Tag Archives: Andy Warhol

Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest was a series of blog posts about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact. I wanted to write a personal history of art, telling it from my own view, to examine how the art and biographical details have influenced my own critical judgements. It was not an easy process and the posts did not attract many readers; maybe it was too self-indulgent or my choose of persons too obvious. Maybe, the posts didn’t come with enough images; anyway, I don’t think that I will continue it.

Who to include and who to leave out? This is always the question in making such lists. Influences come and go in waves of interest by the public and at various times in your life you get caught up in that wave of general interest. As a kid I must have been reading Robert Hughes in Time Magazine as my parents subscribed to it but I wouldn’t want to count Hughes as an influence or a person of interest. I played on synthesisers and so I was interested in Brian Eno. I am not claiming that I am major fan of Eno but Here Come the Warm Jets and Another Green World has been on high rotation for decades.

Here are all my Persons of Interests posts. They were written roughly in the order that they started to influence me.

Jan #1 – Desmond Morris

Feb #2 – Andy Warhol

March #3 – Salvador Dali

April #4 – Marcel Duchamp

May #5 – Laurie Anderson

July #6 – Various, Notes from the Pop Underground 

July #7 – Keith Haring

August #8 – William Burroughs

September #9 – Philosophers

December #10  – Hunter S. Thompson

It is not surprising that I am interested in influences when the subject of my thesis was the influence of Max Stirner’s philosophy on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. I started reading Max Stirner because of one remark by Marcel Duchamp but as I was investigating his relationship to philosophy, both the influence on and the influence of, I felt I had to read him.

“When he (Duchamp) was asked later in life to identify a specific philosopher or philosophical theory that was of specific significance to his work, he cited Stirner’s  only major book – Der Einzige und sein Eignetum…” (Francis M. Naumann “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites”  p.29)

 


Person of Interest – Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol is an obviously a person of interest to art history. David W. Galenson ranks Andy Warhol as the 8th most important artist in the 20th Century by mean illustrations in a sample of texts on the history of 20th Century art (Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art, Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). But this monthly series is about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact, so I have to write about Warhol. He was the most famous living artist in the world when I went to university and studied art history. He was already part of history and his name and influence was everywhere from textbooks to t-shirts.

I remember being at Linden Gallery for a film festival on the day in 1987 that news in Melbourne broke that Andy Warhol died. There was a jam session in one room, a group of people were drumming and chanting: “Andy Warhol’s dead. There will be no trash.” (Trash being one of Warhol’s films.) It was a strange vibe but Warhol’s influence was unavoidable and a few years later I was playing in Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose – a Velvet Underground tribute band fronted by Ron Rude with Frank Borg on drums.

There is so much to say about Andy Warhol – did you see that two-part documentary on his life on the ABC? What quickly became apparent to my youthful interest in Warhol is all of the interesting people around him. There was The Velvet Underground for one. And all the people mentioned in Lou Reed’s song “Walk On the Wild Side”: Hollywood Lawn, Candy Darling, Little Joe, the Sugarplum Fairy and Jackie Curtis many of whom also appear in Warhol’s movies.

There are so many biographies and books by people associated with Warhol that they rival the Dadaists in this sub-genre. Do read Hollywood Lawn’s A Low Life in High Heals (St. Martins Press, 1991, New York). Do not read Ultra Violet’s Famous For 15 Minutes (Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1988, Orlando).

Last year I read All Yesterdays’ Parties – The Velvet Underground in print 1966-1971 edited by Clinton Heylin (Da Capo Press, 2005). It is collection of original articles about The Velvet Underground arranged in chronological order.

Aside from watching the evolution of the mythology of the Velvet Underground in the original press articles, there is also the media’s view of Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol was associated with the Velvet Underground long after he stopped producing the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show and the Velvet’s first album. Andy Warhol was the famous name promoting the band and attracting the media.

The early social elements described in the article are the most revealing, little details like: the waitresses at the clubs, Sterling Morrison’s green suit, the Velvets playing music at a wedding. These little details reveal elements that are often forgotten in the broad brushstrokes of history.

The evolution of the light show in rock history is extensively discussed by a number of the authors. Light shows and projecting moving images are now an essential part of a rock shows and discos that it is difficult to image the world without them or their rapid development during the Velvet Undergrounds early gigs. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was Warhol’s vision for a total sensory art experience complete with his silent films running as part of the light show.

Extreme sixties weirdness does creep into later in the reviews, especially in the long and rambling essay by Wayne McGuire that originally appeared in Crawdaddy. The book also marks the emergence of the 60s underground and music press – with the first appearance of serious rock magazines like Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone. But Wayne McGuire does take the Velvet Underground seriously, way too seriously, unlike the trivialization of mainstream press.

