Written on 23-Jan-2009 by patencia
Spielberg, Warhol and Bianca Jagger in an interview. The director confesses he once swallowed a transistor.
April 1964, Manhattan's Stable Gallery. Warhol presents for the first time his Brillo Boxes. Some months later, a Canadian art dealer tries to import 80 of the boxes (each of them valued U$250). He has trouble in the customs. There seems to be an irregularity: what has been transported, says the customs agent, is no art work, is just ‘merchandise’, which means he should charge 20% of the value as duty. They call the director of the National Gallery of Canada as an authority that could mediate in the dispute. The director examines photographs of the boxes and declares: these are no sculptures, as far as I can see.
This marked the beginning of a new era of art, according to Arthur C. Danto, the teller of this story. Works like the Brillo Boxes, culminated a process preceded by Duchamp’s ready-mades, Jasper Jones appropriation of the American flag, or Lichtenstein's of Mickey Mouse, which “raised the deep philosophical issue of what the difference was between art and reality when there was no perceptual difference.”
Until this past Sunday, two of the Brillo Boxes were here in London at the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition Other Voices, Other Rooms. But they were not the only attraction. There were also 16 drawings, sewn photographs, the Time Capsule, factory diaries, and many other surprises such as the silver clouds installation. But if there was anything predominant in the exhibition it was the audiovisual works.
Among them, I was particularly fascinated by the silent film portraits. Yet, what I found most interesting were the 42 TV Episodes that Warhol made for cable TV stations in NY and for MTV. Warhol is known as one of the big figures of pop art, a movement that paradigmatically celebrated, vindicated and exploited the mass media and its culture. Now, TV is the queen of the mass media, but whereas these days is frequent to see advertising posters and comics in museums, it’s very difficult to find a TV screen/programme in any exhibition. It seems as if the art people would happily have accepted that some unusual objects could be art but TV is too much to bear.
That is why I found Other Voices, Other Rooms, specially illuminating. I’ve seen various Warhol exhibitions and many Warhol’s works before, but this is the first time I’ve seen his TV programs—it’s actually the first time the 42 episodes are shown together. And they are interesting because they look as any other question-and-answer/interview programme of the 70s, they have the same cheesy look, the same DIY-programme-style signature tune. But that's precisely the idea: as with the Brillo Boxes there is nothing you can see that makes the difference. The question is whether with TV it works as well as with any other ordinary object.
Nowadays, the work of Andy Warhol has become so hackneyed (specially the Marilyn-Elvis, etc. silkscreen printings), that we barely come to appreciate his contribution to art history. Fortunately, exhibitions like Other Voices, Other Rooms remind us that Warhol’s work goes beyond his pictures of Campbell’s Soup cans or his overused multicolor printings; and that the box as well as the Brillo box can also be (pop) art.