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 Andy Warhol, Gretchen Bender, Tate Liverpool
Transmitting Andy Warhol - Tate Liverpool - ArtLyst Article image

Transmitting Andy Warhol - Tate Liverpool

24-11-2014
 
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Transmitting Andy Warhol is the first solo exhibition of Warhol work in the north of England and brings together more than 100 works, across a range of media with major paintings to explore Warhol experiments with mass-produced imagery, which he ‘transmitted’ back into the public realm. The works will be exhibited alongside Gretchen Bender. Also running concurrently on the ground floor Wolfson Gallery is The Serving Library to form Tate Liverpool’s autumn/winter season. Entitled, Making Things Public, visitors will explore how artists from different generations have responded to and experimented with the pervasive influence of mass and broadcast media.

The exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This autumn Tate Liverpool presents 'The Serving Library', including a collection of art works, artefacts, books and other materials, it will ask visitors to reconsider the traditional role of the library.

Part One

Transmitting Andy Warhol is one of the most enigmatic exhibitions I have seen at the Tate this year. Exploring how the artist embraced the mass mediums of his time – from publishing and film to music and broadcast – to transmit his ideas to as many people as possible. I did not leave the exhibition disappointed.

As much as I am aware of and admire many his iconic pieces, it was an unexpected surprise to discover his series of drawings and fashion illustrations. Not expecting to see early works like this, they reminded me of the very illustrations that I loved and were inspired by as a child. It is interesting to discover his immersion in glamour and advertising, particularly for 'Harpers Bizarre' between 1950 and 1960. Many companies and clients would loan him the item they were marketing and he would draw it from life.

Up until the early 1960s, Warhol had earned his living as a highly sought after graphic artist; many of the techniques he became famous for, such as blotted-line drawing and silkscreen painting, these were a direct transfer from his time in the commercial sector. This can take you a bit by surprise as you see another side to Warhol's work through drawings of fashion for magazines and edgy illustrations for the front covers of books and bright Pop images of celebrities for LP Covers. His drawing was brilliant and reminded me in some ways of David Hockney's earlier figurative style.

As you enter the room of Andy Warhol's artwork, you see the giant 'Marilyn Diptych', 1962 and 'Campbell's Soup', 1 1968, 'Three Brillo Soap Pad Boxes', 1964 -68, and a strange Dance Diagram (1) \Fox Trot, 1962. I am quite drawn to the dance diagram. The first thing that comes to mind is my daughters doing a dance on a musical dance mat when they were children. This work is one of seven paintings in Warhol's Dance Diagram series from the early 1960s. For this series, Warhol reproduced “ready-made” diagrams of ballroom dance steps onto canvas and displayed them on the floor. Many of Warhol's artworks are magnified in this way so that they become enlarged versions of their original selves, therefore putting them into a new context.

Warhol was an artist who embraced everything around him and incorporated mass media and commercial art into his own art, not only making it into fine art, but also embracing commercial art - as art in its own right. He took every angle and experimented but more than this he opens your eyes to what is art. He takes high and low brow art to their extremes and forces us to reconsider our preconceived judgements of what art is. In a time when art was coming out of post war abstract expressionism, new technology and further visual media was coming forward. Warhol stepped into this new medium with unsurprising relish, continuing to debunk fine art, and also manage to retain and progress with his own individual style.

The artist's film, 'Empire' (1964) is a powerful and captivating piece. It is a black-and-white silent film consisting of eight hours and five minutes of continuous slow motion footage of the Empire State Building in New York City. It reminds me of films I have seen since, that have taken this idea on board and filmed other ideas in similar ways over periods of time focusing on the one object. For a moment you are in awe at these images that changed the world of art. Here they are in front of you. It is quite exciting to see the Marilyn image.

My daughter stood in front of it and I took her picture at the press preview. We were in many ways reflecting this love of media, the works transmitting themselves through us so that we were now becoming involved in that same transmission, re-creating, a constant cycle of invention and reinvention. becoming entwined and reclaiming this idea of transmission via Warhol which he loved to do.