For me the connections between art and rock’n’roll were obvious because of Warhol. Considering Warhol as a rock impresario is another dimension along with his painting, photography and filmmaking. As an art form it was something that Malcolm McLaren would later master. Part of Warhol’s artistic legacy would for be to ever confuse the distinctions between art, rock and fame and his influence is still present in the galleries, in music and in street art.

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012


Art & Advertising

Walking along Hosier Lane with the street artist, CDH who was half-heartedly tearing off the advertising posters. CDH was talking about making Hosier Lane an advertising free space (a worth while ambition). CDH wants to distinguish between art and advertising but I’m not sure that such a distinction can be made because the nexus between art and advertising means that there is no necessary feature to create a clear distinction. CDH and I have been discussing an article from The Atlantic Cities about Los Angels attempt to restrict mural adverting (“The Convoluted Path to Ending Los Angeles’s Mural Ban” by Nate Berg, March 22, 2012).

Advertising for the play "Optimism", 2009

Advertising for the play “Optimism”, 2009

I have written about the relationship between street art and advertising in an earlier post. Aside from the propaganda element of advertising that has always been important in art and thinking only about avant-garde visual art and mass-market advertising it is clear that there is an increasing relationship in the 20th Century.

The use of advertising material in the visual arts started with collages by the Dadaists and Kurt Schwitters. Was the word “Dada” taken from an advertisement for Dada brand shampoo rather than from the mythic random dictionary search? Almost anticipating Pop Art, Charles Sheeler’s “I Saw The Figure 5 in Gold” from 1928 used the bright colours and images of American cigarette packaging. American cigarette advertising was the start of modern advertising. In 1949 Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé used layers of torn advertising posters in a process they called “décollage”. In the 1960s many Pop artists used advertising material, Roy Lichtenstein used images from magazine advertising as the subject for his art although Andy Warhol concentrated on packaging design rather than advertising. In the 1980s many artists influenced by Pop Art used advertising material, most notably Jeff Koons and Barbara Kruger. Koons reproduced magazine advertising and made magazine advertising for himself that were printed in art magazines. Koons marketed himself as a brand. Kruger uses the same visual techniques as advertising in her art.

Advertising has had a close relationship with the visual arts; not surprising since both the artists working in the advertising art department and artists not working in adverting have the same art education. In 1888 Pears Soap first used John Everett Millais painting “Bubbles” 1886 as advertising; Pears was another early innovator in mass market adverting. Also created in the 1880s Toulouse Lautrec’s posters advertising cabaret acts have now entered the art cannon (currently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia). Since then advertising has used notable artists to create images for advertising, like Absolut Vodka (see their art collection) or to endorse products, Dali and Lavin chocolate in 1968 (see the video).

Given the increasingly close relationship between avant-garde arts and advertising it is likely that advanced art in the future will have more references to advertising. For more on this subject read Joan Gibbons Art and Advertising (I.B. Tauris, 2005).


Repeatable Unrepeatable

What if everyone did that? What if everyone painted like Picasso or Pollock? What if everyone painted like Jenny Holtzer or photographed like Bill Henson? What if everyone made readymades like Duchamp? What if everyone spray-painted on walls in the city? Repeatability, reproducibility of results, is an important issue for science and ethics but what about art?

The history of art, unlike the history of science, is a cumulative narrative, where every work of art adds to what has come before. There have never been revolutions in art as there are in science; there has been nothing equivalent to the Copernican revolution (although Duchamp’s contribution might be the equivalent of quantum physics). The mistake was made when modern artists started to use the language of science in the first place in talking about ‘experiments’. Contemporary artists have avoided this word, using the more professional word ‘practice’.

There are different kinds of repeatability in the visual arts to the performing arts. The American choreographer, Merce Cunningham when on tour in India asked by Indian academic: “Do Americans like your kind of dance?” And after some confusion the question was clarified…for after dinner dancing?” Merce Cunningham’s choreography is repeatable for a trained dancer but not repeatable in a popular fashion. Democratic repeatability, that is repeatable by ordinary people, is different to repeatable by a trained elite.

Although the original is identical to the cliché except for its position in the sequence. Artistic creativity is held to be idiosyncratic, in the sense that it is isolated to an individual. This has helped sustain the idea and value of an artist’s individual signature style that grew from 17th Century artists, when artists first started to market their own work rather than rely on commissions.

