Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Andy Warhol Museum (Ron Mueck and Martin Klimas)

It's probably a coincidence that I visited the Andy Warhol Museum so soon after mentioning the artist in a blog post. I've been going about once a year since it opened in the early 1990's. For a brief period of time in my 20's, I actually worked in the museum gift shop (one of my co-workers was Maddy Warhola, -Andy's niece). It was a relaxing job, but I ran into some trouble with management. It was often very slow during the week, and to fill the time I worked my way through a Warhol biography. I learned a lot about his life and work, and felt that reading that book made me more qualified to sell stuff at the store. Unfortunately my bosses didn't feel the same, and someone tipped me off about their plans to let me go. I resented the decision. Surely they wanted knowledgeable staff behind the counter? In any event, I came to appreciate Warhol in a way I might never have otherwise.

Despite that less-than-thrilling experience with the institution, I have good feelings about the museum itself. When the place first opened I wondered how they were going to be able to keep it interesting. Most people know how much artwork Warhol and his Factory produced, but much of it is very similar in tone and content. Still at any one point in time, the museum can only show a small portion of its collection. So that allows some variability over the years. There is also an entire floor devoted to his "time capsules", where the contents of sealed cardboard boxes are displayed under glass as they are opened. There's something rather exciting about the project. I once had the opportunity to catalog the contents of a capsule. I was probably the third or fourth person to hold those items since Andy put them away. I also got to break down a Basquiat show, and hold his slippers and paints in my hands.

The Warhol Museum's practice of exhibiting other modern artists is another factor that keeps repeated visits lively. Of course there have been many shows with folks who either collaborated directly with Warhol, or otherwise had contact with him in New York City over the years. Besides Basquiat, I have seen work by Keith Haring, Francisco Clemente, Kenny Scharf and Julian Schnabel. And the curators don't limit themselves to his contemporaries. Instead they include a wide range of current creators who have been somehow influenced by Warhol. Included in this category have been Grayson Perry, Bruce Naumann, Henry Darger, Glenn Ligon, and Patti Smith. Somehow the museum retains a freshness that rewards habitu├ęs. They even feature social events that include hip bands and films.

So I found myself back again for the closing weekend of a current exhibition. There has been a lot of hype around town regarding the inclusion of several Ron Mueck pieces at the museum. Mueck is an Australian hyperrealist sculptor who uses silicone and other mixed media to create absurdly scaled reproductions of naked and partially covered human beings. Some of the pieces in the Warhol show were monstrously large (including a newborn baby, complete with umbilical cord, and a middle-aged woman reclining in bed), and others were downscaled to about 1/4th of normal size. They are remarkably accessible and don't require any particular knowledge of the art world to appreciate. As a result they are immensely popular. No doubt it was these pieces that attracted the large crowds last Friday evening.

But in another section of the building I discovered a small collection of photographic enlargements by Martin Klimas. This exhibition apparently opened on March 22 (in conjunction with NCECA), and runs until June 1, 2008. Despite the fact that it hasn't been widely publicized as a high-profile attraction, I recommend seeing this while it's still in town. Klimas is a German photographer who works with high-speed film. He drops ceramic figurines in a completely dark studio. The sound of them hitting a hard surface triggers a burst of light for a fraction of a second, and the object's initial fracture is captured in wondrously exquisite detail. The movement implicit in these stills is palpable, yet they somehow retain the characteristics of the classic still life composition. It's impressive work that justifies either a first-time visit or another happy return.

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Blogger jefg99 said...

I agree with your assessment of the Warhol, in that they make it interesting enough to return periodically. Last weekend was my third time there, and I'm not failed to be intrigued. I was only disappointed in not being able to take photos, and that restriction was due to the Mueck exhibit being there.
That was a display that sticks in ones memory. Re your favorite, it did go through my mind to take my old 22 out of storage and start shooting at some old dishes. I found it interesting that each shot was triggered by a noise detector; very creative idea. Nah, I think I'll stick to tossing my camera in the air, which is dangerous enough.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

If there was one thing that unified the Mueck and Klimas exhibitions, its their starting point- they both seem to have come at their artwork through a technological perspective. I did think Klimas was more conceptually intriguing though.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

2:49 PM  

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