In: exhibition

Yes, here is another Andy Warhol exhibition. In this busiest month for the Paris art scene, the modern art museum of Paris (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) has launched a new exhibition, “Warhol Unlimited”. There are over 200 works, highlighted by the rare showing of Shadows (1978-79), which is being shown in its entirety for the first time in Europe.

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The first Andy Warhol exhibition I went to was “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” in Hong Kong in the end of 2012. It was a touring exhibition started that year – 25 years after Warhol’s death. That retrospective was very comprehensive, exhibiting over 300 works of Andy Warhol – the largest ever collection; including paintings, photographs, screen prints, drawings, installations and sculptures. The   exhibition was very impressive as it showed a great deal of this star artist’s life and art. Quite different from that, the current “Warhol Unlimited” focuses on exploring the serial side and the repetitive nature of Warhol’s art.

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The Flowers series is quite appealing as various sized and coloured prints of flowers are placed at different heights on the wall. They all look like flat and simple decorative paintings. Despite being in different colours and sizes, they look very alike and it may not be easy for you to pick your favourite if you have to. It is said that Flowers indicates Warhol’s utopian dream to make all paintings interchangeable so that “nobody thinks they have a better painting or a worse painting.” It recalls one of Marcel Duchamp’s famous quotes that “it doesn’t matter whether taste is good or bad, because it is always good for some and bad for others. Whatever the quality, it is always taste.” The commonality between both artists lies in their desire to subvert established standards and modes of perception of art throughout their lifetime, which as a result, has reshaped modern art and even art in our time, and how we perceive art nowadays.

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One exhibition room is painted all in silver, replicating Warhol’s studio in New York City, which is often referred to as the Silver Factory. This recalls the nothingness in Warhol’s art as he explained that he chose the silver colour based on its capacity to muffle and dissolve its environment.

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The final part of the exhibition is dedicated to the most anticipated piece, the ensemble of Shadows (1978-79). It consists of 102 silkscreened canvases of 17 different colours, totals over 130 meters in length and stretches across the whole large exhibition room. You cannot view the whole piece all at once but you have to walk around to see all of it. In this way, Warhol aimed at disrupting our spatial and temporal perception of paintings; and thus making his art unlimited, as suggested by the title of the exhibition. While gazing at only one single canvas of Shadows, you might feel its undertones of death and misery. Intriguingly, if you keep walking around and grasp the repetitive image altogether, the feeling fades away and what remains is abstract. As with Warhol’s other series, Shadows’ excessive repetition turns the inherent quality of the subjects into nothingness.

Then, you might have wondered: Why Andy Warhol again? Why is he the “King of Pop Art”? Why is pop art still everywhere almost thirty years after his death? Follow us and wait to check out my next post to see what pop art is and why it is so pop and “unlimited”!

It’s probably necessary to let you in on my state of being before describing my reaction to the current display at The Photographers Gallery in London. Prior to my visit, I had donated my tenth pint of blood, my deca-donation if you like. This is no mean feat when you’ve spent most of your life putting a blanket ban on films that contain gore and violence and feeling faint at the mere mention of blood. On this occasion I had decided that it was finally time to look at the needle and blood bag. Unsurprisingly, this left me cold, clammy and white as a sheet with the nurses huddled around me trying to keep me from fainting. I’m sure you can then imagine my wobbly disposition when entering the The Photographers gallery shortly after.

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Noémie Goudal’s top floor presence contains a collage of realities. The vast photographs, hung low to fill ones gaze, are inspired by the ‘human fascination with the sky.’ Goudal presents landscapes, interrupted by printed digital imagery, each photo contains another photo, and the execution is such that at first the placement of one image inside the other appears seamless. Upon closer inspection, the construction of the images becomes much more obvious. Goudal positions the somewhat crudely cut out photographs in front of the lens, creating a simple extra layer on top of the background landscape. She allows you to see how the image has been constructed by including the brackets and wires holding it in place, making allusions to a theatre-like stage where the intention isn’t to fein realism but to evoke a willingness to understand a new idea or narrative. Her influences described in the accompanying text are communicated in simple visual language and avoid the art world faux pas of merely illustrating a concept. This floor is an absolute treat.

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Walking down to the subsequent level, my mood had been settled. Goudal’s works have a subtle, therapeutic effect and allowed my somewhat giddy mood to mellow. This next floor contained what I later found out to be the second part of Burden of Proof, an exhibition demonstrating the historical lineage of the introduction of photography and moving image into criminal investigations.

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The exhibition is extensive so I’m just going to pick out a few pieces that struck chords with me. The first piece I came across was a film demonstrating how video footage can be analysed to understand, in impressive detail, the impact of a drone attack. In the case shown, forensics rely on footage filmed by a citizen in a neighbouring building to determine where the building was situated, where the drone came from and whether there were fatalities. The process is disturbingly fascinating.

