Pop art has descended upon Nashville. Opening today at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville is a remarkable exhibit illustrating the interplay of music, cinema, opera, dance, and pop culture in the works of Andy Warhol, a creator of icons who somewhere along the way became an icon himself.
This is a very accessible exhibit. If you lived in any part of the twentieth century you will find yourself here. Familiar faces. Images transformed by Warhol’s unique perspective. The soup cans are here. The portraits. And over 40 album covers, including the first interactive jacket (a 1967 recording by Velvet Underground) and probably his most famous: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones. The covers are displayed in free standing clear walls so that you can see both sides.
Strolling through the gallery was a delight. Every turn of the corner takes you into another part of Warhol’s world. Each visitor will have his/her own personal favorites. These are mine.
I’ve always loved this photograph of Martha Graham. Such artistry of the body. So graceful and lovely. It was fun to see what Warhol did with it. He saturated himself with dance, opera, a great variety of art. The exhibit includes playbills and librettos that belonged to him.
Warhol’s studio was called the Silver Factory because he had Billy Name decorate it in silver using paint, foil and mirrors. One fairly large section of the exhibit is shown against silver walls. I enjoyed imagining him creating his work in this milieu.
Warhol embraced Richard Wagner’s theory of Gesamtkunstwerk, “total artwork”. Art that unites a variety of expression. Art that wraps itself around you. With that in mind, curators invite you to step inside two different Warhol creations. Definitely the highlight of the whole exhibit for me.
The first is from the set design of Rainforest, an avant garde work by dancer Merce Cunningham. You stand inside a room filled with floating silver pillows while Cunningham dances among the pillows on screen. I heard grown men and women giggling. I might have giggled myself.
The second is from Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a show Warhol developed around the music of Velvet Underground. Warhol was their producer, and they were regulars at the Silver Factory. The shows involved video shown against screens and against the performers themselves, dance, and lots of light play. In the exhibit you can walk all around inside this. Film is playing on two different screens. Music. Light filtered through colored slides creeps up the walls and across your face. A constant strobe keeps everything feeling a little off kilter. The scene is constantly morphing, evolving, transforming.
Warhol is an important voice. Like his friend John Cage, he constantly blurred the lines between life and art, encouraging us to see the beautiful around us. Through his album covers and prints he satisfied his desire to put art into the hands of the masses. He had something else, too. Something we don’t always perceive. Curator Stephane Aquin calls it a tragic consciousness. You can see it especially in the later works, including the self portrait at the top of the post. He had lived life as fast and furiously as possible. He had created and played. But there was always something missing. Something that eluded him. It leaves one with important questions to ponder.
Warhol Live will be at the Frist until September 11th. I encourage you to pay a visit. Be informed that, though children will find this exhibit fascinating and delightful, some subject matter, primarily in the films, is adult in nature. You might wish to preview before bringing your small people.