Friday, June 24, 2011

ArtScene: Warhol Live Curators' Conversation Sheds Light

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 4:34 PM

Self Portrait, Andy Warhol
  • "Self Portrait," Andy Warhol

Warhol Live opened today at The Frist Center, and this afternoon Frist curator Mark Scala led a conversation between the exhibition's co-curators, Stéphane Aquin and Matt Wrbican. The conversation was fascinating, but two particular bits of information stand out as real spotlights onto Warhol as a man, shedding tons of insight onto his oeuvre:

1. The loopy handwriting that dominated his early graphic work and continued even into his career as a fine artist — that famously flowery handstyle that was constantly fluctuating between thin and thick lines — was actually his mother Julia's. She even signed some of his canvases.

2. Warhol's IQ was reportedly 104. That's just a hair above average. No matter how much of a Warhol fan you are, it's hard not to get a bit queasy when critics wax poetic about the man as a genius who single-handedly navigated the art world into the modern age. It's much more complicated than that, and in some ways, much simpler. I love the idea of Warhol being the art world's Forrest Gump, being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, and being savvy enough to wedge himself into the genius-shaped hole that was waiting for him.

Part of the reason that the Frist's exhibit is so successful is that — as its exhibition title suggests — it brings Andy Warhol to life. Blockbuster prints like the self-portraits, the Campbell's soup cans, the Marilyns and the Double-Elvises are positioned next to Polaroids of Warhol with the Lennons and the Stones, treasures from Warhol's archives like an autographed photo of Shirley Temple, installations that replicate the avant-garde performances and club-going nightlife Warhol was obsessed with (one bit of signage quotes Warhol saying, “I've got Social Disease: I have to go out every night”), a plethora of record covers, and (my personal favorite) a wig that Warhol's estate lent to David Bowie for his role in Basquiat. It positions Warhol on a pedestal, to be sure — but in his life Warhol placed himself on a pedestal as well, and so there is no other place where he so naturally belongs. That's why the curators' conversation was so interesting: It brought that pedestal down to earth, where being an art world leader isn't so different from being kind of a momma's boy whose genius had nothing to do with being smart.

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