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What's Andy Warhol doing in rural Colombia?

Thirteen silkscreens of Marilyn Monroe and Mao Tse-tung are on display in a Colombian mountain town.

Thirteen of the Andy Warhol's silkscreens are on display in Jerico. (Courtesy Jericho Town Hall)

JERICO, Colombia — With run-down schools and museums few and far between, rural Colombia can be a cultural wasteland. Beer and eight ball is about as high-brow as it gets.

So what’s Andy Warhol doing out here?

Thirteen of the late artist's silkscreens are on display in Jerico, a community of 12,000 people located in the Andes Mountains three hours by car from Medellin.

It’s a long way from The Factory.

In Jerico, iconic images of Marilyn Monroe and Mao Tse-tung hang on the walls of the town’s archeological museum next to a display of Christmas creches. The security guard doubles as the tour guide. Sunburned farmers in sombreros squint at Mao, the Chinese strongman depicted by Warhol in fluorescent orange and pink.

“If all you offer people is booze, billiards and loud music, that’s what the people will take to,” said Carlos Giraldo, the mayor of Jerico. “But if you promote art, then art will flourish.”

Giraldo dreamed up with the idea while studying in Germany in the 1990s. He recalled how treasures of Russia’s Romanov Dynasty were loaned to a museum in a small German town. Art-lovers from all over Europe made the pilgrimage.

Giraldo wanted to pull off a similar coup to bring cultural tourists to his town. The Warhol works were on already in Bogota as part of a traveling exhibition. So, Giraldo and other civic leaders convinced the curator to farm out 13 Mao and Marilyn Monroe silkscreens for a few months.

Just as he planned, the exhibition has drawn big crowds. During a recent afternoon, a delegation of government officials toured the building followed by a gaggle of high school students.

In a way, Andy in the Andes makes perfect sense.

Warhol was a founding father of pop art, the movement that defied cultural elitists by pushing the notion that mass-produced consumer goods — like comic strips, Campbell’s Soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles — were legitimate subjects for fine art.