating some of the backgrounds.

The February 1979 issue of New York Magazine quotes Warhol saying, "Someone asked me if I though they were art and I said no. You see, the opening party had a disco. I guess that makes them disco d├ęcor."

In the late 1970s, Warhol experimented with abstractions, a departure from the pop culture inspired works for which he is known.

"This work comes in a moment when he is reinventing what he wants to do as a painter," said Raymond pointing out Warhol stuck with the vivid colors that he had used since the early 1960s.

Pragmatically, hanging the paintings edge-to-edge was not as easy as you might think Hankins said because the canvas frames have warped over time.

"Humidity changes the canvas and changes the center bar that the canvas is on," she said. "Wood changes, so none of them are perfectly straight. To hang them edge-to-edge and keep them straight is an extraordinary task."

"Shadows" will be on exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian Institution's museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art until January 15, 2012. Across the National Mall from the Hirshhorn at the National Gallery, more of Warhol's art can be seen in an exhibit on to his work with news headlines that runs through January 2, 2012.

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