On Jan. 19, 1968, a critic for the Jamestown Post-Journal wrote a scathing review of a film presented by Andy Warhol the previous evening at Jamestown Community College.
Sarita H. Weeks, a trustee of the college and a frequent contributor to the culture pages of the Post-Journal, found the hourlong excerpt from one of Warhol’s marathon experimental films repugnant.
The movie, she wrote, depicted “pimply, disheveled, moronic youths and sluts of various types, some semi-nude, talking gibberish and film – ad lib – hideous in their depravity.” She went on to chastise the college’s Cultural Events Committee for bringing the film and the artist to Jamestown, writing that the time of young students “must be filled with splendid idealism, and acquisition of the wonders of knowledge and with living based firmly on the moral teachings of the Bible.”
After Weeks’ first shot across the bow, the Post-Journal became a de facto battleground for differing opinions on Warhol’s work and personality from across Jamestown and beyond. By the end of the debate on Feb. 2, when the Post-Journal decided not to print any more letters about the affair, the newspaper had published a total of 25 often lengthy and thoughtful responses to the review.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, the Weeks Gallery at JCC – named for Sarita Weeks and her husband Stanley – will launch an exhibition that explores that controversial moment in its own history. “Andy Warhol: Acquisitions and Jamestown Nexus,” the final exhibition of outgoing gallery director James Colby, who has headed the gallery since 1997, will provide a fresh look at Warhol’s complex and long-standing relationship to Jamestown.
The focal point of the show will be a silk-screen print of Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe,” which the artist gave as a gift to Jamestown resident Lois Strickler, who first met Warhol as a student at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology. Strickler gave the painting to the Weeks Gallery in 2011, where it now serves as the flagship of a growing 600-piece collection.
The exhibition will also feature selections from 103 Polaroid photographs and 51 other photographic prints that it received in 2008 as part of the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program in 2008.
Colby said the 1968 controversy, in addition to demonstrating that Jamestown is far from the bastion of rural conservatives some outsiders think it is, showed a fascinating range of viewpoints from residents.
About a third of the letter-writers, Colby said, were ultra-conservatives from the religious right who objected to the unorthodox form and risque content of Warhol’s film work. “If you seen any of those [films], it’s sort of like being at a party when it’s at its peak,” Colby said.
Another third, he said, couldn’t see the value in Warhol’s work but stood up for the college’s right to show it. And the rest were articulate supporters of the artist, who saw his work and his appearance in Jamestown as a welcome rebuke to the conservatism of the previous decade.
“I saw this [debate] as so valuable for our students in light of the black-and-white conversations we’re having today,” Colby said.
To help kick off the exhibition, the Weeks Gallery will host one of its activity-packed “ArtHappenings” starting at 6 p.m. Saturday. At 6:30 p.m., Colby will host a brief ceremony to honor Strickler and Robert A. Hagstrom, who helped to build the college’s modern gallery and Community Cultural Center. At 7 p.m., University at Buffalo visual studies professor Jonathan Katz will deliver a lecture on Warhol in the college’s Robert Lee Scharmann Theatre. A reception, featuring food and music by Buffalo gypsy jazz band Babik, will get started at 7:45 p.m.
What: “Andy Warhol: Acquisitions and Jamestown Nexus”
When: Reception at 6 p.m. Saturday; show runs through March 21
Where: The Weeks Gallery, Jamestown Community College, 525 Falconer St., Jamestown
Tickets: $12 to $23 for lecture and reception; otherwise free
Info: 338-1300 or weeksgallery.sunyjcc.edu