Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warhol in Brisbane

Here is an article from Andrew Paul Wood:

It's the holiday season, and Christchurch is glutted with a surfeit of mediocre stock and storeroom shows, so just for a change I went to Brisbane, Queensland, for the opening of their amazing Andy Warhol survey show.

Brisbane, the Big Pineapple, has very much an 'instant city' feeling of newness and energy to it – a bit like Dallas or Huston – the sort of thing that is only achievable when lots of money, energy and enthusiasm are chucked at it. For kiwis it's a big city without a stick up its bum. Fortunately in the last ten years Bris-vegas has really hoisted up its cultural socks and chucked it at the arts as well. Although, one notes, they lack for some of the sartorial niceties: the formal jandal, anyone? Dress shorts? And people kept earnestly smiling and being friendly – which as a kiwi I am simply not used to (that and being warm) – although admittedly most of them assumed I was British or Interstate, so shhh.

People who should know better say and write a whole bunch of crap about Warhol – mainly because he was so good at saying nothing and concealing himself Wizard of Oz-like behind banal subjects and mechanical process that anyone can read any agenda into him. Americans – nation of Oprah, self promotion and high esteem - are particularly bad for over-intellectualising the silver ghost, as if still surprised (or embarrassed) that their culture managed to produce someone so world-shakingly disengaged. Really he was an arbitrary cultural magpie with a designer's eye and an intuition for the zeitgeist – but that makes for thin catalogues. Nature and intellectuals abhor a vacuum.

Once you get past the Warhol industry – essentially the surviving sycophants that fawned on him when he lived. Warhol like the professor in Don DeLillo's White Noise who is obsessed with packaging. In fact, the best approach is to not read anything about him before seeing the show (and you must see this show). Don't even read this, just go and look. As the man himself said, "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." It was the smartest thing he ever said.

The exhibition consists of over 300 works from the collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (Warhol's birthplace) and is one of the largest and most comprehensive Warhol surveys ever mounted.

The show begins with Warhol's drawings of shoes (foot-fetishist that he was), boys (ditto), dollar bills (ditto ditto) and newspapers, deftly combining the sinuousness of Jean Cocteau with the jittery blotchiness of cartoonist Ben Shahn – more or less as he laboriously copied comic books to pass the time as a convalescent child (Warhol, rather amazingly, contracted chorea – St Vitus' Dance – as a boy) with an obsessively over-protecting mother. Mrs Warhola's handwriting misspelled copperplate appears in many of her son's works, and she lived with him until 1971 – by which time we can only assume she had given up on him getting married.

Paralleling developments in commercial advertising design, the perky-delicate commercial-style drawings gave way to photography and screen-printing, introducing the familiar images of Campbell's soupcans and celebs.

These candy-coloured antidotes to Cold War paranoia, ephemeral as fashion, turned Marilyn, Jackie and Elvis into tragicomic drag queens and Byzantine icons, raised to an immortal Olympus. There are also the films – which are far more interesting in concept than to sit through.

In 1968, suspiciously almost two months exactly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Warhol was shot by bonkers man-hater in sensible shoes Valerie Solanas. She said she did this because he had too much control over her life. This is almost certainly true – most of the inmates of the Factory only existed as long as they were reflected in the blank stare of the increasingly corpse-like Warhol, fawning for the little permissions and familiarities that positioned them in the flunky hierarchy.

Warhol's production after that date is grouped in this exhibition as the 'late works' – playful flirtations with Abstract Expressionist smears worked into dollar signs, corporate logos and self-portraits. Like Picasso's late drawings, these are often maligned as being weaker that the '60s stuff. Not true. These late works in many ways perhaps reflect a new depth for Warhol – a direct attack of the pretensions of Abstract Expressionism through paintings 'of' Rorschach tests and camouflage patterns – figurative images of abstract forms. Please go to this show. Fortunately it will be around for longer than fifteen minutes.

Andy Warhol is at Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Queensland – it's only Australian venue – until March 30 2008. Andrew Paul Wood travelled to Brisbane courtesy of Tourism Queensland, Brisbane Marketing, Qantas and the Mercure Hotel Brisbane.

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