Warhol – Ai Wei Wei

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20160109_125721Reviewed by John Kerrens

The touring exhibition, featuring the work of American Pop artist, Andy Warhol alongside that of Chinese dissident, Ai Wei Wei, has opened at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

The joint exhibition, developed by the NGV and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, focuses on the parallels, similarities and differences between the two hugely influential figures and the lasting cultural impact of their work. The exhibition presents more than 300 works, including paintings/silk screens, film, photography, and social media.

It has been said that of the two artists, Warhol represents the ‘American century’, while Ai Wei Wei is heralding in the ‘Chinese (i.e. the 21st) century’.

Warhol’s studio on West 47th Street – known as ‘the Factory’ – was the artist’s headquarters in the 60s. He began making his famous silk screens – the soup cans, Marilyns, Coke bottles etc, with the help of assistants like Gerard Malanga and Ronnie Cutrone. He also helped establish the multimedia works, Plastic Exploding Inevitable, which focused on the rock group Velvet Underground (VU), led by Lou Reed, as well as lights, dancers etc. These can be seen in the exhibition, with the shuddering music of VU backing stills and moving images of superstars like Edie Sedgwick, Mary Woronow and Ondine. The exhibition has a room with beanbags to sit on, to watch the flow of visual images and listen to the music of VU. Some of the lyrics could be a bit much for children or the easily offended, such as ‘I’m searching for my Mainline’, and the visuals contain drug use, sexual experimentation and violent imagery.

20160109_130010Although Warhol held a mirror up to Western disposable society, he never made any claims about being a social commentator. “Uh, it’s just a really neat picture, you know”, was a typical Warhol observation when asked about a particular piece or image. The exhibition will feature over 200 of Warhol’s most celebrated works, including portraits, paintings and silkscreens such as Campbell’s Soup Cans, Mao, Elvis, Three Marilyns, Flowers, and Electric Chairs. The exhibit also features sculpture and installation, including Brillo Boxes 1964, Heinz Tomato Ketchup Boxes 1964, and Silver Clouds 1968; films such as Empire 1964, Blowjob 1964, and Screen Tests 1965, among others.

Ai Wei Wei lived in America from 1981 to 1993. He was strongly influenced by the work of Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and, of course, Warhol. As he commented, “I believe this is a very interesting and important exhibition and an honour for me to have the opportunity to be exhibited alongside Andy Warhol. This is a great privilege for me as an artist.”

For the NGV exhibition, a number of major works will be premiered, including a new installation from the Forever Bicycles series and another piece from his Chandelier series, among others. These are presented alongside key works by Ai Weiwei from his early drawings in the 1970s, readymades of the 1980s, and painting, sculpture and photography of the 1990s and 2000s. New and recent installations, including new configurations of major works such as S.A.C.R.E.D.2013 and Trace 2014, will sit alongside a range of photography, film and social media from over the past four decades.

Both men are known for their controversial lifestyles, and an artistic practice that spans multiple media and in which their own lived experience becomes part of their body of work.

The exhibition will run until 24 April.

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