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Hammers and sickles
SVA Exhibition 1258. Poster.
April 13, 2014

Hammers and sickles

From mid-November to mid-December of 1976, Andy Warhol exhibited (for the first time, according to the press release) the drawings from his “Hammer and Sickle” series, conceived earlier that year. The legend goes: Warhol was cruising around Italy admiring the Communist graffiti, and, upon returning to New York, decided to paint some of their iconography. But the two-dimensional hammers and sickle icons in books didn’t suit him, so he had an assistant go and pick up a couple of real, physical ones and he set them about the studio, making sketches and taking photos. (One delicious detail of this approach is that the sickle is imprinted with its commercial brand name.)

The show, curated by Warhol’s longtime friend and supporter David Whitney, was hung staggered across the walls (in a manner familiar in his series work of this era):

A photo of a plain room withe white floors, ceiling, and flooring. Mounted on the wall are black and white artwork hung in a zig-zag pattern.

SVA Exhibition 1258. Installation view.

The Andy Warhol Museum notes that the “Hammer and Sickle” silkscreens (based on photographs by his assistant, Ronnie Cultrone) were first exhibited at Leo Castelli in 1977 under the ambiguous title “Still Lifes.” The show at the Visual Arts Gallery at the end of 1976 was officially called “Andy Warhol: Drawings.”

A photo of an artwork. It's a white and black painting of a mallet and a sickle. The mallet is laid on top of the sickle. The drawing has few details and has the objects cast an opaque black shadow.

SVA Exhibition 1258. Black-and-white photograph depicting Hammer and Sickle, 1976.

In Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, Bob Colacello recalls how Warhol’s work leading up to this point was beginning to seem too tame. Of his “Athletes” series, he says: “They were shown in New York, London, Toronto, and Cologne, but everywhere the art critics yawned and the sports fans wondered why Andy had painted O.J. Simpson in pistachio and cantaloupe.” He saw some commercial redemption in the “Hammers”:

Andy’s most successful show of 1977 was of his least obviously commercial series, the Hammers & Sickles, at the Daniel Templon Gallery in Paris. These were a tongue-in-cheek response to the Marxist analysis of his work by Italian critics. In Andy’s hands, the tough symbols of Communism were turned into stunning still lifes, beautiful enough for capitalist titans like Gianni Angelli to buy for their palatial walls. The show sold out despite—or perhaps because of—the opening’s being invaded by three hundred Parisian punks in leather, rubber, chains, and razors. Templon served raspberry sorbet and Chablis. The punks used the former to scrawl HATE and WAR on the gallery walls and chugged the latter so rapidly they were soon vomiting it all over the gallery floor. Andy hid out in the inner office, and when a couple of young nihilists began peeing pink sherbet and white wine in the vicinity of her bejeweled shoes, São Schlumberger cooly said, “I think I’d be better getting my dinner at Versailles.” When I told Andy, still in his hiding place, he laughed a little and then said, as if noting a new look at the couture collections, “Pee is getting big, Bob.” (340)

I have no idea what is going on with the smears on the photographs of works before the installation, but they look kinda like the photos themselves been washed at some point with color, rather like the original “Hammer” silkscreens:

A photo of a huge canvas of a silkscreen of a mallet and a sickle. The canvas is on the floor supported by the wall. The photo has a smear in the middle making everything in that area slightly darker.

SVA Exhibition 1258. Photograph 1.

A dark photo of the a huge canvas with a different version of the mallet and sickle. The photo has a wide smear going across the photo making that area darker.

SVA Exhibition 1258. Photograph 2.

A silkscreen artwork. A detailed black and white sickle laid on top of a mallet. The tools have a thick red border and shadow that merge together. The background is white with think weak black smears scattered across it.

From Christie’s. Hammer and Sickle, 1976. Synthetic polymer, silkscreen inks and acrylic on canvas.

A photo of a a huge canvas of a different version of the drawing of the mallet and the sickle. The drawing is much similar to the previous ones but is far less detailed. The photo is as a thick smear going across the photo causing that area to be slightly darker.

SVA Exhibition 1258. Photograph 3.