Monday, May 13, 2013

Andy Warhol at The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich CT

About a year ago I went to The Brant Foundation for the first time to view the Karen Kilimnik show (briefly written about on this blog a year ago).  Then, I was in rich people (like actual one-percenters) shock at the grandeur and obscenity of what money can do.  Also, the show was underwhelming so that probably colored the whole vibe of the day.  Well, I received a golden ticket this year and it was for a show on Andy Warhol.  This I had to see because Warhol is a measure to me in so many ways and oddly I was looking forward to a day in rarified country land. 

For those who don’t know much about the Brant Foundation set up, it is a converted farmhouse of sorts on a massive estate.  A racetrack and polo field is visible yet any semblance of an actual residence is not.  Peter Brant is a super rich guy who has been an art collector and connoisseur for decades.  He owns just about everything that is seen at the foundation.  During the invite only opening, lunch is served, drinks are served and gentile conviviality of art world elitism is mingled with celebrity and Greenwich’s finest.  Last year I was a bit grossed out by it all, but this year I relaxed and wore my tackiest ensemble of neon green and leopard print to stick in and stick out like a sore thumb. 

Enough of the background of the environs, lets get to the art.  The show was all about Andy and it was really very well curated and installed.  The exhibition begins on the foyer space on the first floor and here there is an assortment of drawings, chotchkies, and small paintings.  These were fantastic to see, especially the drawings.  It is well known that Warhol was an illustrative drawer of fashion and other such things prior to being the factory running art star and seeing this considered collection of some of these works was refreshing and insightful.  I especially liked the small drawing of a repeated women’s face in three quarter turn with lips in various shades of reds and pinks.  This repetition felt like a precursor to his focus on this that is seen throughout his later works.  Also, there was this fantastically tall drawing of a nude male that was so confident yet slight in gesture.  It gave a sense of personality and sensitivity to the enigmatic figure that Warhol projects at times. 

In the next room there was a more obvious relationship to the early drawings and the better-known works by Warhol.  Drawings of Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola, a roll of dollar bills, were on view.  What was especially nice to see was the still life combos of soup cans on and with coke bottles.  Through this, one can almost see Warhol’s brain working and considering what these daily consumer objects can reveal in their objectness.  Then you enter the first large room and it’s all very familiar.  The boxes, some pansies, silksceens of this and that which have all become so familiar that in a way they have lost some signification, at least to me.  There was one very nice silkscreen though, which I have never seen, and it was of Merce Cunningham and a chair and as the one image gets repeated in its grid, it melds and hides the dancer and the chair into a singular gesture of a curve. 

Next there was a staircase and along this very coyly and smartly was placed a generous collection of Warhol’s Polaroids. They feature all the main characters of a certain time, Dennis Hopper, Yves Saint Laurent, Basquiat, Dolly Parton, etcetera.  What was interesting, and perhaps a tell of something, was to see amongst this gang of cultural relevancy Peter Brant himself on many occasions.  Was this to reaffirm his legitimacy in that time, as a leading man both then and now?  I would have chaulked it up as ‘no’ but the repeated reinsertion makes me think possibly otherwise.  Regardless though, it’s a fun way to see the array of freaks and inspirators that was of Warhol’s scene.

The next room on the bottom floor has the largest ceilings and here there are well-hung groupings of Mao silkscreens and Marilyns but also there are a few surprises amongst the hits.  One was the nearly messy large horizontal work that was placed near his Rorschach works that felt bizarre in its painterliness.  Then next to this was the most interesting thing to see which was a medium sized work that looked like a bona fide abstract expressionist painting.  It was a red background with a slash of black from top left to bottom right corner, like a L.  Never would I have thought that it was a Warhol placed out of this context.  This reminded me of the smaller, similar version of this that was also upstairs that was possibly an early study for this.

The final room was to me the best room of the installation.  On one wall there is giant camouflage piece, on the opposing is this incredible, never seen to myself before, huge painting/drawing of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.  Adjacent to this was smaller silkscreens of the actual image and also a set of ultra violet Jesus portraits.  To cap it off, on opposite wall, across from the da Vinci’s silkscreens and UV Jesus, was a large red and black portrait of Warhol with his spiky hair and disembodied head.  All very pointed, and possibly a bit over the top, but visually it was fabulous to see.  Warhol as Oz or a pseudo god to this thing that is the art world and perhaps even art history. 

Seeing the show made me re-appreciate Warhol and not just in his legacy of pop and art star but him as an artist.  You can see and feel through his earlier works, his drawings and his fascinations, that he had a truly specific aesthetic interest and the trajection from works with his hand to the distillation of just reproduced image seems natural and honest.  The sense of any gimmick or easiness can be brushed aside as a point to be made or sought.  The fact that this selection of works can be viewed with such care and consideration due to one man’s acquisition is possibly not a generous gesture but one in which I am thankful can occur.  There seems to be a true love of the works that were shown and that carried through on viewing it. 

Lying on the linen blankets with plush matching pillows, I looked up at the massive sky, the clouds and the vastness of horizon that wealth affords and then I looked over at the people all decked out and knowing that the bank accounts of those in attendance equaled more then most small nation states and I thought what would Andy think?  What would he and his consort of friends, hangers-ons, and muses do at a place like this?  They would roil in it; they would make a fantastic scene and be the center of the party.  I drink some champagne and feel okay about all of it, all of art and of the inevitability of wealth and culture being bound.