This is the last weekend to catch the world-class Warhol Exhibit!
Andy Warhol: Life, Death and Beauty
– through January 19, 2014 at Beaux-Arts Mons (BAM) in Wallonia Belgium.
Don’t miss your chance to see more than 100 original Warhol artworks in this inaugural exhibition for the reopening of Beaux-Arts Mons. There’s no bigger art-star than Andy Warhol and this show provides a nice variety of his groundbreaking works, some rarely seen outside the USA and some from Belgian private collections. The security for this exhibition is a bit outrageous however. At some times there are more security personnel in a gallery than patrons. I realize that each piece could be worth millions, but having black-clad officers scurrying everywhere, with loud walkie-talkies squawking every few minutes, does not make for the most enjoyable atmosphere.
Yet this show is indeed enjoyable despite the distractions. Produced by The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and curated by Gianni Mercurio, the galleries in this show are broken up into 12 different sections.
After entering the museum and paying the very reasonable 9.00€ admission, the first room you enter focuses on the artist’s Self Portraits. Warhol was obsessed with his image and was most successful at branding himself like a product. Four small (facsimile) strips of photo-booth pictures begin the show. These little black & white images helped set the tone for Warhol’s work throughout his life. Along with the Polaroid pictures he was so fond of, (which are suspiciously absent from this exhibition,) these little, instant photos became a jumping off point for him and the stark style is visible in most of his portraits and self portraits.
Warhol Self-Portrait, 1963-1964 photobooth photograph 7 7/8 x 1 5/8 in. (20 x 4.1 cm.) – The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Many of the pieces in this exhibition are very typical of Warhol, the kind of work that made him so famous. But there are also some unique gems in the show that really stand out from the others. One such piece in the self-portraits section is a large canvas from 1978 which combines three different “poses” of Warhol’s face, like a triple-exposure photo. Along with wide strokes of easter-egg-type colors, this painting really feels as though it embodies the soul of Andy Warhol.
There are several other interesting self-portraits in this section including three smaller works from 1978. In two of the canvasses, Andy is posing with a skull, and in the third he is being choked by hands that come from outside the frame. These also hark back to the photo-booth-style pictures.
The majority of unexpected work lies in the Religion section of the show. Warhol’s work was highly influenced by his Catholic upbringing, especially his very early and very late works. There are several very beautiful yet simple early images of Madonna and Child such as this undated drawing with gold paint and collage elements depicting the Visitation of the Three Kings.
Another highlight in this room is a small colored drawing of Santa as if he were on a playing card.
And just two years before he died, Warhol embarked on an ambitious group of silkscreen print/collages of The Last Supper. The juxtaposition of torn shapes and colors against the faded black and white background print make this work stand out as a new artistic avenue for the artist.
The Death and Violence section of the exhibition includes some works from the infamous “Death and Disaster” series where Warhol used graphic images appropriated from newspapers. Also a very early drawing from 1954 titled “Dead Stop.
This room is dominated by a massive silver canvas of revolvers, possible the largest piece in the show.
While this room also has images of suicide, skulls, knives and the electric chair, ironically, it also holds some of the most beautiful works in the entire exhibition. There are ten different examples of Warhol’s famous Flower silkscreens with fluorescent paint, and also an original painting that inspired them from 1964-65. But one of the most surprising and delicate pieces in the show is an early butterfly illustration from a private collection. An ink and watercolor on paper from 1956. Unfortunately, due to the museum’s No Photography policy, I am unable to show you this image since, unlike the other images in this review, I was unable to find an example of it anywhere online.
So we’ll have to settle for a similar set of works.
Imagine an intricate butterfly such as this one on the left, only filled with smaller butterflies similar to the ones on the right. You wouldn’t realize it from this crude example, but this piece alone is worth the trip to see this show. The work is also signed simply “Warhol” in very lovely lettering. I really wish I could show it to you, but perhaps this will be the thing that brings you to the exhibition…
The next room is reserved for Andy’s Icons where we find examples of his most recognizable work. There are six different examples of the famous, multicolored Marilyn Monroe silkscreens from 1967, but a more intriguing piece is actually a much darker “Marilyn” from 1978.
Despite its darkness, this piece really sparkles and draws you closer to investigate the usage of black on black. It’s an overused phrase, but its brilliance really IS in its simplicity.
There are also more of the usual suspects in this room including Dollar Signs, A whole grid of blue Jackies, neon outlined portrayals of Lenin, and the obligatory Mao. Though there’s also a much nicer, larger, acrylic and ink painting of Mao from 1973 with swirling mixtures of green white and ochre.
It’s also here that you’ll find the “poster child” for this exhibition.
The Red Jackie can be seen on posters all over Belgium and there have even been a few of these flyers for the show adorning the exterior windows of the Belgian Prime Minister’s house, (I pass by his home on a regular basis.)
