Death and celebrity. To the man who defined the pop art genre, they became overlapping obsessions. In Andy Warhol’s world view, being a celebrity was a tragedy unto itself and, by dying tragically, one could become a celebrity. These underlying beliefs defined the artist’s iconic paintings and films completed over the course of two years in the early sixties. Now, these works are the focus of Andy Warhol / Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters, 1962-1964, continuing until October 22 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the only Canadian stop for this exhibit.
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, whose own works, Crash and Videodrome among them, often lean towards the macabre, guest curates the exhibit. Cronenberg feels a particular affinity for Warhol, who was a central figure in the New York underground film movement in the sixties that inspired filmmakers in Toronto, including Cronenberg. “Toronto filmmakers modeled ourselves after New York underground filmmakers. It wasn’t Hollywood, it wasn’t European art films. The idea was that you just grabbed a camera and did your own thing,” says Cronenberg.
The exhibit comprises more than 25 paintings, complemented by Warhol’s films. The juxtaposition of Warhol’s paintings and films seems natural to Cronenberg. “There is a real cross-fertilization between the two media for him. I don’t think he could have done one without the other and developed the way he did,” Cronenberg says. In Supernova, Cronenberg highlights the “synergy” he sees between Warhol’s paintings and his films, and hopes that audiences will feel the “reverberation” that connects them.
An audio guide conceived and narrated by Cronenberg, with insightful commentary on each work and Warhol’s life, accompanies the exhibit. On it, the director draws parallels between Warhol’s prints and films, equating Warhol’s multiples and diptychs to a film reel. Cronenberg observes that, in film, no two shots are exactly alike, even if the actor is not moving, because the grains of the film reel make each frame distinctive, just as no two silkscreened images are identical because ink doesn’t transfer the same way each time. In some works, Cronenberg notes scratches and flaws in the printing process akin to the feel of an old black and white movie.
One such example is Cronenberg’s favourite piece, 1947 White (1963), sometimes known as Suicide or Fallen Body. Taken from a news photo, the image depicts a woman embedded in the roof of a diplomatic limo after jumping to her death from the Empire State Building. The image is repeated 17 times with overprinted edges, obscuring the woman’s body. Cronenberg finds the work emotionally moving in the disparity between the sadness of woman’s death and her beauty in death, the voluptuous contours of her body imprinted into the roof of the car. In fact, so moved is Cronenberg, it’s the piece he says he would take home if he had the chance—and willingly knock out a wall to display it.TIP! Ongoing renovations at the AGO mean exhibit space is limited (admission is discounted), but a selection of works from the permanent collection are still on view.
To learn about the common themes of Warhol’s life and his works, see Take Five: Notes on Warhol’s Works.—Linda Luong