Regarding Warhol: Showcasing an original artist

Recently, The Eye talked to Ian Alteveer, curator at the current Metropolitan Museum of Art, about the museum’s current exhibit, “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years.” On Wednesday night from 7-10 p.m., the museum is hosting an event for college students, "Warhol's Factory at the Met," which will include a private tour of the exhibit, a DJ, and refreshments. RSVP is required, and it's 1960s and 1970s themed.

How were the five thematic sections of the exhibit determined?

The exhibition was originally conceived by curator Mark Rosenthal, adjunct curator affiliated with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Metropolitan was to be the second venue of a tour of the show. Detroit went through a budget crisis in 2008-2009 and cancelled the exhibition. The Metropolitan decided to continue with the show and to work with Mark to develop it for display here. The themes generally follow Mr. Rosenthal’s initial construction and represent various techniques, mediums, subjects, and eras; they also act as an umbrella that covers the range of impact that Warhol has had on contemporary art.

Are there any pieces that span two or more themes? If so, how are they displayed in the exhibit?

A great example of that would be the two portraits of Marilyn Monroe that are displayed at the beginning of section 2, “Portraiture: Celebrity and Power”: “Twenty Marilyns” of 1962 and “Turquoise Marilyn” of 1964. Those paintings directly follow a number of Warhol’s so-called Disaster paintings, “Ambulance Disaster” of 1963–64 and “Orange Disaster #5” of 1963, which features electric chairs. All of these, including the Marilyns, were originally part of a theoretical group Warhol called “Death in America.” If you remember, Marilyn dies in 1962, and Warhol immediately begins to use her as a subject after her tragic demise; 1963 was the last year New York State used the electric chair, and the one depicted in Orange Disaster #5 happens to be the one from Sing-Sing—the penitentiary in Ossining, New York. His work was always very timely. After Marilyn’s death, her celebrity cult had only just begun. His portraits look very deeply at the darker side of that fame.

How was it determined that the artists exhibited chose to look to Andy Warhol’s work for inspiration?

I think that there is so many different ways to answer that because there is not always a direct influence; sometimes it is more of a reaction to Warhol’s art. What we discovered was that he is so incredibly ubiquitous. When the curatorial team involved with the exhibition met to discuss things—which was often—it seemed that one of us had just seen tattoo of Warhol’s Marilyn painting on someone passing on the streets, or that we had just walked by a window display of soup cans. He saturates the culture and artists react to that. They react to his lasting power. It could be as direct as image of Coca Cola on ancient Chinese pot, or could be as indirect as Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy pile.

What is the main takeaway that visitors should expect to get from the exhibit?

There are just so many different ways to approach the show and to look at it; one could come and just look at the 50 Warhol works in it, and leave with a marvelous idea of how Warhol worked as an artist. A visitor could also go for the really excellent works from another particular artist—there are a number of examples of works by Jeff Koons, or Robert Gober, or Gerhard Richter. Another way would just be to see if one could make links between the sections. One of my favorite things about the show is this idea of formal experimentation. Warhol himself was interested in such different media: film, wallpaper, silver foil, helium-filled balloons, copper paint, and even urine. Many other artists in the show represent that experimentation through films, Chanel shopping bags, candy, wallpaper, and the like. It is a form of formal invention that the visitor can experience and react to in the same way that the artists reacted to Warhol’s original works.


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