Transmitting Andy Warhol is shown alongside the exhibition by American multimedia artist Gretchen Bender (1951–2004). Presenting the first solo exhibition of the artist’s work in the UK to date, and will showcase a selection of her pioneering multimedia installations. Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman were her peers. The interesting dialogue between Andy Warhol and (Gretchen Bender, who responded to corporate mass media of the eighties) is that ''Gretchen Bender viewed mass media and consumerism as ''immoral consumerism''. She was from the generation of early 1980s Pictures artists, which included Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Jack Goldstein, Laurie Simmons and Richard Prince. These artists mixed elements of conceptual art and Pop Art using images from popular culture to examine its powerful codes; a theme throughout her work is the contrast between the power of corporations and technology with the struggle of individual human beings. The artist's work Total Recall, was an eight-channel installation with 24 TV monitors and two rear projections that combined corporate logos from TV commercials, computer-generated forms by Amber Denker, doctored clips from Salvador with a post-punk soundtrack by Stuart Argabright. “Bender was part of a generation that attempted to address the mass media’s use of images to influence, by using the same techniques to subvert the collective consensus”

This, I feel is an interesting contrast to Warhol's celebration of media and consumerism. I think, while we are now in a time when we are so encompassed by media, it feels as though it could be time for another evaluation. It is fascinating to see the responses by these two contrasting artists who are using consumerism and media to convey different messages and ideas. I am intrigued by Warhol, not so much because he enjoyed using consumerist culture in his art which was in many ways celebrating consumerist culture, but more because he was expanding the parameters of art by asking questions about what constitutes art in terms of a visual image; whereas I feel Bender is making us question how consumerism affects us in society. Constantly questioning the role of art and its message, Warhol knew how to make people question its role also. He makes us aware that the banal every day things are all encompassed in our vision of how we relate and interpret the world around us; few things are regarded beneath value of worth or interest.

As you enter the exhibition, Transmitting Andy Warhol, it is difficult not to walk straight towards the music in one room. The hypnotic beat and sound of The Velvet Underground pulled me in that direction. There is a voyeuristic angle to Warhol's work but one that looks at people as part of the art, interacting with the idea that we are all in some way playing our part in the cycle of art and culture. 'The Exploding Plastic Inevitable', sometimes simply called Plastic Inevitable or EPI. Andy Warhol's spectacular presentation of the travelling multi-media spectacle, was a series of multimedia events organised by Andy Warhol between 1966 and 1967, featuring musical performances by The Velvet Underground and Nico as well as screenings of Warhol's films, dancing and performances by regulars of Warhol's Factory. The people are beautiful and interesting in this audio-visual barrage which introduced rock and roll to the ‘total art-work’. As you walk into this environment it has a way of pulling you in, inviting and hypnotising you along with the music.

People filmed in a number of different ways within the same frame are also interesting and invite us to think about persona, the way we perceive ourselves and the way we perceive others, the way we perceive speech, a person who addresses us and a person who does not address us. Warhol looks at the idea of voyeurism from a number of interesting angles. His film Outer and Inner Space (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick, Warhol depicts her confessional portrait as she talks about herself to us directly, and at the same time he films her objectively.

The film is fascinating. It is thought to be the first documented use of videotape by an artist, and I find myself wondering which clip I find more interesting if not both. EPI surrounds you and invites you into the room so that you become part of this scene. It is almost as if this is the way we see a room in parts and pieces as we rarely see the whole. It is a representation of our own reality, bits and parts of bodies, conversations all taking place at the same time. Emphasis is put on the smaller of what is perceived as the more banal and 'uninteresting' aspects of human behaviour. I found this really fascinating.