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Richard Helmers ‘face-skull superimpositions’, on the same floor, were realised by placing stock footage of Josef Mengele’s face over the top of images of a skeleton found in the suburbs of São Paulo. This process allowed the researchers to determine that the skeleton in question was in fact Mengele – the ‘executioner of Auschwitz.’ The images themselves reveal a disturbing dichotomy between life and death – ‘face wrapped over skull, subject over object, an image of life over an image of death.’

The star piece of the show is a short documentary film that describes the first moment moving image was used in a court room and the case in hand happened to be one of the infamous Nuremberg trials. The narrator details the build up and context of the case and demonstrates how the courtroom underwent a structural make-over in order to display the film. It then moves on to show parts of the moving image used in the trial. The footage is nothing short of harrowing and unlike most gallery housed films, where the viewers come and go, no one left the room until the credits ran. I felt glued to my seat. It is one thing to see still images from the second world war, it is quite another to see the victims of this regime walking around like living skeletons with the guards standing in stark contrast next to them.

The atrocities displayed in this exhibition feel as though they should belong in some well crafted dystopian timeline, not one that represents the true historical lineage of the relationship between image and criminal behaviour. I would highly recommend visiting, but please do so with all the blood in your body.

Scale can make all the difference in a serious collection of figurative portraits or studies, a scale that mimics life size gives figures a type of solid monumentality that invites them into the viewer’s space. For centuries this life size figurative scale was reserved for portraits of kings, gods and mythic personages, here at Sargent’s Daughters on 179 East Broadway in New York, Jordan Casteel uses it as a tactic for humanization. In her exhibition of large scale oil paintings, most around 5 by 6 feet, titled Brothers, Casteel brings before the viewer the faces and forms of African American men, inhabiting the unique environments, really interior spaces, to which they belong. Walking through the gallery, you could see that the diverse crowd present at the opening, faced each painting as if it was an encounter with a familiar friend or new acquaintance. The textured application of paint in works like Crockett Brothers and Ashamole Brothers, renders the surfaces and interiors with an impasto that makes them tangible and felt. Within Three Lions this becomes evident as intimate scene links with figural interrelation, expression and gesture.

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Considering each piece, one must step back and meet the gaze of the figures portrayed, take the time to consider them first as individuals then as intricately linked, as family, as brothers, overall part of a community. The figures are portrayed with key objects that represent their passions and interests: the young Crockett brother dexterously grips his saxophone and the Ashamole brothers balance a basketball between them. First by intuition, then by reflection it becomes clear that Casteel is deploying crucial and timely tactics of humanization, we are allowed into these intimate spaces in order to point up a positive type of visibility that complicates black male subjective. For Casteel concerns herself directly with a contemporary post-Ferguson reality, wherein civil rights struggle is back at the fore and black males have become highly visible within media and news, reduced to being antagonists or victims. When social progress comes under fire, it is art’s job to intervene and create a space for reflection: this exhibit, these paintings, are Casteel’s intervention…

A most necessary one.

This new exhibition of JR, “DECADE, Portrait d’une generation” (Portrait of a generation) at Galerie Perrotin in Paris comprises the artist’s work of the past ten years, presenting his videos, ink on wood pieces and recent photographs. “DECADE” in the title does not only signify a period of JR’s artistic practice, but also marks the passing of ten years since the most significant social uprising in contemporary France, which is exactly the subject of the artworks displayed this time.

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The exhibition starts with an installation consisting of video projections on three sides of the room and their reflections on the floor. You are put in the scene of the riots of 2005 in Clichy-Montfermeil in the suburbs of Paris, where JR first ever created large-format works in his career just one year prior to the riots.

For people who might have seen some of JR’s works before, large faces pasted on nice architecture is not something surprising. However, when huge faces are shown on damaged housing blocks which were soon to be demolished, it exemplifies the effect of the image –it feels that both the buildings and the people were yelling with strong emotions, if not painfully.

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The most impressive piece in the exhibition is a video which filmed a ballet dance reiterating the social uprising from the past of the neighborhood in a delicate and aesthetic way, probably contrasting the disturbances and violence of the original event. It provides a visual link to JR’s documentary work in that territory in various stages during the past decade.

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The poetic series of Ballet Diary created with ink on small-format wood panels were displayed in the gallery in a grid composition, echoing photographs of ballet corps posing in containers. As usual, JR’s works are rooted in reality while defeating existing boundaries, and are powerful in linking art and life together. This exhibition firmly stems from the artist’s acute understanding of his generation.