TRAVERSE CITY — Billy Bardocz leaned back to get a better view of an Andy Warhol print hanging on a wall at the Dennos Museum. The image, lemons on a green background, seeps Warhol’s familiar style.
The Mesick High School student spent a few minutes looking closely at the image called “Space Fruit: Lemons.” Then he slowly moved along the wall to peer at a colorful print of “Sitting Bull,” before rejoining his classmates.
But, like most people wandering past, he likely didn’t know the social significance of the artwork he inspected.
The prints, “Speed Skater,” “Shoes,” “Pete Rose,” “Goethe,” “Space Fruit: Lemons,” “Sitting Bull,” and “Flowers,” aren’t his most iconic works, but still represent some of the artist’s widely-recognizable techniques.
Don Butkovich, an antiques and art appraiser in Traverse City, knew Warhol during the era when he was making some of his most recognized works. Warhol’s prints often made statements about social and political issues at the time. But they also made statements about the excesses in Warhol’s life, Butkovich said.
Butkovich attended art school in New York at the time Warhol was gaining notoriety. For some time, Butkovich worked at the Whitney Museum and had interactions with Warhol when the museum displayed his work.
“It was hard to talk to him,” Butkovich said. “There are only a few people around who could talk to him. I was the one who had to tell him he couldn’t smoke in the museum.”
People looking at the images need to take into account the man who authored the prints and the social strife in the world when they were made, Butkovich said.
The tendency is for viewers to simply look at the artwork after an artist dies, he added.
That lens can oversimplify what really are representations of the life and times of an artist. Some of Warhol’s works included images of mushroom clouds, electric chairs and communist leaders. Others poked at burgeoning commercialism in the United States at the time.