Currently in the visual arts the results are regarded as irreproducible. Unlike in ethics or science the same events do not create the same results. The great results of visual art are not universalizable and can never be replicated. If someone else made portraits like Warhol they would be simply a derivative initiator (you can now get a Warhol effect on canvas at most commercial photo printers).

Obviously it has not always been this way; originally students would learn by imitating their master to the point of exactly reproduction. In the past if you could paint or sculpt like an established master then you did and would be praised for it. Following previous great art as an example is a very different issue for modern and contemporary visual art. We need to ask the question why are we not intended to follow the example of great contemporary artists? What part of their art is repeatable? Should we use great modern art as examples in art education? What if everyone behaved like Damien Hirst?


What kind of artist?

“People pay to see others believe in themselves.” – Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

What do expect an artist to be? What kind of artist do you want to be? How does this persona of a particular kind of correspond to your art? How does it influence the perception of others?

There are many models for an artist, musicians, writers and other creative geniuses and so many different examples to follow. None of these strategies are guaranteed to work and so much depends on whom you happen to know and when you happen to be born. We are going to have to separate the myths and stories from the truth… be-careful what you wish for. The truth is boring meetings, sitting at a desk writing proposals, working in the studio… lots of work, even a con man has to work at the con.

In the most ancient sense there the artist as psycho-pomp shaman who by ecstatically manipulating symbols attempts to heal the world, to drive out the evil spirits, to appease the familiar spirits and soothe the soul. If this is the case then question becomes is this shamanic artist a real magician or a fake manipulating the audience?

Do you expect the artist to be naturally gifted or even crippled in some way mentally or physically, attributes of shamanism in some societies? Do you want the artist to be in a romantic way in touch with an endless source of creativity? This source of creativity is often tied up with ideas of race and land or both and raises the questions about the politics of your beliefs in race and land.

Does an artist have to be a genius and if so what kind of genius? – an idiot savant or a mastermind? Do you expect an artist to be technically excellent craftsmen or is the unique expression behind the execution of the art more important? It is praise to call a tradesman a craftsman and it is praise to call a craftsman an artist.  But this hierarchy does not mean that the distinction between the practice (what the person does) and the product is always clear and distinct. Some contemporary craft has become conscious of itself as an art, pushing the definition of craft to the artistic limit and questioning the very distinction.

Do we expect the artist to do everything themselves and suffer the fate of the sculptor, Charles Web Gilbert who died suddenly exhausted from carrying the clay for his latest monumental sculpture. Or do we want artists to work with a team of curators, craftsmen, technicians and engineers in a list so long that if it were printed it would rival Hollywood movie credits?

Is the artist a loner or part of the in-crowd? Are they expected to be the court jester, King Lear’s all licensed fool, pleasing royalty by making jokes about them? Or a prophet in the wilderness?

There is the myth of the artist coming from nothing, the discovered by the art world and becoming an instant success (after twenty years of hard work). Does that mean that there is an oversupply of crypto artists, hidden geniuses waiting for eternity to be discovered? Or do you have to create your own fame like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi? Media manipulation in the art world is not new; John Martin was a 19th century painter and self-publicist who had blockbuster exhibitions. In the post-YBA era do you expect artists to be famous superstar (the word was coined by Ingrid Superstar one of Andy Warhol’s stars) or do you expect them to be starving in a garret (like La Bohemia)?

Crypto-artists, zombie artists…

The idea of the artist as an authentic individual who creates their own identity through their work – what does the world expect of an artist?


The Velvet Underground film

After about twenty minutes into the film parts of the audience started to walk out. Either the camera work had got to them or it was clear to them that the Velvets weren’t about to break into a chorus of Sweet Jane. What did these people expect from an Andy Warhol film? Hadn’t they heard The Velvet Underground playing Sister Ray? People continued to walk out throughout the film. I was chilled in the front row with TC, tranced out with the droning electric guitars that seemed to have more in common with the dust and scratches on the film than the black and white images of Nico or Lou Reed.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was filmed at the Factory in January 1966. Even though music video clips had not been invented yet this 67min film features many of what have now become clichés of music videos, including the use of rapid zooming and panning in time with the music. Even the plot for a music video is remarkably familiar: band is playing live and the cops turn up. One NYC police officer suddenly appears in shot, smiles at the camera and turns the music down. The band plays for a bit more – “that’s still too loud” says a voice off camera. The cops talk to Andy and Gerard Malanga, his studio assistant, And the band packs up.

