Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sampling Warhol

Coincidence? It is a Warhol week: 30 Polaroid photographs, one silkscreen, a book of interviews and a movie.
The Newcomb Art Gallery on the Tulane campus presents Pop Shots: Polaroid Portraits by Andy Warhol. The exhibition consists of 30 Polaroid photographs of famous and/or rich models. The framed portraits are lining the walls of one room. Warhol would make fifty to one hundred of these photographs at a sitting and select one shot for the next step, a giant silkscreen portrait of the sitter. A local figure of New Orleans is featured with several Polaroids and the resulting silkscreen work. Warhol became so popular that the subjects were not hiring the artist, they were begging the artist to have a portrait made.

The same week, I found a book about Andy Warhol: "I'll be Your Mirror, The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews", consisting of Thirty-Seven Conversations with the Pop Master, edited by Kenneth Goldsmith, and spanning 30 years, from the 60's till the 80's. I learned a lot about how to interview a reluctant interviewee. Warhol was a man of few words. "What is Pop Art"? answer "Yes", etc... The artist was known to be shy, but his technique during the interviews becomes affectation. After all, he was eager to be in the spotlight. Warhol became more loquacious over the years and even volunteered some information about his lifestyle in his latest interviews including his thoughts about deeper subjects like art.

Finally, I watched a movie on Netflix "13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests", a succession of approximately five minutes movies lasting for a total of 59 minutes. Each clip is one actor filling the screen, just the face. The subjects are exercising their facial muscles in front of the camera and girls, boys, girls, good actors, manage to stay expressionless with an occasional show of emotion, like a fake tear. The last piece is a girl brushing her teeth for five minutes. The movies are in black and white and play with light and shadows. Considering that they were made in the 60's, they have some historical interest. Andy Warhol preferred to leave the movies unedited for fear of spoiling the subject. I have to confess, I fast forwarded the movie to last twenty minutes. The songs are worth buying the soundtrack.

What is Pop Art? The artist wants the viewer to define the art. We are used to the artist filling his/her work with meanings, symbols and the viewer looking superficially at the art. Andy Warhol braggs that he made the work in an hour for consumption and the viewers are giving value to the piece of art by spending time and money.

This is the art of Warhol, the viewer is filling the cans of soup with symbols, the interviewer is answering the questions, the reader is reading between the lines, the moviegoer is making up his own plot.
His works are a commercial success and he has given a flavor to Pop Art: superficial and empty.

Andy Warhol has become an icon, by picturing famous persons he has become famous. He claims to be the ultimate artist: money and fame. His philosophy? Pop. Business acumen or art? "Making money is art, and working is art and good business is best art".
One can be impressed by the amount of material produced at the Factory and some of the movies are still sitting at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, unseen. Warhol liked to document his life with movies or tape recordings. Anxiety? Precursor of reality TV shows? Performance art?

Warhol succeeded in making the viewer create not only the art, but also the artist.

Photograph by the author:
"Tina Freeman", Andy Warhol, 1975

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