Georgia's Warhol Collector
Collector Wes Cochran in his LaGrange, Georgia, gallery. By Gary Clark
Andy Warhol may be the most iconic American artist in the last 100 years. People recognize his plain-Jane genius soup cans from a mile off. In February, how does a distance of two feet sound, when three dozen of the silkscreen print masterworks will be in Georgia's backyard? Price tag? Three bucks. The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, set up in a Romanesque red schoolhouse in the picture-perfect hamlet south of Athens, host the Wes and Missy Cochran Warhol collection late January through April 2. Organizers expect the special exhibit will double or even triple attendance.
"It's an extraordinary opportunity," MMCC director Judy Barber says.
Extraordinary is exactly the word. Wes and Missy Cochran, from LaGrange, Georgia, might be the most unassuming art collectors on the planet. Dubbed "The Cochran Collection", the 39 Warhol works are nearly always on tour, hitting mostly smaller museums and colleges throughout the year. "Our house isn't big enough anyways," Wes jokes, chewing his customary cigar.
The LaGrange couple embodies high art with a down-home feel. First off, how many stonemason-school teacher couples (Wes runs his own business and Missy just retired) do you know with Andy Warhol originals hanging in their den? Second, how many connoisseurs do you think happily lend out their collections to towns quaint (and tiny) like Madison? The Cochran's are extraordinary in both their Main Street normalcy and their dazzling stockroom of modern art. Enamored by modern African-American art as well, their personal collection stacks more than 400 pieces high. But it's the white-haired genius that really makes the art world say wow.
LaGrange is home to more than 70 Warhols screen prints.
"People just respond to Warhol's work," Wes explains. "It's the everyday subject matter. Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Donald Duck selling war bonds, Buzz Aldrin on the moon." Most famous of the twentieth century Pop Art masters, the Warhol revolutionized the art world by mass producing his silkscreen prints, while directing over 300 independent films and founding the magazine, Interview. Warhol's industrial sense of art production allowed for collections like the Cochran's, who bought the pieces when they sold for $1,000. "My uncle was an art dealer from LaGrange," Wes says. "When I worked on oil rigs in the seventies, I'd send him part of my paychecks and he'd ‘invest' for me." Wes' collection (and overflowing passion) grew from there. "Last count, there were more than 70 Warhols floating around our town," he says. "Might be more per capita than anywhere in the world."
That may be true, except Wes and Missy send theirs out the door to places like Madison. "We like keeping the Warhols on the road," Wes says. "These small towns would never see Warhol otherwise. It's pretty special for people to see them up close."
Madison, GA: From January 29 to April 2, the Cochran Collection will be at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center. Admission $3, mmcc-arts.org