In one part of EPI, Edie Sedgwick is looking downwards. She seems vague, sitting there quietly and very still. I found myself becoming very drawn towards this image. There is something almost sacred about the way Warhol films people. Nico was also just gazing here and there. These were all just ordinary human responses but because we do not normally pay attention to these things they become more interesting as Warhol has made them prominent and drawn our focus to these aspects of human behaviour. This was my favourite part of the exhibition. It really is an experience and takes you, not only back to this time but draws parallels with similar situations in your own life perhaps when you used to party all night and meet unusual and interesting people. It is narcissistic, but it is very real, and part of discovering what it is like to be a young person discovering the world and the culture around them.

Not only did Warhol design the now-iconic cover art for their eponymous debut release', The Velvet Underground & Nico but he left an unforgettable mark on the careers of VU founder members John Cale and Lou Reed. Andy Warhol's art for the 1967 album 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' features the famous peel-off banana. Many of the Rolling Stones albums such as Sticky Fingers were also designed by Andy Warhol. His attitude to art was that it belonged to the people and involved everyone. I was interested in some of Warhol's artworks that were simply adverts from a newspaper mounted and framed as if they were historical artefacts, and so clever in that now of course they are! Andy Warhol went beyond what people expected of art in a time. Many of his concepts were a reflection, and inspired by aspects of the Dada movement.

For some, Pop art wasn’t art at all; more passing, shallow novelty, an attitude that still remains with many people when it comes to deciding what is good and bad art. The thing I love about Warhol is he went beyond good art and like Marcel Duchamp, he made the ordinary every day object a matter of interest. Warhol received support from Marcel Duchamp who said: ‘If you take a Campbell soup can and repeat it 50 times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is that concept that wants to put 50 Campbell soup cans on a canvas.’ Their mutual respect led to Duchamp, at 78, sitting for a Warhol Screen Test, (a silent filmed portrait). The exhibition is well worth seeing; Andy Warhol, a genius of our time.

Part Two

Walking into the exhibition room at the Tate Liverpool art gallery , I was blown away by the sheer size of Andy Warhol artworks , as one of the greatest modern artists of all time, his work is everywhere today in modern culture, so I am very familiar with his work but seeing the art in its full glory is breathtaking and some of the pictures are much bigger than I imagined.

The first picture that catches my eye is of course the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe. I love this picture and its very surreal seeing it in person. Andy never gave this painting a title which I think he did on purpose as the picture speaks for itself it is just 'Marilyn'. Other paintings that I loved were the huge purple flowers on the wall, Flowers (Large Flowers), 1964-1965, Gun, 1981 and Andy Warhol Dollar Sign 1982.

Moving along in the exhibition there is a video room where Andy's short films are displayed on every wall playing continuously. Most of them were filmed in his factory and are very abstract, starring some of Andy's famous muses such as Edie Sedgwick and Nico. With all these films playing its a very strange experience, on one wall will be someone close up not speaking at all, and on another one someone casually smoking a cigarette not speaking to the camera. Andy's films are very artistic and very different to his art works, the way his artworks are so precise and clean but his films are so abstract and different although I think he wanted them to be linked together .

One of the things I found really interesting was that Andy used to be an illustrator and designed album covers for many famous musicians such as John Lennon's album 'Menlove avenue', his first solo release named after the street he grew up in, Debbie Harry , The Rolling Stones and David Bowie , many of these album covers are seen today but not many people know that they are works by Andy Warhol. As well as album covers, Andy illustrated for a number of magazines and books. I find his illustrations very reflective of his style of work; some are quite childlike but very refined and detailed at the same time .

Overall I would recommend anyone who loves pop culture, music or art to come and see this exhibition. By the end of it I was wanting to own an original Warhol piece I was that impressed. I don't feel any of the pictures you see online or in books do the real quality size and detail of the artworks justice.

Andy reflected on everyday objects and consumerism in his art, the things that people saw, Andy saw in a different way and portrayed them to us in a way that was fun , colourful and relevant to their time as well as our own.

Transmitting Andy Warhol - Tate Liverpool - until 8 February 2014

Words: part one: Alice Lenkiewicz, part two: Stazia Morrill © Artlyst 2014 photo Alice Lenkiewicz all rights reserved


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