Like Warhol’s seminal series of Electric Chair paintings, which confront us with the portentous anticipation of impending tragedy, Jackie’s beaming visage is particularly affecting as the immediate precursor to a cataclysmic event in modern history. Sourced from a photograph taken at Dallas Love Field airport on the morning of 22nd November 1963, Jackie immortalizes the final moments before an open-top limousine journey and a sniper's bullet devastated the emotional landscape of a nation. "Then, for the first time, there were many who experienced the banality of illustrious death, time being measured by the flash: a gasping instant." (Remo Guidieri, "JFK", in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 29) The artist had previously included the charismatic and stylish Jackie at the height of her newfound celebrity as First Lady in his 1962 pantheon of iconic goddesses along with Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, portraying them in lushly saturated colors and frontal movie-star poses. For Warhol, celebrity was a fascinating contradiction between the hidden identity of the private individual and the superficial nature of public fame and, like Marilyn and Liz, the enormity of Jackie’s private struggle and loss, brazenly exploited by the machine of mass media, conjoined her inner trauma and outer identity, creating a more complicated persona perfectly suited to his artistic project. Moreover, the gleam of commercial prosperity and ascendant youth, as personified by his early celebrity portraits, was only the surface of American life in the 1960s, masking the brutalities of accidental tragedy, racial unrest, or capital punishment. Warhol seized upon the historical moment of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and its media saturation as an ideal subject; for him it served as an indication that America’s armor of glamour and promise had cracked. The events of November 1963 were a searing time whose televised and print coverage brought images to the public consciousness that remain undeniably vivid and potent today, fifty years later, when viewing Jackie.
Warhol's Pop idiom was rooted in the pervasive nature of the everyday, but he deployed this as an ambiguous prism for the more astonishing or disturbing elements of our time. Perfectly symbolizing the currency of celebrity and an icon deserving reverential adoration, Warhol's Jackie becomes the consummate deity of Pop art. The smiling archetype of lost bucolic tranquility, literally a vestige of Camelot, Jackie Kennedy will always re-tell an epic tragedy. Jackie's silk-screened portraits mirror the shattering of moments when time stands still: replicating a lost moment in the stark reality of tonal duality, this Jackie is the epochal paean to an individual's struggle with disaster and, as such, is situated at the very highest levels of Warhol’s pantheon of celebrity portraiture.
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