Thursday, October 29, 2015

Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen

review & photos by Allan Tong

TIFF's winter exhibition, Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen may well have been called Andy Warhol: Starfucker. Though it boasts some rare photographs, intriguing films and a miniature replica of Warhol's Factory of the mid-sixties (below) where the pop artist held court, the overall exhibition is disappointing.

Warhol fans, such as myself, won't be surprised by the exhibition's theme: the artist's adoration for movie stars, such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Display cases jammed with books, photographs and other Hollywood memorabilia, plus dozens of movie posters spanning the decades until Warhol's1987 death, hammer home the one-note idea that a shy, sensitive and gay man growing up in industrial Pittsburgh escaped into the movies. Well, so what? Don't we all watch movies to escape? Don't we hang photos of movie stars because we want to be like them or be with them?

Of course, what makes Warhol different from you or me is that he propelled an art movement by painting his celluloid heroes. But do we need to see walls and cases filled with Warhol's movie memorabilia to make this connection?

As a consequence, Warhol's own contribution to cinema in this exhibition is left muddled, with the connection between his films and lifelong starfucking left both vague and obvious. His raw underground films of the sixties and seventies created their own star system, featuring Joe Dallesandro, Viva and Edie Sedgewick among others. They never rose beyond the art house circuit, but helped paved the way to later American indie filmmaking. Also, a lot of credit for these Warhol films actually goes to director Paul Morrissey for directing such features as Chelsea Girls (with Warhol) and Heat, but Morrissey is barely mentioned in this exhibition. Instead, there's no shortage of photos and paintings of Liza Minnelli, Garbo and Judy Garland.

There lacks a critical distance in this exhibition with nothing to point out how shallow celebrity adoration is. True, Warhol was way ahead of the game when it came to anticipating today's celebrity culture, but what does it mean?

Stars of the Silver Screen is a salute to one of the most important artists of our time, a true a pop culture force for influencing not only the visual arts, but fashion, music and of course, cinema. I just wish the theme were more focused on the movies.

Andy Warhol: Stars of the Silver Screen runs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto from October 30 to January 24, 2016. Click here for full informaton and tickets.

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