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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Warhol's Time Capsules

A time capsule needn't have an impressive
container nor be buried. Any old attic will do.
The next time you're having a bad day at the easel, stop. Clean up the brushes, lay them aside for a while, and try this. Get a nice, sturdy cardboard box, or even better, a plastic container like those used to store sweaters, or even an old Styrofoam ice chest if nothing else. The size doesn't really matter (bigger than a shoe box, smaller than a refrigerator box). Then you can commence having some fun while at the same time accomplishing a task you've probably been putting off for ages. Start going through all your junk drawers, your closets, your magazine racks, shoe boxes of old photos, desk drawers, cupboards, cabinets, wastebaskets - anything that needs to be cleaned out and/or reorganised - pulling from them anything the least bit interesting which might eventually be thrown away, and carefully pack it into your container. Go for variety, "ordinarity," peculiarity, and color.

The Warhol time capsule "attic."
When you have your box completely full, or before it becomes so heavy that you risk a hernia in lifting it, close it and get out the old duct tape. Seal it completely. I mean really tape that sucker up. Put enough tape on the thing it would take Jim Bowie and his infamous knife an hour to rip it open. When done, you will have created a cultural work of art. Now, if you really wanted to get serious about this whole thing, you'd take it out in the back yard and bury it under a concrete slab of your sidewalk, but we won't go that far. Probably better is to take clear tape and apply to the top and one or two sides, instructions that your "time capsule" not be opened until the year 2112. Then cart the thing up to your attic, place it as far in the back as you can without endangering life and limb, then somewhere near the door, paste up securely another sign informing all those who enter of the container's whereabouts and your purpose in putting it there. Better yet, if you have grown children with an attic, use theirs.

Warhol the anti-film movie maker.
Andy Warhol must have had hundreds of bad days at the easel. He created over six hundred of these cultural time bombs. They're stored away with no particular expiration date, in the back room of his Pittsburgh museum. Of them, about 100 have been unsealed. The contents of one has been displayed at the International Center of Photography in New York when they hosted a Warhol photography exhibit. Included in Warhol's stash was a Dick Tracy comic book, a chocolate bar, hundreds of photos, newspapers, newspaper clippings, legal papers, unopened bills, and dozens of other interesting (and sometimes uninteresting) pieces of flotsam and jetsam he packed up in order to save his executor, and no doubt his garbage collectors, a ton of work. Most date from the 1970s.

Warhol and his Polaroid Big Shot.
We've always known Andy Warhol the painter, and Andy Warhol the silk-screen artist extraordinaire, and we've always been aware, I think, of his heavy reliance upon photographic sources for the vast majority of his work. But few people knew what a collector of photographs he was. He was also an avid photographer himself, if you'll stretch that definition to include someone without the least bit of interest in the technical end of this art form. He's known to have liked Polaroids a lot, but the photographic medium of choice seems to have been the ubiquitous black and white, 25-cent photo booths which used to pepper arcades, bus stations, train stations, airports, and just about any other enclosed public space in just about any major city. (Today you'd probably have to search in a museum to find such an oddity.) One of his favorite pastimes was to collect a bunch of his fun-loving celebrity friends and hit the streets in a limo, spending as much as $50 at a time on these things. You know how many head shots $50 will buy at four for a quarter? As a photographer, what Warhol lacked in quality, he more than made up for in quantity. From these, he would often cull the most vacuous shot in order to create one of his colourful silk-screen masterpieces.

A Warhol "Big Shot" portrait.
A Warhol photo exhibit might also include photos of car crashes, tuna cans, dozens of celebrities, self-portraits (often in drag), and more than 20 films including his continuously running Sleep, Eat, and Kiss also his famous 1960s Screen Tests, featuring three-minute glimpses of such friends as Lou Reed, Susan Sontag, Edie Sedgwick, and Holly Solomon. A visit to Warhol's New York "art factory" (actually, there were several such venues over the years) might have included a session, in makeup, before his Polaroid "Big Shot" (Above, left. I used to own one of these portrait-only cameras). If the visitor was male, Warhol often requested him to literally "drop his pants" so that he might add to his photographic collection of male genitals. He had thousands of such shots. And though Warhol's homosexual lifestyle has never been a secret, a Warhol photo exhibits have only recently included his seldom seen 13 Most Beautiful Boys and Sex Session series from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Your own time capsule needn't be so salacious. A tastefullly nude baby picture should suffice.
An exploration of Warhol films and photos
is not for the squeamish, or the easily bored.

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