Eventually the camera runs out of film, end of film. Although the camera remains in a fixed position throughout the film and there is only one shot. It appears that Andy, or who ever was behind the camera (because Andy is in front of the camera at the end), was endlessly playing with the camera rather than doing what Andy Warhol was famous for a static shot with no pans or zooms. If only they had done a fixed shot the film would have been a lot better.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was part of a series of films by Andy Warhol showing at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). I went with my old friend TC who played guitar in a garage band with me. We are both fans of the Velvets; we used to play cover versions of Sweet Jane and Venus in Furs. Later I played in a Velvet Underground cover band, Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose with Ron Rude. Although, we were both fans of the Velvets, neither TC nor myself had seen the film nor heard the music. This was a rare screening of the film. Except for footage from their revival tour I have never before seen The Velvet Underground playing. I have seen a few still images from this film but never the moving picture.

Although I had never heard the “symphony of sound” before the music was not unfamiliar. It was not unlike Sister Ray but without any vocals and an hour long – something like the performances that the Velvets would later do in the afternoons of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Mo Tucker’s ever steady drumming was holding the droning sound of guitars and electric viola together. At one stage John Cage appeared to play some amplified long steel springs with a table knife but it was difficult to see what he was doing as the camera was mostly on Nico (tambourine) or her 3-year old son, Ari (maraca).


Lunch & Last Supper

On Sunday Catherine and I had lunch at the Queen Victoria Market; spicy bratwurst with sauerkraut from the Melbourne Bratwurst Shop. Although it was nothing like the food served at the last supper but it was a delicious lunch – I picked up a flyer advertising a “Last Supper Foodies Tour” at the market, if the hyper-real experience of Peter Greenaway’s Leonardo’s Last Supper wasn’t enough for your senses.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper was a failure. Ask the monks of Sta. Maria delle Grazie in Milan who commissioned it. They were calling for Leonardo to come back and repair it shortly after he completed it. It was a failure of technique and materials. Restorers have been trying to repair it ever since. Like the restorers many artists have been inspired by this magnificent failure to attempt to complete it themselves.

Peter Greenaway version of Leonardo’s Last Supper at the North Melbourne Town Hall is a triumph of technique and technology. The installation is the same size as the refectory of Sta. Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, a portion of surviving frescoed wall with a window (allied air forces bombing destroyed much of refectory in WWII) and the opposite Renaissance fresco of a crucifixion are projected onto the space. In the middle stands a table covered in a white cloth. The table is laid out corresponding with the painting in all white plates, mugs, bread and chicken as in the painting. This three-dimensional hyper-real and arty white simulacrum is the least tasteful aspect of the installation.

The light projection onto the painting was impressive and dramatic; there is no narrator or a narrative to the 20-minute audio-visual experience. Days pass by as the light from a window crosses the painting. Greenaway plays with the image creating a baroque quality with chiaroscuro lighting, highlighting the variety of hand gestures, options for a restoration and explorations of light sources. For me the extreme close-up of the painting was the best part, the isolated and cracked bits of paint become a landscape that you travel across, as viewed through an art restorers lens. The last of the paint is about to fall off the wall. Leonardo’s Last Supper raises the question how much does the technical success matter compared to the content and composition?

I’ve enjoyed many of Peter Greenaway films and other productions for decades. I enjoy his love of intrigue and ability to assemble information into a dramatic presentation, as in his Rembrandt’s J’accuse (2008) or Darwin (1993). Leonardo’s Last Supper is part of Greenaway’s series of “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited” returning to the ambition of his youth to be a painter. Although the audience was encouraged by the ushers before entering the exhibition to move about during the exhibition there was little reason to do anything more than turn around to look at the screen on the opposite wall.

“Look beyond the surface. You won’t believe your eyes” is the sales pitch for this multimedia installation at the North Melbourne Town Hall. The festival website also suggested visiting “Domov Gallery, adjacent to Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, and see the series of prints that demonstrate Andy Warhol’s fascination with The Last Supper.”  I haven’t heard of Domov Gallery before; it is a small white walled gallery next to the North Melbourne Town Hall with half a dozen small prints by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s Last Supper series are just another popular image copied by Warhol.

Catherine and I walked back through North Melbourne stopping to look at the Thread Den on Webbs Lane. Thread Den has local independent designer clothes and jewellery, along with vintage clothing for men and women; it also runs sewing classes and has children’s craft room. We went down Webbs Lane so that I could photograph some of the street art there and had a look at the exhibition in Famous When Dead – Urban Art Agenda #3, an exhibition of international stencil artists from Europe, Brazil, USA, Iran and Australia. We then bought some bargain priced meat at the Victoria Market (there are always some good deals around closing time) had a coffee and took the tram home.


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