Sunday, 13 January 2013

Warhol's 15 Minutes Eternal

Many people took pictures here, getting their 15 minutes of fame with Andy
This afternoon I got a good dose of pop art at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

Hong Kong is the second Asian stop of "Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal" and it's an extensive collection of his work, some 300 pieces, from his early days as a graphic artist and illustrator to his famous works from the Factory in New York.

He died in February 1987 from complications from a gall bladder operation and so this show marks the 25th anniversary of his death.

It was very interesting to see so many young people checking out the exhibition -- many of them probably born during the 80s and later, recognizing some of the images but perhaps not understanding or knowing the pop art movement.

The museum was pretty busy today -- the exhibition spread over one floor in two rooms, and there were line ups to get into both -- though the wait wasn't too long.

However because there were so many people, I didn't have enough patience to carefully admire each piece though I did inspect each one.

Many years ago I'd seen a Warhol exhibition in Sydney and saw the replica Brillo boxes and of course Campbell Soup cans, the silkscreen prints of Marilyn Monroe, Mao, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy.

Warhol took many portraits of himself
Most of these were here again and it was nice to see nine Mao prints together, the background of each slightly different from the other using vigorous brushstrokes melding colours together. Sadly those attending the exhibition in Shanghai and Beijing won't be able to see the Mao works because apparently they were rejected by the Ministry of Culture. We can only imagine it's because the Great Helmsman is not depicted exactly the way the Chinese government wants him to be portrayed.

Perhaps the Ministry of Culture doesn't understand the artistic importance of Warhol choosing Mao's image to silkscreen... alas...

It was impressive to see Warhol was an accomplished artist in his own right -- there were many line drawings, pencil and ink, that reminded me of Pablo Picasso's deliberate and bold drawings. Warhol also drew shoes for a department store and quickly became known as the "shoe guy". His drawings were stylish and whimsical, particularly one with pink cherubs in various positions...

And then he began experimenting with photography and translating them into silkscreen prints, and focused on portraits. He took Polaroids because they made the images sort of monochromatic, making the person seem flatter. In the exhibition there are pictures of Sylvester Stallone, Bianca Jagger, Mick Jagger, and Truman Capote.

Warhol's iconic silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe
There are also numerous portraits and self portraits of Warhol. Did he take them because there was no one to model for him, or was it for his own vanity? Early in his career he seemed to enjoy making fun of himself in front of the camera particularly in the photo booth ones where the lighting the camera were already set up and all he had to do was pose. But later on his self portraits seem more introspective, maybe wanting to reveal he was more than just someone exploiting commercialism for art.

Warhol's image of Marilyn Monroe came about after he heard the news that she had died at the age of 36. He took a publicity photo of her and began making a series of images in various colours that seem to evoke different moods.

Similarly when Elizabeth Taylor fell ill, Warhol used a publicity shot of her when she was younger and coloured her lips redder to make her seem more alive. In the end she outlived him.

The series of images of Jackie Kennedy on the day US President John F Kennedy was assassinated combined with her mourning at the funeral are haunting, while the silkscreen prints of the electric chair are equally unsettling, though artistic in their own right.

And the Campbell Soup cans? He apparently ate the soup everyday, claiming he liked them because they tasted the same.

What was most interesting for us in Hong Kong were the time capsules. He made 612 time capsules over two decades, where he filled cardboard boxes with letters, magazines, photographs and odd items from his life. They were sealed, marked with the date and then put away in a warehouse.

One of the 612 boxes that were Warhol's  time capsules
The one from 1982 shows his trip to Hong Kong and he kept a newspaper article about himself from the South China Morning Post, a few maps issued from the then Hong Kong Tourist Association, and various notes the Mandarin Oriental staff sent to Room 1801. One reminded him of his appointment to meet Timothy and Loletta Fok in their "castle".

One leaves the exhibition in awe of the work that he produced. It's a pity Warhol died at his prime; one wonders what he would have thought of art today and how his work has profoundly affected us.

Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal
December 16, 2012 - March 31, 2013
Hong Kong Museum of Art
10 Salisbury Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
www.lcsd.gov.hk

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