THEY are some of the most instantly-recognisable images produced by Andy Warhol, and now visitors to the Scottish Parliament can savour the works up close as an exclusive exhibition of the artist’s politically-motivated work opens tomorrow.
Iconic portraits of John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and the Queen all feature in the show, which has been secured thanks to Warhol’s links with the Scots-born tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
It has cost just £80,000 to put together after the official Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh - where Dunfermline-born Carnegie made his fortune and paid for the creation of a host of cultural and educational institutions - waived any loan charges. He had moved there with his family at the age of 13 and had his first job changing spools of thread in a cotton mill.
It is the first time an exhibition of Warhol’s work has been on display in a parliament building anywhere in the world and the most high-profile exhibition to be staged at the Scottish Parliament to date.
It is hoped around 30,000 people will see the exhibition over the next few weeks, although numbers are being limited to around 150 people an hour to try to manage the expected crowds and potential visitors are being urged to book a slot before arriving at Holyrood.
Many of the works in the exhibition - which is only on for a month - have never been seen in Scotland before, and some have never left the United States, including a portrait of Carnegie himself, which the artist was commissioned to create in 1981 to help celebrate the philanthropist’s links to Pittsburgh. His family emigrated from Fife to the United States to escape a life of poverty and he went on to become the world’s richest man.
The “Pop, Power and Politics” exhibition - which is entirely free, but ticketed - features a number of pieces Warhol created for political and environmental campaigns, including his celebrated Carter and Nixon portraits, as well as one of the final self-portraits he created before his death in 1987.
The show offers an insight into what inspired Warhol’s work, including a series of prints of four female rulers, including Britain’s figurehead, in 1985, which were said to have been inspired by Hollywood “screen beauties.”
The Holyrood exhibition also includes Warhol’s famous series of screen prints about the assassination of JFK, which will be on display in the parliament in the autumn just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the shooting in Dallas, Texas.
Other highlights include a giant sea turtle, one of several works in the exhibition which he created for a series on endangered species, images of a hammer and sickle he created at the height of the Cold War, and early sculptures - of Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Campbell’s Tomato Juice boxes.
The parliament has also borrowed two portraits of Warhol captured by Scots-born photographer Harry Benson at his factory studio in New York - one captured along with Mick Jagger’s ex-wife Bianca in 1977 and the other of the artist in front of his portrait of the actress Pia Zadora in 1983.
The exhibition was secured by the parliament under a deal struck with between the Warhol museum and one of the trusts set up to handle the legacy of Carnegie, who made his fortune leading the expansion of America’s steel industry.
The tycoon founded the Carnegie Institute - where Warhol benefited from free art classes as a child - and the artist later studied at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology, which is now known as the Carnegie Mellon University.
Carnegie’s legacy also helped pay for the creation of the Andy Warhol Museum, which holds the largest collection of the artist’s work anywhere in the world.
Matt Wrbican, chief archivist at the Andy Warhol Museum, said: “Although there have been a few politically-themed exhibitions of Warhol’s work, this is definitely the first time there has been an exhibition in a parliament or government building.
“We consider it a great honour that the Scottish Parliament has agreed to stage the exhibition and I think Andy Warhol would be pretty humbled about it.
“It’s iconic art in an iconic building - what could be better?”
The exhibition is the first of a series of Carnegie-themed events being held at the parliament over the next few months, with a major exhibition on his life and legacy due to open on 15 October.
Angus Hogg, chair of the Carnegie UK Trust, which helped pay for the exhibition to be specially-curated for its run in Edinburgh, said: “We hope the exhibition will help encourage a new generation of philanthropists to follow the example of Andrew Carnegie, who always wanted his efforts to benefit the public good.
“It’s difficult to say whether Andy Warhol would have been the success he was without Andrew Carnegie. He obviously had the talent, but that talent had to be developed.”
Tricia Marwick, presiding officer of the parliament, said: “It is important to me that the Scottish Parliament hosts exhibitions that encourage people to discuss and explore political issues, and few artists can get people talking like Warhol does.”