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Record attendance: Warhol Unscreened: Artworks from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection

Wits Art Museum’s (WAM) exhibition of the work of the iconic pop artist, Andy Warhol has surpassed all expectations with over 15,000 visitors to the Braamfontein museum in just six weeks, setting a new attendance record.

The previous record for the number of people to visit WAM was for the 2016 Walter Battiss exhibition which attracted 12,000 visitors over three months. There has also been strong interest from schools and universities with over 70 schools and university groups having visited the exhibition since its opening, totalling some 4,000 learners and students. The exhibition comprises over 80 of the artist’s major screen prints including Flowers, Endangered Species, Campbell’s Soup Cans, Muhammed Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and Superman. In addition, Warhol’s celebrated Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers record album, a selection of Interview magazine covers, and the renowned Birmingham Race Riot image are on exhibition. The pieces are from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection which the bank brought to WAM at no cost to the museum, as part of its Art in Our Communities® programme. The firm has also supported an extensive education programme that includes bus sponsorship for under-resourced schools; a publication for school learners and support of the museum’s Teen_Connect workshops for neighbourhood teenagers.

Andy Warhol
Campbell’s Soup Cans | Andy Warhol | 1962 | © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc

Curator Lesley Cohen said the exhibition has seen a strong interest from diverse constituencies. “Included in the show is a public response wall and it is fascinating to see how Warhol and his art have moved our visitors in so many different ways. Some have been deeply encouraged by how he rose above his humble birth circumstances to become an iconic, world-renowned artist. Others are thrilled to learn about the ways in which he challenged existing definitions of art while including everyday objects that anyone can relate to. One particularly gratifying comment was from a primary school child who ‘wished (she) could come to WAM every week.’ Fascinatingly the exhibition has also been a catalyst for renewed interest and use of the screenprint medium by contemporary South African artists.”

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol | Endangered Species Portfolio | 1983 | © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc

Richard Gush, country executive for Merrill Lynch South Africa commented, “We are delighted that so many South Africans and especially children, have been able to visit the Warhol exhibition over the past few weeks and take part in the various educational programmes around it at WAM. This builds on the success of our past collaborations including our work with the Gerard Sekoto Foundation for the conservation and retrospective exhibition of Gerard Sekoto which attracted nearly 5,500 people, a record for WAM; also our work with the Rock Art Research Institute at the Origins Centre at Wits University with the conservation of over 100 tracings and drawings of rock art sites by the influential Walter Battiss. “These record visitor numbers are testament to the contribution that arts organisations like WAM can make to our society. We are thrilled to have been able to play a role in providing these significant works from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection.” The exhibition runs until 8 October, 2017.

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