And he was a clever guy who made iconic art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, has a new exhibition dedicated to him, “Regarding Warhol. Sixty Artists, Fifty Years.” I went to a preview last Saturday (I’m an individual member and one of the benefits is previewing certain exhibitions. It also takes the pressure off from trying to see everything in the museum at once. With my membership I feel like I can see one exhibition and leave because I can always go back. Even if you’re not a member the admission is suggested).
When you enter the exhibition you see the explanatory wall text to your right and two Self-Portraits, 1967, from the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. They’re hung side by side, no frames (if you click on the exhibition link above you’ll see them). Warhol’s face fills the 72-inch square canvas as he stares at you in a contemplative pose, his index finger resting on the corner of his mouth and middle finger approximately over his Cupid’s bow. The portrait on the left is dominated by red, Warhol’s face in yellow, with some strips of orange on the left and right edges and a touch of dusty blue in his hair. The complementary colors of other portrait with navy dominant, Warhol’s face in orange, with teal green strips on the left and right edges and mustard green hair create an impressive entrance. You think, “Wow. This is going to be a show.” Unfortunately it underwhelmed with too much material. I was fully prepared to be impressed after the knockout pair of paintings at the entrance but room after room of 45 Warhol works mixed with 100 works from sixty different artists left me tired. I understood the premise: let’s look at Warhol’s impact on other artists and we’ll break it up into themes: “Daily News: From Banality to Disaster,” “Portraiture: Celebrity and Power,” “Queer Studies: Shifting Identities,” “Consuming Images: Appropriation, Abstraction, and Seriality,” and “No Boundaries: Business, Collaboration, and Spectacle,” but it seemed overambitious and thin. Could they not have picked one or two themes and explored those? Is it necessary to have so-so examples of Ai WeiWei, Jeff Koons, Christopher Wool, Elizabeth Peyton, Cindy Sherman and David Hockney just because someone offered to lend them? Who knows if that’s true but some things were so obvious. It felt crowded, physically and mentally.
After I walked past Cory Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds, 2002, and eventually into the room with the Cow Wallpaper (Pink on Yellow), 1966, (a portrait of a pink cow, head to shoulders, with a yellow background) and the Silver Clouds, 1966, (silver mylar rectangles filled with helium that float around the room with the aid of a small oscillating fan in the upper corner), I wasn’t so surprised.
Clearly The Met wants us to know it’s interested in Contemporary art and certainly people will flock to the show, as they should, because like me they will think something amazing is on view and indeed there are great works in this exhibition, but they need to trim it down and focus a little more. Perhaps the sequel to this show should be all the artists that influenced Warhol so that we can give the artists in our art history textbooks a show. Or perhaps the joke’s on us. Perhaps Warhol’s influence is so far and deep that no artist is safe because they’re bound to be compared to him whether they like it or not.
Hmmm…at least The Met has other fantastic exhibitions like “Designing Nature, The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art,” which I saw the same night and cleared my mind. A precise exhibition in a lovely space with outstanding artwork. I am partial to the Japanese aesthetic and have always loved Japanese art especially of the Edo period, so maybe that makes me bias. There were scroll paintings, painted folded screens, carved writing boxes, woodblock prints and some ceramics. They even threw in a few Contemporary sculptures like a large Isamu Noguchi rock with a small circular pool carved into the otherwise flat top so that water dribbled just over the sides. This may be a permanent part of the Japanese galleries now that I think of it. It reminded me of one of my favorite but now closed restaurants in Manhattan: Honmura An. As you walked up the stairs into the restaurant they had a small oval tabletop Noguchi which had a similar pool carved into the top of the stone that they put flowers in. They had the most delicious sashimi, tori dango (chicken meatballs) and soba noodles with sea urchin.