Warhol multimedia exhibit makes US stop in Ohio

September 27, 2008 6:41:04 PM PDT
Watch Andy Warhol's films and videos, and it's easy to imagine the late pop artist feeling right at home in the current age of reality TV and Web video. This was a man who made an hourlong film of people's random activities on the couch at his New York art studio, shot "screen tests" of subjects instructed to simply gaze into his camera for a few minutes without moving or even blinking, and videotaped his own mother sleeping.

"He somehow did foretell our complete obsession with putting ourselves in the limelight, reflecting ourselves back to the world in a kind of instantaneous way, all of the things that the Internet, YouTube and 'American Idol' have made possible," said Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus.

Warhol's movies and video share the stage with his more familiar Campbell's soup-can paintings and colorful celebrity prints in "Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms," an exhibition running through Feb. 15 at the Wexner, at Ohio State University.

Columbus is the only U.S. destination for the multimedia show, which had its debut in Amsterdam last year. Because film and video can be duplicated and because Warhol was so prolific in painting and other media, the exhibition also opens Oct. 7 at the Hayward Gallery in London.

Warhol, who was 58 when he died in 1987 after complications from gall bladder surgery, assigned equal importance to each of the different art forms he worked in, Geldin said.

"All of this counted; all of it mattered. And if all of it didn't matter, then none of it mattered," said Geldin, who also leads the New York-based Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

At the Wexner, visitors are greeted in the first room by a series of huge screens showing the screen tests, four-minute black-and-white face shots of actor Dennis Hopper, socialite Edie Sedgwick and dozens of other visitors to Warhol's art studio, the Factory, in the mid-1960s. Other faces look on from a nearby wall in the gallery, including rocker Mick Jagger's, on a series of 10 prints, and Warhol's, in a simply drawn self-portrait repeated in a pattern on wallpaper.

The show's curator, Eva Meyer-Hermann, said she wanted to make Warhol's work in moving images more accessible and show how it relates to his other art.

"These films, they were shown accompanying big (Warhol) shows, but they were hardly seen. So, they're much more written about than seen," Meyer-Hermann said by phone from her office in Cologne, Germany.

Two other rooms feature screens on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Visitors are invited to plop down on floor cushions that snake around the floor to watch some 20 Warhol movies including "Horse," a Western parody with gay overtones, "Couch," chronicling the goings-on on the Factory furniture, and "Empire," an eight-hour film consisting of a steady shot of the top of the Empire State Building. The films are played on a loop, and each screen has a countdown clock to the next start time, for those who want to watch - or at least attempt to watch - from the beginning to the end.

Throughout the exhibition are smaller, individual monitors equipped with headphones for taking in Warhol works on videotape, including "Factory Diary: Julia Warhola in Bed," starring the artist's mother, and 42 half-hour television programs made for MTV and other outlets.

Meyer-Hermann said the movies and videos are important to understanding Warhol.

"I was struck by the fact of how close I felt to the artist while seeing (the films)," she said. "You look with the artist's eyes through his camera's eye."

"It's like a little piece of his soul is in each of the videos," said Clare Gatto, 18, an Ohio State freshman from Columbus touring the exhibition on a recent afternoon. She said it gave her an awareness of the breadth of Warhol's work in film and video, which she described as "simple but complex" overall.

"I'm impressed and overwhelmed," Gatto said.

For others, the experience can be perhaps too overwhelming, given the hours and hours of material.

"My eyes hurt," said Cathleen Williams, 49, of Columbus, after two hours in the dimly lit galleries. Still, she indicated she was eager to recommend the show to others.


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