Saturday, May 31, 2008

Warhol Through the Eyes of Babes.

Over the years I have made numerous trips to the Andy Warhol Museum. It's certainly one of the most unique features of Pittsburgh, and makes an interesting destination for repeat visits. I've written fairly recently about the Ron Mueck and Martin Klimas exhibitions that came through earlier this year. On that trip I was joined by my father, his wife, M. and Baby E. In fact I've taken all kinds of folks to see the place. Whenever someone comes in from out-of-town, I make it a point to suggest a visit. I enjoy accompanying them through the galleries, checking out temporary holdings, and sharing my knowledge and opinions of Warhol and his work. It doesn't take a lot of persuasion to get me to return again and again.

So when the prospect of chaperoning a bunch of kids from the exurbs came up, I decided that it would likely be fun. I knew that a trip to the big city for many of these teens would be a special treat, and I wanted to experience their reactions. As we made our way off the highway and into the North Side, everyone got really quiet as they stared wide-eyed through the windows. I heard one girl tentatively ask, "Is this the ghetto?" I found the inquiry naively sweet and a bit pathetic. How is it that people can reach adolescence without knowing the extent of poverty that exists only a short car ride away from their homes? I had fun teasing the kids, telling them to keep their heads low so they wouldn't be shot in a drive-by.

I actually repeated the story as I gave a quick manly hug to my (black) friend who was working the ticket counter in the lobby of the museum. He rolled his eyes and took a quick look at the group I was with, marveling at the incongruity of my presence. Everyone filed into the little theater off to the side, and waited for the introduction from the educational staff. They listened to the very simple rules as if they had never been to any cultural institution in their lives. Then about half of them received new name tags to replace the ones they had either lost or already thrown away, and everyone divided into their respective color-coded subgroups. I was put in charge of fifteen of them, and we headed off with our guide.

It wasn't hard to identify the trouble-makers in my charge. There were only five boys, and one trio immediately drew attention. The docent had to shush them repeatedly within the first five minutes of her lectures. I also noticed that they had some desperate compulsion to touch things that they shouldn't- including valuable works of art. We had a look around the delicate works of L.A.-native Glenn Kaino. His stuff is intricate and very fragile, and I felt a surge of dread as I watched the kids carelessly flit around the gallery. Predictably I caught one of the boys poking at a mechanism animating a particularly complex installation. Later I winced as the guide gave her assent to the group's request to grab some rolled-up posters that were offered free to patrons.

Besides feeling a brief moment of panic as I watched an uncoordinated teen stumble to his feet and almost carom into an Elvis silkscreen, I managed to keep calm. The girls were extraordinarily well behaved, and acted like they were interested. But the boys constantly threatened mayhem. They got a bit crazy in the Silver Cloud/Pillow room, but by that point I expected worse. The most embarrassing thing of all was the oft-stated contention of one particularly unimpressed kid, who kept repeating loudly, "How is this art? I could do that!" The thing is that this is a common response to Warhol, even among adults who are supposed to have an element of sophistication. The only query with more frequency is "Was Andy Warhol gay?"

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Blogger jefg99 said...

Thanks for the commentary. It's as if I was there visiting with the group. Having visited the museum several times, I could feel their presence in each room. I can only imagine the mayhem in the balloon room, but there is certainly far greater risk of damage elsewhere.

Once again, congratulations on exposing the kids to new ideas (or, old ideas in a new setting for them).

Lastly, they should all be forced to do some form of charity work in Pittsburgh. They (and most of us) really have no idea how others live.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Everyone should spend at least one afternoon working in a soup kitchen in a depressed urban area. It's definitely eye-opening.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't expose my kids to a gay artist at such a young age!

Keep an eye out and slap him if he likes the Teletubbies. Normal boys watch South Park.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

anonymouse wrote:

"I wouldn't expose my kids to a gay artist at such a young age!"

Oh, how naively droll of you... of course my young friend, there is NO other TYPE of ARTIST.

6:11 PM  

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