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Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures, a Retrospective at MOMA

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Andy Warhol's Screen Tests: NicoIn addition to working in a wide range of media such as painting, photography, drawing, and sculpture, Andy Warhol was also a highly prolific filmmaker. During the 1960s, Warhol directed more than 60 films, as well as approximately 500 short black-and-white screen test portraits of visitors to his studio, The Factory. Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures, which provides a rare opportunity to view Warhol’s cinematic portraits and non-narrative, silent, and black-and-white films of the 1960s, is currently on display at MoMA through March 21, 2011.

In 1963, Warhol began experimenting with the creation of cinematic time-based portraits, or “Screen Tests” from 1964 to 1966. These silent film portraits consist of several-minute unbroken shots of Factory regulars, Warhol superstars, celebrities, guests, and friends. Warhol filmed the Screen Tests in stark light and shadow with a stationary 16mm Bolex camera on silent, black and white, 100-foot rolls of film at 24 frames per second (fps). The resulting two-and-a-half-minute long reels were then screened at 16 fps for a slow motion effect. Warhol’s first subjects were asked to emulate a photograph by not moving or speaking, and while some individuals were invited to “perform” a Screen Test, others were captured spontaneously. Many of the Screen Tests were arranged in different permutations such as 13 Most Beautiful Women, 13 Most Beautiful Boys, 50 Fantastics and 50 Personalities. The Screen Tests depict Warhol’s fascination with celebrity, therefore encompassing a visual almanac of the 1960s New York avant-garde scene. Included in the exhibition are Screen Tests of Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Baby Jane Holzer, Allen Ginsberg, Lou Reed, Dennis Hopper, Susan Sontag, and art collector Ethel Scull, among others.

Andy Warhol, Empire (1964)As part of the exhibition, several of Warhol’s legendary early minimalist films, including Sleep, Eat, Blow Job, and Kiss will be screened. The six-hour long Sleep (1963) consists of various loops of poet John Giorno in a dormant state. The 35-minute Blow Job (1963) features a continuous shot of DeVeren Bookwalter’s facial expressions as he receives oral sex; the sexual act is never depicted, as the camera never moves from Bookwalter’s face. Eat (1963) depicts artist Robert Indiana eating a mushroom for 45 minutes for the entire length of the film. Kiss (1963-64) is a collage of slowly moving images of various couples kissing. Warhol’s experimentations with expanded duration and minimalism culminated with Empire (1964), a study of the Empire State Building, which was originally shot at 24 frames per second but is usually projected at 16 fps, so that, when screened the film runs for 8 hours and 5 minutes. Sleep and Empire will be screened in their full durations, during the exhibition at specially announced times.

The Screen Tests are projected on the gallery walls at large scale and within frames, in some instances measuring seven feet high and nine feet wide. An excerpt of Sleep can be seen as a large-scale projection at the exhibition entrance, with both Eat and Blow Job shown on either side of that projection, creating a triptych. Kiss is shown at the rear of the gallery in a 50-seat movie theater created for the exhibition, while a Screen Test of Ethel Scull will be projected outside the exhibition entrance in its original 16mm format.

After Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt of Warhol in 1968, Warhol relinquished his involvement in filmmaking to his protégé, Paul Morrissey, who created more mainstream, narrative-based, B-movie exploitation films such as Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972). In the early 1970s, Warhol pulled the majority of his films from circulation. After Warhol’s death in 1987, his films were gradually restored by the Whitney Museum and are occasionally screened at museums and film festivals. Very few of Warhol’s films are available on video or DVD.

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures is organized in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. For more information, visit www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1099

Click below to see Warhol’s Screen Test of actor Dennis Hopper.

–Dave Bower is Co-Publisher of The Free George.

Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=6704

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