‘Pop Art’ artists featured in new MAC exhibit ‘created their own style’

Emilee Geist

It’s difficult not to be drawn to the beauty and contrast of Andy Warhol’s “Reigning Queens.” Illustrating the difference between chilly and distant Queen Elizabeth II and sunny and approachable Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland, courtesy of screen prints, is inspired, and the concept by the late, legendary artist holds […]

It’s difficult not to be drawn to the beauty and contrast of Andy Warhol’s “Reigning Queens.” Illustrating the difference between chilly and distant Queen Elizabeth II and sunny and approachable Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland, courtesy of screen prints, is inspired, and the concept by the late, legendary artist holds up a generation later.

“What Warhol did, having the royal queen next to an African queen, was brilliant,” art collector Jordan Schnitzer said while calling from his Portland office. “Warhol shook up the world and made people think. He was so far ahead of his time”

A dazzling array of provocative work, featuring the art of Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst, is part of the “Pop Power From Warhol to Koons: Masterworks From the Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” exhibit at the MAC, which opened Sunday and continues through Jan. 24.

The production is possible thanks to Schnitzer, who lent a very small percentage of his vast artwork to the MAC. “We are honored that the MAC could participate in the national tour of ‘Pop Power From Warhol to Koons’ thanks to Jordan Schnitzer,” Mac Executive Director Wes Jessup said. “This exhibition tells the story of Pop Art starting from its beginning in the 1960s, when artists went against the grain of their predecessors embracing humor, celebrity and commerce in colorful and dynamic masterpieces.

“Soup cans, advertisements and even graffiti informed the aesthetic of many of the artists in this exhibition. They embraced imagery shunned by the more traditional art world.”

The projects span more than a half century of creativity, which redefined art. Instead of creating paintings of landscapes or baskets of fruit, the Pop artists expressed what was inside as opposed to delivering what they witnessed.

“The artists in the exhibition in Spokane all went to art school, and each did many nudes or mountains,” Schnitzer said. “But they decided to do something different. They each had this burning message to communicate through their art. They opened their soul to create something others could see. They didn’t try to do what Picasso or Van Gogh did since that was already done. They each came into their own and created their own style.”

While admiring the work of quirky artists such as Keith Haring and especially the daring Koons, it’s apparent that the Pop artists didn’t worry about convention as they pleased themselves. It’s difficult to imagine that early Pop artists such as Koons or Warhol could ever imagine that their initial works would strike a chord with the masses and that they would be timeless.

“You bring up a point no one talks about,” Schnitzer said. “These Pop artists had no idea that their art would be embraced like it has. Their art came along at the right time, and it resonated in society. I also know how they worked. They worked every day. Roy Lichtenstein treated art like a full-time job and created every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Schnitzer, 68, who owns more than 19,000 contemporary prints, is a well-informed art collector who is drawn primarily to post-World War II artists, many of which fall under the Pop moniker.

“I’ve collected Pop Art from 1945 up until last week,” Schnitzer said. The benevolent and die-hard Portland Trailblazers fan, who has been purchasing art since he was 14, established a foundation that lends to museums across the country.

It’s the third installation featuring Schnitzer works at the MAC, which earns high marks for its presentation. Schnitzer was taken aback by the arrangement courtesy of Jessup and staff.

“I wish every artist could see the brilliant job by Wes Jessup and his team,” Schnitzer gushed. “They would be so appreciative. Every Spokanite should be proud of the work they did. They should come out and see how everything is hung masterfully. They’ve done a brilliant job.”

Donald Sultan’s striking “Red Lantern Flowers” is arguably the centerpiece of the collection. “That sculpture, the shape, is gorgeous,” Schnitzer said. “It is like it’s holding court. You can’t help but notice it when you come in.”

“Red Lantern Flowers” immediately grabs your attention, but the piece that’s difficult to take your eyes off of and is one of the most fun pieces in the show is Richard Prince’s “Girlfriend.”

The work was inspired by “Seinfeld,” and what’s more pop culture than “Seinfeld”? Prince’s inspiration was the array of Seinfeld’s girlfriends. According to Schnitzer, Prince counted how many gal pals comic Jerry Seinfeld had on his show. Prince combined the faces of the 57 girlfriends for a composite, which is as difficult to pull away from as the portrait of the Seinfeld character Kramer’s painting, which is of course from a classic episode.

“It’s fascinating how he digitized each of the images and merged them all in this composite of all of those women,” Schnitzer said. He created the most magical and mystical image that leaps out at you like it’s in 3D.”

Such a show wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Schnitzer, who, unlike some art collectors, wants as many people to be inspired and moved by the works he owns. Schnitzer learned much about art from his mother, Arlene Schnitzer, an arts patron, philanthropist and the namesake of Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

“My mother had a contemporary art gallery,” Schnitzer said. “I grew up around it and absorbed so much of it because of her. I was also fortunate to grow up in the time of these great Pop artists. When you look at the work from 1945 on in Pop Art, you realize how creative that period was in America and throughout the world. Some amazing and beautiful work came out of that.”

The proud Northwesterner’s choice as favorite creator is surprising. “For me the greatest artist of all time is without a doubt Mother Nature,” Schnitzer said. “When I fly into Spokane and I see those gorgeous fields of green and those little lakes glimmering in the sunlight, there’s not a prettier sight.”

For those who might not be flying into Spokane International Airport anytime soon and would like to experience art laced with humor, irreverence and beauty, there’s the “Pop Power” show.

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