Andy Warhol’s art philosophy was cosmetic Catholicism; a relatively lowbrow idea, as art philosophies go, decided when Warhol was still a dimeless Lemko scrapbooking Glamour magazines in his bedroom in Pittsburgh. The idea was nurtured by his country – Warhol’s Slav parentage gave him a tourist’s curiosity towards fifties America. Young Warhol decided that everything great was famous, and everything famous was divine; Campbell’s Soup was ambrosia and Marylin Monroe was an angel. He set to permanizing the icons of America and elsewhere, and so created some of the most memorable art of the century.
The current exhibition at the John Hansard Gallery is a taster of Warhol’s filmography and photographs. Fans looking for Presley and Monroe will be disappointed, as will be fans looking for Warhol’s more famous films such as Sleep or Chelsea Girls or Blowjob. But there are still a few decent and less famous artworks for devotees to enjoy.
Occupying a room of their own, the suite of Warhol’s self-portraits are an interesting selection. In his writings Warhol confessed that he disliked his own appearance. His slope-shoulders, willful hair and acne pits contrast with the magnetism of his Superstars. The portraits are witty, captivating and honest.
The highlight of the exhibition are the six screen tests. Rarely do we have the chance to watch a person’s face until their eyes tire and their smiles relax. Marcel Duchamp, Dennis Hopper and the other notables turn from looking solemn and enigmatic to fidgety and childish. Only Edie Sedgewick keeps her charm.
There are a couple of letdowns. The Factory films that overlap their audio at the gallery entrance are themeless and irritating, and as an opening event they damage the pace of the exhibition. Also, the choice to exclusively exhibit film and photography work forces Warhol, an artist famous for his use of colour, to be displayed in dreary greyscale.
But it’s still an enjoyable, escapist half hour; a bit of nonfiction from an era of hand-jiving débs, Beatles and barbiturates. And it’s fun even if most of the celebrities are before our time. An interesting revision break.
The John Hansard Gallery’s Andy Warhol exhibition continues until the 26th of June.