Sunday, November 2, 2008

Warhol Live Music and Dance in Andy Warhol’s Work at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

I remember Andy Warhol’s white hair first and foremost. He had a show in 1986 on MTV back when cable was young and MTV played music. It’s too bad that my sense of history was so brief since I could not appreciate the long relationship Warhol had with music. It is no surprise that towards the end of his life, he got involved with music’s latest incarnation: the music video. And, as the song goes, video killed the radio star. Well, not exactly, but Warhol managed to keep up with every shift in music’s sharp edge through his entire life.

The MFA exhibition examines the relationship between Warhol and music, starting with his earliest love of movie musicals with Shirley Temple and opera, progressing through his Stuido 54 days (to quote Warhol, “It was a dictatorship at the door, a democracy on the floor.”) While most people know Warhol produced the Velvet Underground, which practiced in his studio, I was surprised to learn that Warhol was even part of a band, in which Jasper Johns sang lead.

The 640 works on view for this exhibit include some Warhol pieces that don’t relate to music – but these are far and few between. On the whole, Warhol’s record covers, Interview magazine, and portraits of singers and musicians dominate. The major pieces, Elvis, Marilyn, Liza Minnelli, Grace Jones, Mick Jagger, and Debbie Harry are well known and presented in a way that they seem part of Warhol’s interest of the moment. Interestingly enough, his record covers are as symbolic of his greatest desire – to mass produce art – and in some ways are even more representative than what one thinks of as Warhol’s emblematic pieces.

The exhibit draws on the collection of one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Andy Warhol Museum, which supplements the holdings of the MMFA and private collectors. On the whole, the amount of material is simply overwhelming. Warhol touched every single medium imaginable, from screen printing to video to cinematic shorts to sketches and it seems he was interested in every single variant of music as well: dance, opera (he was an opera fiend), disco, rock, vocalists, punk, and experimental.

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