Jeffrey Vallance Exhibit at The Warhol | Program Notes

Jeffrey Vallance Exhibit at The Warhol

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Visiting The Andy Warhol Museum yesterday two hours before the Steelers' big fail, I was surprised to find the place as busy as I've seen it.

Maybe I shouldn't have been: After all, many folks were probably there for the same reason as me, to catch the final day of shows like Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross and The Pittsburgh Biennial: Gertrude's/LOT. (Funnily enough, two of the four people I met to watch the game at a local watering hole had also just been to the Warhol.)

Crowds for the Ross show should especially have been expected: Museum director Eric Shiner has said that it has been extraordinarily popular since it opened, in October.

And yesterday, you still had to shuffle around fellow patrons to view Ross's renderings of iconic comics heroes like Superman and Batman, smartly juxtaposed with work by Ross's own artistic heroes, including Norman Rockwell and Ross's mom (herself a professional illustrator), and even by the people who influenced them.

Add thematically linked Warhol work to the mix, and you had a partial but compelling history of the 20th century via commercial and comics art. For more, here's the interview of Ross by Nick Keppler that CP ran to preview the exhibit.

Likewise it was good to get a last glimpse of Gertrude's/LOT, a showcase for local women artists that Nadine Wasserman reviewed for CP last month. 

While those two shows have now closed, there's still plenty of time to see Vallance's exhibit, the latest installment in the Warhol's Word of God series, which spotlights contemporary artists' takes on religion.

Vallance's exhibit, a series of modern-day reliquaries, is both accessibly transparent and interestingly sly. The artist, raised Lutheran, is an inveterate collector (in which he's like Warhol) who's fascinated with the Catholic tradition of preserving and venerating the bones, clothing and personal effects of saints and the like.

Among the books on display, in fact, is one about the world-class reliquary at Pittsburgh's own St. Anthony's Church. But alongside his illustrations rendering Martin Luther, the crucifixion and such, Vallance's reliquaries are of an determinedly more mundane variety: The ornate glass-doored cases contain things like the bones of his late pet chicken, Blinky. (One of them is pictured here.) There are also items from Vallance's travels, including the boxer shorts he passed off as regular outerpants during an audience with South Pacific royalty.

And then there are secular relics without any personal connection to Vallance, like the ostentatiously authenticated little squares of hotel bedsheet The Beatles purportedly once slept on, and the nearly microscopic length of Elvis Presley's hair.

The cheeky but provocative exhibit is rounded out with some Warholiania, like a huge, 19th-century gilt Bible Andy collected, still in the metal box he stored it in. (The museum fears removing it could damage the book.)

The Vallance show is up still Feb. 5 (www.warhol.org) — Super Bowl Sunday, and no worries about conflicting with the Steelers there.

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