Along with millions of television viewers around the globe, Andy Warhol witnessed the devastating events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy unfold through mass media outlets. Newspapers and TV broadcasts became saturated with images of Jackie Kennedy both on the morning of November 22, 1963, moments before JFK was shot, and in mourning, following his death. The assassination of JFK marked the first time in history when a national disaster would be played on an endless televisual loop around the globe. Jackie, 1964, is a tightly cropped reproduction of a photograph from the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson on Air Force One, just hours after JFK was shot. An immaculately poised Jackie stood beside President Johnson, still in her blood soaked clothes, and served as a symbol of grief for the nation.
Executed in a somber cerulean blue background, Jackie elicits the devastating, somber mood of the nation in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination. The present work shows Jackie in up-close profile, with her head lowered in shock and disbelief. Warhol was riveted by the sequence of events immediately after the assassination and the burial the days following. He was fascinated with the media coverage of the assassination and the portrayal of Jackie, as both a martyr and media goddess. As the artist’s friend and biographer, David Bourdon, writes: “By cropping in on Mrs. Kennedy’s face, Warhol emphasized the heavy emotional toll during those tragic closing days in November. The so-called Jackie Portraits, far from displaying any indifference on Warhol’s part to the assassination, clearly reveal how struck he was by her courage during the ordeal” (D. Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 181).
Jackie was executed at the heart of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series; this unconventional series illustrated how the repetition, even of gruesome devastating images, could “empty” the image of its meaning. Jackie is a by-product of how the media saturated these gruesome and despairing images daily. Warhol extracted the ubiquitous images that flooded mass media and cropped them to be void of any context or background. He created an entire series of images of Jackie that were published in newspapers and magazines and consumed as a cultural phenomenon. He illustrates the imagery of the First Lady fulfilling her responsibilities as a public figure through this catastrophe. Poet John Giorno recalls visiting Warhol at home that day: “We sat on the couch watching the live TV coverage from Dallas. Then we started hugging, pressing our bodies together, and trembling. I started crying and Andy started crying. Hugging each other, weeping big fat tears” (J. Giorno, quoted by V. Brokis, Warhol, 1989).
Jackie pays homage to the glamorous First Lady. Warhol was preoccupied with the detachment and numbness that was created once an image was reproduced over and over again. By decontextualizing these over-saturated photos of Jackie, he created a sense of intimacy and empathy for the grieving widow. Warhol chose eight photographs that he serially reproduced, both as single images and in montage form. Warhol himself said that he “realized that everything I was doing must have been Death... But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect” (A. Warhol, quoted in Andy Warhol Death and Disasters, exh. cat., Houston, 1988, p. 19).