x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A glimpse inside the Warhol machine

Gone but not forgotten, Andy Warhol continues to be one of the most exhibited modern artists in the world.His silk screens can be seen in Dubai starting tomorrow.

Andy Warhol still demands the attention of art lovers everywhere.
Andy Warhol still demands the attention of art lovers everywhere.

Find yourself on the website for the Andy Warhol Museum and you might note there is a list of the exhibitions it has dispatched across the world since opening in 1994. Located in Pittsburgh, where Warhol was born in 1928, it is the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single artist, and has loaned its colourful contents to places as disparate as Russia, Japan and Mexico, along with other spots in Europe, America and Canada. Now, several of his silk screens will be on show in Dubai from tomorrow at the B_asement Gallery.

More than 22 years after his death at 58, it seems the world is far from forgetting the prolific producer of Campbell's soup can paintings, the man so often referred to as the father of the pop art movement. It's an ironic longevity, really, given his famous 1968 statement: "In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes." But his legacy doesn't stop at Coca-Cola bottles and Marilyn Monroe. He was a frantic, cross-medium artist, churning out not only silk screens, but films, books, sculptures and performance art, all the while remaining a New York personality at the centre of both Studio 54 and his own social circle, which gathered at his studios, referred to as The Factory.

Earlier this year, London's Hayward Gallery hosted several of his films in an exhibition called Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms (a title borrowed from the novel of Warhol's peer Truman Capote), a travelling show that has previously been on display in Amsterdam and Stockholm. Between 1963 and 1968, Warhol shot more than 60 films, though most are not the blockbusting kind. Sleep is a six-hour reel of the poet John Giorno simply sleeping. Empire offers a more generous eight hours of the Empire State building at dusk, and Eat is a 45-minute study of a man solemnly working his way through a mushroom. "Has ever an artist churned out so much boring and banal work, and in such incredibly vast quantities, as Warhol?" wondered The Observer critic Rachel Cooke after visiting the exhibition.

Then there was Warhol's involvement in the music scene, his close association with The Velvet Underground and his artwork for musicians such as The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Aretha Franklin. All of this came before his commercially published books, the creation of his magazine Interview, his art installations, audio recordings, television shows and absorption with fashion and photography. There were time capsules, too. By the end of his life, he had created 610 dated and sealed boxes of material from his everyday life. They are now being sifted through by researchers at the Pittsburgh museum.

Perhaps their contents will reveal more about Warhol the man, as opposed to Warhol the artist. He was something of an enigma, given to seemingly throwaway statements that others gamely tried to find a depth to. "I am a deeply superficial person," he once remarked. "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface... there's nothing behind it." At face value, of course, he was a celebrated social figure. But behind the facade, he had a deep sense of insecurity. Born to poor, first-generation Slovakian immigrants, at age eight he was struck down by St Vitus' dance, a disease of the nervous system that causes uncontrollable shaking and instilled in Warhol a lifelong hypochondria and fear of hospitals. As an adult, he would visibly recoil whenever somebody attempted to shake his hand.

His father died when Warhol was 13, instilling him further with a fear of death. Two years later, his mother developed colon cancer. Then, in 1968, two days before the Robert Kennedy shooting, Warhol was shot at by a woman called Valerie Solanas, an acquaintance who bore him a grudge for not returning her prospective film script. The three bullets struck several vital organs and punctured both lungs. However, it was often said that the more lasting damage to Warhol was mental, further blurring his distorted sense of reality. "Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half there than all there. I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life," he remarked after the shooting, before adding: "Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television."

Andy Warhol in Print runs at the B_asement Gallery in Dubai from tomorrow until July 11 (www.basementdubai.com).