Ukrainian Museum show brings out the animal in Andy

From above, “Big Horn Ram,” “Orangutan” and “Frog,” Andy Warhol, silk screen, 38 in. x 38 in. each, 1983. Loaned from National Museum of Wildlife Art, WY. ©2018 Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society, NY. Courtesy Ronald Feldman Gallery, NY.

BY JUDITH A. SOKOLOFF | Think you know all of the many dimensions of Andy Warhol after seeing the splendid Whitney Museum retrospective? You’re in for a surprise when you visit the Ukrainian Museum in the East Village. This gem of a museum, located on a quiet stretch of E. Sixth St. between Second and Third Aves., is showing Warhol’s stunning “Endangered Species” portfolio.

The influential pop artist, designer, filmmaker, photographer, publisher, businessman, celebrity — who would have turned 90 this year — also cared about protecting threatened animal species.

Stand in the center of the gallery and take in these imposing animals — the black rhinoceros, African elephant, silverspot butterfly, Rocky Mountain bighorn ram, Pine Barrens treefrog, Grevy’s zebra, a flying bald eagle, giant panda, orangutan, sea turtle and Siberian tiger, the latter now numbering just a mere 500.

Then move in for a close-up and see how Warhol uses his intense, energetic colors and lines to create these magnificent images — in a sense, making the creatures celebrities as he did with his commissioned human portraits. The glaring animal faces challenge you to save them.

The 10 silk-screened panels of wildlife (38-inch squares) were commissioned in 1983 by Ronald and Frayda Feldman of Feldman Fine Arts, now the Feldman Gallery on Mercer St., and shown that year in the American Museum of Natural History. Warhol created 50 portfolios for the Feldmans and an additional 100 sets that he donated to animal conservation organizations to auction for fundraising. “Sea Turtle” was created a couple of years later and is a slightly different size.

How did this stirring exhibit, which opened in October, come to the Ukrainian Museum? Museum project manager Hanya Krill-Pyziur was “floored” when she first saw the exhibit at the Morris Museum in Morristown, N.J.

“I felt very strongly about bringing the prints here,” she said.

The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, turned out to be a willing lender.

And what is Warhol — son of Carpatho-Rusyn (a.k.a. Ruthenian) peasants from the hamlet of Mikova, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), — doing at the Ukrainian Museum?

“The museum doesn’t limit itself to Ukrainian art,” explained Krill-Pyziur, who grew up in this neighborhood, once teeming with Ukrainian families and shops. “It’s not unusual for us to have cross-cultural exchanges with neighboring countries and ethnicities.”

(For an authentic Ukrainian experience, visit the first-floor exhibit “Timeless Treasures,” recently acquired Ukrainian folk costumes and textiles.)

Warhol would feel at home in the museum — located close to his avant-garde beginnings. At the Dom, once the Polish National Home (later the Balloon Farm, then the Electric Circus), at 19-25 St. Mark’s Place, he and filmmaker Paul Morrissey ran a nightclub in the late Sixties. At this hub of uber-hipness, the Velvet Underground regularly performed as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a multimedia experience.

Meanwhile, at the Fortune Theater, at 62 E. Fourth St., Warhol showed his porn series “Andy Warhol’s Theater: Boys to Adore Galore.”

It seems he also stayed in an apartment on E. Sixth St., about a block from the Ukrainian Museum. (You can rent the place through TripAdvisor.) With its contrasting Eastern European and bohemian ambiances — some of which remain — the East Village reflected Warhol’s own identity.

Another perspective of Warhol is revealed in a side exhibit, thanks to the involvement of artist James Warhola, Warhol’s nephew. Personal artifacts belonging to Warhola and other family members provide an intimate view of Uncle Andy and bring to light artistic inspirations from his Ruthenian Pittsburgh youth. On display are early drawings by Warhol, family photos, signed Campbell’s soup labels that he gave to relatives, and his first camera — a Kodak Baby Brownie Special.

Also on view is Warhol’s first commissioned illustration job on his arrival in New York City: drawings for a 1949 Glamour magazine article, “Success Is a Career at Home.”

There’s a copy of “Holy Cats,” a book illustrated and written by his mother, Julia Warhola (she loved to draw cats and angels), which Warhol produced in 1957. An artistic influence, his mother actually signed a number of his early commercial designs with her decorative calligraphy. He lived with Julia, and many cats, almost until her death 1972.

In the museum’s charming giftshop you can buy a copy of James Warhola’s book, “Uncle Andy’s,” recounting childhood visits to Warhol in Manhattan.

A birthday card to Andy Warhol from his nephew James Warhola is also on view in the East Village exhibition. The show also includes unique Andy Warhol artifacts, like his first camera, a Kodak Baby Brownie Special.

For a final treat, Krill-Pyziur brought out Julia’s prayer book, not yet on display, which she carried from Mikova in 1921 and used every day in her Byzantine/Greek Catholic practice. Warhol, too, remained religiously involved until his death. Slipped into the pages were prayer cards, a photo of Julia herself, notes and an embroidered cross. The book was passed on to Warhol, then other family members. When the original cover wore away, Julia rebound the book in silver cardboard from a Chivas Regal box. How very Andy!

“Andy Warhol: Endangered Species,” at the Ukrainian Museum, 222 E. Sixth St. (between Second and Third Aves.), through Feb. 17. Museum hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $8 adults, $6 seniors, $6 full-time students; free under age 12. For more information, call 212-228-0110 or visit www.ukrainianmuseum.org .

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