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Sordoni Art Gallery Opens the Doors to New Home With Warhol Exhibit

By Geoff Gehman

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Zigzagging through the opening-night crowd for the opening exhibit of the new Sordoni Art Gallery, people are staring at Andy Warhol’s iconic images of icons — Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O., Brillo. No two people experience Warhol’s art the same way and part of a gallery’s purpose is to provide myriad ways to enter the experience. In its new location with a new director, the Sordoni Art Gallery aims to do that.

The bigger, better Sordoni Art Gallery debuted in October beside the new Karambelas Media and Communications Center on South Main Street. It has 7,000 square feet, nearly double than in its previous home in Stark Learning Center. State-of-the-art climate control and convenient parking also are upgrades.

Three years ago, Wilkes President Patrick Leahy began campaigning for a gallery that was more engaging and empowering. He envisioned a place with more space for a wider range of exhibits and programs to attract visitors, drawing not only arts veterans but arts rookies. The gallery would reflect the University’s investments in academic programs, people and campus infrastructure, all part of the Gateway to the Future strategic plan.

“In my opinion, you can’t be a true university without an enduring commitment to the arts,” Leahy said during the Sordoni’s opening ceremony.

Leahy’s vision was quickly championed by Andrew J. Sordoni III, who helped launch the Sordoni Art Gallery in 1973 with his artist mother, who provided a naming gift from the family foundation he now heads. Sordoni shared Leahy’s vision to make the gallery more vital. Increasing the endowment for exhibits, they reasoned, would attract shows spotlighting bigger artists, leading to increased attendance. The plan involved judiciously selling some works from the permanent collection, generating more than $600,000 to push the endowment past $1.3 million.

Leahy praises Sordoni as an open-minded steward. “I’m glad to lock arms with him,” he says. “I’m very grateful to him for lending credibility to a bold investment in the arts via a slightly different model.”

“A university has to serve its students, its community, its mission, as it evolves,” says Sordoni. “The arts are fragile; for the arts to survive and thrive, everyone has to buy into the commitment.”

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Grace Leahy, daughter of Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy, and a friend consider the Warhol exhibit at the opening of the Sordoni Art Gallery. (Photo by Knot Just Any Day)

Two summers ago while visiting Pittsburgh, Leahy identified the artist whose work would launch the new gallery. In the city’s Andy Warhol Museum, he saw that his four children were impressed by their first exposure to his jarringly colored Pop pictures. If Warhol’s works could captivate his kids, they could captivate Sordoni visitors, especially novice gallery goers.

Leahy found a Warhol ally in Heather Sincavage, who became the Sordoni’s new director in June 2016. She, too, fell under Warhol’s spell as a youngster. Four decades later, Warhol played a role in her job as director of a new gallery at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She curated a Warhol show there and acquired Warhol prints, including a silkscreen of Sitting Bull, the Native American chief.

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A new era for the Sordoni Art Gallery began at its October rededication. Doing the honors at the ribbon cutting are, from left, Paul Riggs, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, William Sordoni, Wilkes trustee Bill Miller ’81, gallery director Heather Sincavage, President Patrick F. Leahy and Student Government President Cody Morcom. (Photo by Knot Just Any Day)

Sincavage included the Sitting Bull picture in the Warhol show she curated at Wilkes. She covered a wall with Warhol’s Polaroids, most studies for his “vanity” silkscreens of such celebrities as musician Carly Simon and choreographer Martha Graham. During the opening reception, the Polaroids were a backdrop as attendees were photographed with a Warhol impersonator wearing a suit the color of tomato soup.

Another Warhol ally was Bill Miller ’81, a Wilkes trustee and a distributor of Warholian merchandise. As president of Galison Publishing LLC/Mudpuppy Press, he works with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to produce everything from crayons with signature colors like Jackie O. Pink to an hourglass that empties after 15 seconds, invoking Warhol’s infamous prediction that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

Miller persuaded the foundation to lend a 54-minute film, projected from floor to ceiling, of slightly moving head shots of 13 ’60s celebrities, including rock musician Lou Reed and actor/director Dennis Hopper.

Sincavage also is an assistant professor of integrative media and art. One of her goals is to make the gallery an extension of Wilkes’ academic programs. The Women’s and Gender Studies Program will be among the first. In January she’ll launch the initiative with the exhibit “The Bones of Us Hunger for Nothing,” a series of Angela Fraleigh’s realistic, abstract paintings of dominant women in classical settings usually dominated by men. Later in spring semester, the gallery will host a poster workshop led by a member of the Guerrilla Girl, the feminist activist group.

Sincavage also plans programming to draw students and community members to the gallery. During fall semester, this has include a visit from a mobile glass-blowing studio and a series of “Warhol Wednesdays” lectures. “I want to break down the intimidating factor, especially for first timers,” she says. “I want to make the Sordoni a place where they can really start a lifelong love of the arts, a place that will inspire them to hop on that Martz [Trailways] bus and head into New York.”

Warhol began his career as an illustrator. It seems fitting, then, that the Sordoni will end its 2017-18 season with a spring exhibit of nearly 100 works from Andrew Sordoni’s vaunted collection of classic American illustrations and comic strips. Illustrator heavyweights include N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Frank Schoonover. “Art, if it’s attractive and worthy, deserves to be loved, deserves to be seen,” says Sordoni. “The whole point is to share.”

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