Monday, February 7, 2011

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures : The Museum of Modern Art, NY

I went to MoMA today with the intention of seeing OnLine, an exhibition of “drawing” as it was the exhibition’s last day on view and also to see the Abstract Expressionist New York show, a re-installation of the title from the museum’s collection, as many critics have been gaga-gooing about it. I did both, diligently but to be truthful OnLine was a massive clutter, and the Abstract Expressionist show was just fine. I know how important ab-ex is but it just doesn’t move me the way that I have been told it should. This task though led me to a gem, Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures, black and white films from the 1960’s that is perfectly installed.

Warhol did everything it seems, and everything he did (at least in art), he did well. I have never seen a piece by Warhol that made me feel embarrassed for him. His films are known and seem to be the type of thing you don’t actually have to watch after it has been described to you but seeing them, especially as exhibited, quickly makes that idea a mistake. There are silver helium square balloons greeting you from above the entrance, there is text and the face of Ethel Scull. Then you enter into the exhibition space and Warhol’s film “Sleep” 1963 is large on the front wall, as you turn your head from left to right you see two monitors, one is of “Blowjob” 1964 and the other is of “Eat” 1964, you don’t know the titles yet so once you do it becomes obvious for one and bemusing for the other.

Next, you enter a larger room; dark with only bright square screens that are framed making them feel like paintings. This room is full of Warhol’s Screen Tests, head on moving portraits of the famous and beautiful within his circle. This includes: Nico, Allan Ginsberg, Susan Sontag, Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedwick and more. They are all stars and through these films you get the sense why. Their larger then life faces are looking at you, not you but Andy, and they are trying to be very still, very obedient. Some fidget, almost constantly in Dennis Hopper’s case, or they shyly smile, aware of the attention being paid to them. Through their stillness the effect of the films vibrates between photograph, painting and halogram. They feel utterly alive and also completely revealed. Through these films Warhol is letting us stare, and the fact that they are of celebrities adds something but it is not really what makes them captivating. What makes them so alluring is the blatant voyeurism, there is nothing to be caught doing though as it is volunteered. Still, you can feel the vulnerability or the undaunted self-awareness that those being filmed posses. Warhol requests those he films to do things for him, in front of him. They let him because he is Andy.

In addition to the Screen Tests there is a room that has been converted into a discreet movie theatre that at the time had “Kiss,” 1963 playing. This too has the same shamelessly fixed gaze. All of the films are elemental. There are no questions being asked or mysteries to be solved they are studies of the most basic things. Things that everyone has done or can do. In this vain MoMA’s exhibition webpage invites anyone to make their own Screen Test and also shares others with you. This to me seems a bit cheesy, but thinking the question “what would Andy want” it seems like it’s a fine little exercise to do. Warhol was probably always the type who observed things and people in a penetrating type of way. We are lucky that he reached a position that he could share this fascination of others with us.