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Wooster Projects’ “Faces & Fashion"
418 West 15th St
Meat Packing District Design Weekend
The Exhibition is Over

 


Written by Julia Sirmons
Photographed by Amy Davidson

(Opposite Sigmund Freud by Andy Warhol)



“I know he’s a genius and everything, but if I see one more soup can or pink-and-yellow Marilyn Monroe, I’m going to ram my head against a two-by four.” Julia Sirmons

Even if, like myself, you’re a big fan of pop art, with its fun, colorful aesthetic and its playful manipulation of mass culture, that thought might have crossed your mind once or twice. Perhaps while walking past the MoMA store.

To deny Andy Warhol’s talent and influence on contemporary art and culture would be both pointless and ignorant, but he’s become such an universally revered artist and his work (or copies and homages thereof) are just so omnipresent that it’s hard not to get a little underwhelmed from time to time.

For all of us suffering from Warhol ennui, Wooster Projects offered the perfect antidote with its “Faces & Fashion” expedition, which was part of the Meatpacking District’s Design Week -- which, in a typical example of New York exaggeration, was actually more of a Design Weekend -- running from May 18th to May 20th.

“Faces & Fashion” was an exposition comprised almost entirely of Warhol and Warhol-inspired pieces. It proved an excellent reaffirmation of the genius of one of the 20th centuries most well-known artists, as well an exciting and inspiring tutorial on Warhol’s vast scope of artistic techniques and interests. But most of all, it was a potent, giddy reminder of just how much fun Warhol’s work can be.

Of course there were a few expected items, including two separate paper screenprints of Jackie O. There was also a lithograph with watercolor entitled “Shoe and Leg,” a variation of which can be found in the Andy Warhol “Taming of the Shoe” calendar on sale at the gift shop of every major art museum across America. (Full disclosure: I only know this because I own this calendar and absolutely adore it.) However, the rest of the works of on display showed a delightful combination of versatility and vitality.

Andy in Drag Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

 

Immediately to the left of the door of the exposition space, located at 418 W. 14th St., was a witty, striking and thought-provoking piece by Christopher Makos entitled “Andy in Drag.” “Drag” is a collage of various portraits of Warhol using with wigs and makeup (and occasionally, minimal costuming) to explore his feminine side,. The photos themselves are incredibly fun (my favorite was one of Andy in a button-down shirt and tie, sporting a wavy golden wig, arched eyebrows, and sardonic expression evoking the divine Marlene Dietrich). But other photos seem to evoke gaudier, tackier versions of Marilyn’s bombshell waves and Jackie’s dark bouffant. These subtle but eerie resemblances hint at the depth of Andy’s artistic fetishes and his simultaneous ability to self-effacingly mock them. The portraits are both a different expression of his philosophies on the cult of modern celebrity and a genuine desire for self-exploration. The stark black-and white-shots convey a naked yet ambiguous emotion in Warhol’s eyes. It’s a unique experience, seeing the master of artifice struggling with revealing or concealing genuine feelings. It’s an absolute affirmation that there was far more to Andy – both the man and the artist – than we may ever know.

Next were a series of works unlike anything I’d seen in the Warhol œuvre. Made using a different technique then his famous Jackie and Marilyn screenprints (which were done on paper), these screenprints were made on lenox board, and displayed a unique aesthetic, reminiscent of neon light signs typically found in the windows of strip clubs and dive bars. In these pieces, Warhol captures the flashiness and kinetic energy of those signs but elevates them into something both over-the-top and refined, echoing classical lines and forms. Particularly arresting is “Satyric Festival” a dynamic and striking double print of a disco dancer shaking her groove thing, colored in tones of blue, green and purple with contrasting white-green lines that really pop with the color contrast. “Festival” is so kinetic and full of Dionysian energy that it practically bursts from the screen, making the viewer yearn for some “Bad Girls” on the turntable and a chance to take a spin on the floor.

Two more traditional Warhol portraits were also done on lenox board, one of Hallie May Frowic, the other of Sigmund Freud. The multi-colored quadrants and abstract figures that Warhol adds to the screenprinted photograph of the father of psychology is an apt artistic expression of Freud’s theories of the fragmented and unknowable elements of the human psyche. Once can easily imagine good old Sigmund standing ponderously before his portrait, contemplating whether sometimes a purple rectangle is just a purple rectangle.

 

 


The next series of lenox board screenprints again offers something completely different. They are simple, charming sketches of assortments of women’s makeup and accessories and men’s clothing, accented with tiny additions of color. Strangely sweet and enigmatic, they encourage a spectator to speculate about where these objects came from and wonder what their potential owners might be like.

Along the Jackie wall, Wooster Projects displayed more traditional Warhol works, mainly screenprinted photographs embellished with splashy applications of bright, beautiful colors. Fortunately, the examples on display were really fine. Next to “Jackie II” was the fabulous “Drag Queen,” which depicts a fro-ed out sister leaning in towards the camera, cigarette in hand, her mouth erupting into sly, jovial laughter. Warhol accents the bold personality of this fabulous diva by accenting the print with perfectly chosen splashes of purple and brown. Graphic, bold and striking, and obviously full of personality, she makes even two Jackies look kind of blah in comparison.

   

 

While one can argue that its easy to bring out the personality of a drag queen; the task becomes a little more difficult when one chooses a formal portrait of a monarch as the starting point for the artistic endeavor. But Warhol achieves this to perfection with “Queen Margrethe.” Using a very staid profile shot that looks like it belongs on a Danish postage stamp, Warhol, with his trademark use of vibrant color, makes Queen Margrethe still seem cool, self-assured and regal (think Cate Blanchett at the end of Elizabeth, only groovier). At the same time, his subtler use of color on her face emphasizes the acuteness of her eyes and the contours of her lips and profile that hints at a very pensive, ambiguously empathetic, and eminently human quality. The focus on her thoughtful, inquisitive face, coupled with the glittery accents Warhol adds to her crown, suggest, that, while they might not end up the best of friends, she and the “Drag Queen” two doors down could share a cocktail and some friendly conversation.

Though he’s known for his arch take on modern advertising and celebrity, “Faces & Fashion” is a proud testament to Andy’s other great artistic talent – his ability to make still images come to life and reveal the intense extremities and the unexpected quirks of famous and not-so famous personalities. Wooster Projects’ exhibit is an important and potent reminder of these qualities in Warhol’s work. He wasn’t just interested in manipulating the cold commercialization of the modern media; he also wanted to transform that media into something personal, lively and interactive, something that allowed to open the viewer’s eyes to new and unusual possibilities. This fresh, well-curated and highly enjoyable exhibit brought the joyful and playful elements of Warhol’s work deservedly back into the public eye. It’s made the art world more inspiring, and more fun, for all of us.











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