During his lifetime, Andy Warhol was famous for many things but his religious beliefs certainly weren’t one of them. Now, to the chagrin of anyone who loved Warhol for his transgressive approach to art and celebrity, coupled with a stereotype-free personal identity, the Vatican is looking to claim the artist one as one its own in a joint exhibition with The Andy Warhol Museum slated for 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Warhol Museum opening in Pittsburgh.
Warhol, quite famously, dabbled in religious iconography. Yet, the particulars of his faith had been much more closeted than his sexual proclivities in his time. In what seems to be a fit of late-stage hagiography, the Vatican show plans to exhibit Warhol’s Late Supper series alongside various films and archival materials. The Vatican Museums’s director, Barbara Jatta, said in an announcement that the institution is “very interested in exploring the artist’s spiritual side.”
Warhol’s so-called spiritual side is certainly worth exploring, but the Vatican’s insistence on guiding this particular exploration feels a bit more like exploitation to gain a modicum of cultural cache.
The conversation about Warhol’s curious relationship to the church, which designates homosexuality as an “objective disorder” or “moral disorder” if acted upon, has grown in recent months with the publication of After Andy, a memoir by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, the last studio assistant to be hired by Warhol. In it, Fraser-Cavassoni traces Warhol’s relationship to a religion that allowed “unconventional traditionalists” to partake, noting his fervid dedication to the church following a near death experience after being shot and wounded at The Factory in 1968. “Andy changed,” she writes, “He almost died. Then rose again…” Daily mass, carrying a rosary, feeding the poor on holidays and a well-documented visit to Pope John Paul II were some of Warhol’s symbolic gestures towards his chosen faith.
In the memoir, Fraser-Cavassoni details the memorial service held for Warhol at which art historian John Richardson eulogized the legend. Warhol he said, “fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame, and glamor and that he was cool to the point of callousness.”