Having seen the big Andy Warhol Retrospective show in Los Angeles in 2002, I had thought I was Warholed out. I had seen plenty of his invigorating, breakthrough pop art of the early 1960s — turning both the banality (consumer-product packaging) and horror (electric chairs, Kennedy-assassination photos) of Mad Men-era modern life into edgy art that confounded us even as we found it attractive. But enough.
Yet Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms at Columbus’ Wexner Center for the Arts surprised me. It not only makes Warhol fresh again, but also in some ways is far more exciting than the more prim-and-proper 2002 show, even though it has less of his classic artwork. It has important examples of his art, but is vividly about his life and times. And with a life and times like Warhol’s, there’s plenty to maintain interest. (He died in 1987.)
It’s especially interesting to fans of Pop music — Other Voices, Other Rooms sometimes seems like a multimedia version of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” the 1972 hit about the unusual denizens of Warhol’s 1960s demimonde.
That success is the result of the show’s fantastic installation, inspired by Warhol’s own multimedia events like the Exploding Plastic Inevitable traveling happening of the early 1960s.
A Berlin firm, chezweitz & roseapple, designed the Wexner layout as it did the show’s two European venues, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.
Other Voices, Other Rooms, which is on view through Feb. 15, 2009, borrows its title from a book by one of Warhol’s early heroes, Truman Capote. All the facets of Warhol’s career and personality — beyond superstar visual artist — are offered in the show: advertisingworld graphic illustrator, celebrity, filmmaker, gay man, loving son, photographer, talk-show host, eavesdropper on New York society, magazine publisher and more.
In the center of the first gallery are Warhol’s “screen tests,” short, silent black-and-white films he made of everyone who visited his headquarters, which he dubbed The Factory. Along the side, built into the wall like tiny booths at Max’s Kansas City, are alcoves where you can listen to tape-recorded conversations — Warhol seemed to preserve everything.
The hallway linking the galleries is lined with video screens for watching tapes of various filmed guest visits to Warhol’s Factory — Liza Minnelli jokes while preparing for a photo shoot; David Bowie looking like Lauren Bacall praises British singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers.
Further spaces reveal Warhol’s films — many of them play in one big room — and the various TV series he made in the 1980s for Manhattan Cable, Madison Square Garden (Cable) Network and MTV. At first dedicated to other visual artists, like Larry Rivers and David Hockney, these TV shows broadened to include everyone from The Ramones to Ian McKellan. In one fascinating episode, fashion mistress Diana Vreeland recalled visiting the “Mona Lisa” as a schoolgirl the day before it was stolen on Aug. 21, 1911.
One of the most compelling items is the screaming headline from a June 4, 1968, New York tabloid that said Warhol had been critically shot by would-be assassin Valerie Solanas. In a small column on the same page is a news report advancing the California Democratic primary that day — Robert Kennedy against Eugene McCarthy. Tumultuous times, the 1960s. Full of upheaval. Warhol’s times, as much as anyone’s.
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