From Icons we move on to Portraits, which in Warhol’s case isn’t much different. He spent his life making people into icons, not least of all himself. There are many of his signature-style portraits in this room. Warhol used a Polaroid “Big Shot” camera to make little pictures of his subjects and used these as a basis for his large paintings and silkscreens. This later influenced the cover designs of the Interview Magazine he started in 1969 to follow his obsession with the cult of celebrity .
The faces of the famous fill this room, including those of actresses Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, designers Mario Borsato and Yves Saint Laurent, artists Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein and Joseph Beuys, etc… But several pieces do stand out in this crowd. There’s a small black on pink silkscreen of painter Robert Rauschenberg which is simple yet somehow captivating.
And this striking image of Armani from 1981.
This may not look like much on your screen, but this large acrylic painting is the only piece in the show in a protective case. That’s because it’s sprinkled with “diamond dust.” There’s debate about whether it is indeed real diamond dust on this painting because, after trying it, Warhol later switched to using ground glass in his paint because it was more sparkly.
At the end of the Portrait room there is a small room with seating to view an excerpt from the film “What’s Happening?” by Antonello Branca. This 1967 black and white movie includes interviews with Warhol and other artists such as Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. You can view a trailer for it here: What’s Happening?
Continuing upstairs to the second level of the exhibition, the designated themes get a bit more convoluted. There’s a small corner titled Consuming Pleasures, which features some of his more commercial work. There are graphic designs for Halston and the “Committee 2000” as well as two of his famous Soup Can silkscreen prints, though these are later works from 1968 which were actually commissioned by the Campbell’s Soup corporation.
Also in this room are several interesting pieces from Warhol’s series “Details of Renaissance Paintings.”
One of these screenprint on watercolor works, based on the famous Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, almost covers an entire wall. – There is also a lovely Warhol-ized representation of Venus.
This piece really combines the ideas of iconic image and iconic style.
On the other side of this room is a section called Altered Image which presents six large photographs of Andy Warhol by photographer Christopher Makos. You can see some of these photographs in this short video though there is an ad preceding it.
Just off this section is a room filled with “Silver Clouds,” an installation from the Warhol Museum Series. Originally made by Warhol for the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, this BAM version may be somewhat exciting for children, but it falls a bit short of instilling the Warhol glam experience. There are at least 18 shiny, foil, pillow-shaped helium balloons whirling about the otherwise empty room, but there are also black tape-covered wires leading around the floor to eight various ordinary, modern fans, and the obligatory emergency exit signage, along with the ubiquitous security guard at the entrance. Being immersed in billowing silver clouds sounds like a good idea, but the clumsy implementation here is a bit distracting.
After another video screening room for the eponymous film “Life, Death and Beauty” by Christina Clausen, comes the last Warhol room in the exhibition and it is definitely a melange. One wall offers a section titled Vanishing, which features ten large, vibrant silkscreen prints of endangered species animals from 1983.
These include wonderful representations of Lion, Tree Frog, Elephant, Panda, Bald Eagle, Bighorn Sheep, Rhino, Orangutan, and Zebra.
Also in this room are eight different neon and pastel-colored camouflage prints. You can now find similar patterns to these on the tight pants of many a nightclub-hopping lady.
But I wonder if Warhol was the first to experiment with changing the typical colors of camouflage? It is quite an absurdist statement when you think about it.
One of the last pieces in this show, and also one of this fanboy’s favorites, is an Apple Macintosh illustration from 1985.
I still remember the first time I saw the Macintosh come out of the box back in 1985. Most people don’t realize that Andy Warhol was one of the first artists to work on the advertising illustrations for this fledgling, world-changing machine. If interested, you can read this detailed account of The Night Warhol met Steve Jobs, by journalist David Sheff.
Following the final Warhol room is a nice group of works from BAM’s permanent collection. These selections from 1960-1980 meld nicely with the Warhol works. Artists include Pat Andrea, Pol Mara, Peter Saul, Michel Jasmin, and this very Pop piece by Valerio Adami.
As the exhibition comes to a close there is a room full of screen prints in a makeshift workshop by children and other visitors to the museum. And they have even provided a free “Popmaton” Photo Booth where patrons can have their pictures taken in four Warhol-style colors.
This was quite fun. All the images are shown on a large video screen outside the photo booth and visitors can download their photos afterward at: http://www.popmaton.com/
So, altogether a very rewarding exhibition. There are some pieces that are rarely exhibited and it’s always exciting to see the old favorites too. So if you have the chance, POP on over to BAM before it’s too late. (groan)
IF YOU GO:
Andy Warhol: Life Death and Beauty – From October 5, 2013 to January 19, 2014
Beaux-Arts Mons BAM, rue Neuve – 7000 Mons Phone: 0032 (0) 22.214.171.124
Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am-6pm
Entry = 9.00€