“Once you stand in the midst of the screen tests, you understand that they are living portraits, trying to seduce and flirt with the camera’s eye, and therefore with the viewer, who in the gallery replaces the camera’s still gaze”, says Klaus Biesenbach, Chief-Curator-at-Large of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where the exhibition Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures is currently installed.
The show focuses on Warhol’s cinematic portraits and silent black-and-white films from the mid-1960s. Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests’ reveal the artist’s lifelong fascination with the cult of celebrity, comprising a visual almanac of the 1960s downtown Manhattan avant-garde scene. Included in Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures are Warhol’s ‘Superstars’ including Edie Sedgwick, Nico and Baby Jane Holzer; poet Allen Ginsberg; musician Lou Reed; actor Dennis Hopper; author Susan Sontag and collector Ethel Scull. Other early films on view are Eat (1963) and Kiss (1963–64). Twelve screen tests are projected on the gallery walls whilst the long and legendary film Empire (1964) will be shown in the theater every other Friday, beginning this week. Prospective superstars are invited to submit footage of their own screen tests which, after approval, will be uploaded to a website created by MoMA for the exhibition as well. i-D recently spoke with Biesenbach about the organisation of the show.
Why did you put this show together? I organised the exhibition because I think the screen tests are one of Warhol’s most important bodies of works, and are very rarely on view.
How did you decide which screen tests to include? The selection of the screen tests were determined under two premises. I wanted to have a selection of very still, nearly not-moving portraits, like the Susan Sontag and the Lou Reed, and then I wanted to contrast this with highly active portraits, like Baby Jane Holzer and Dennis Hopper. The screen tests themselves were selected under the criteria of how accomplished they are as pieces, and as you would do with paintings, in consideration of their beauty and their enduring, meaningful qualities as artworks.
How have these motion pictures influenced today’s celebrity culture and our perception of the art world? Looking at contemporary practice from a gallery and a museum, from mainstream popular culture to Flickr, YouTube and Facebook, these pieces by Warhol are still pushing the envelope and are therefore incredibly influential.
Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures is on view at The Museum of Modern Art. 11 West 53rd Street, in New York, until 21 March 2011.
All images @2010 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute.