Fifteen minutes of Warhol

Andy Warhol, Red and Black Self Portrait. Photo by Yap Jia En


Warhol loved the fake and the superficial. He adored everything plastic; he even wished he were plastic. In a way, the exhibition at the Art Science Museum was just another level of duplication, framed within the walls of the lotus shaped museum. The ‘aura’ of Warhol filled the space through the many works that were displayed in its galleries.

Warhol embraced commodification, the idea of marketing and packaging things together for a mass public. He would have been fascinated by the fact that the “Eternal Fame” exhibition was concurrently held together with the “Titanic” exhibition. To top it off, the museum had a promotional package, which made visiting both exhibits a better deal. This concept of packaging extends out to the museum itself, as being a branch of the posh Marina Bay Sands.

According to Eric Shiner, the director of The Andy Warhol Museum. The “Eternal Fame” exhibition encourages more people to see Warhol as being far “more than a soup can painter or a Marilyn Monroe painter”, and even surprise Warhol fans with new insights into his work. This largest collection of iconic works by Warhol was systematically divided into the different chapters of his life. Each gallery portrayed a different series of work during that period, beginning from his “Early Years” to “The last supper”. The layout of the exhibition followed the chronological journey of Warhol in a circular motion. This approach felt more like an educational lesson of Warhol and his life. It was almost like packaging everything good about Warhol in a single space. One begins the Warhol’s journey through its circular layout floors. Which, can be metaphorically seen as Warhol’s journey of life coming a full circle, exemplifying the idea of a journey with no beginning and no end, just a constant flow of ideas by a single man. In an interesting way, we can relate the concept of duplication to the floors of the Museum. Each gallery space echoes the shapes of the individual lotus, which duplicates itself along its centre. This forms its massive structure as a lotus flower.

One begins with the “Early Years” gallery, which aims to introduce Warhol through a display of his early illustrations. This does not lie well with Warhol’s personal ideology of how he wishes to present himself. Beneath the vain skin, Warhol did not care for an introduction. In fact, the less anyone knew about him, the better. One might think that this is ironic for a man who adored fame. In actual fact, Warhol was interested in what was called the ‘aura’. According to the Philosophy of Andy Warhol – From A to B and back again, the ‘aura’ of Warhol can only be seen through the eyes of people who don’t know him very well, or don’t know him at all.  With that in mind, I am probably not the best person to be feeling Warhol’s ‘aura’. Guilty as charged!

In the “Early Years” gallery, I was greeted by a display of Warhol’s early works. As I progressed through the simple illustrations and mindless doodles of his intriguing mind, I noticed that the idea of duplication is very much prevalent throughout his blotted line technique pieces. Copying a line drawing on a piece of non-absorbent paper, the fountain pen ink drawing is then transferred magically onto another piece of paper through the process of pressing or “blotting” them together. This not only created a quick and easy approach to his commercial drawings, it also sparked his interest in the notion of authenticity and the idea of exploiting it. Warhol challenged the idea of the ‘original’ by pushing grounds and stretching it to the limits with duplications. This can be seen through the many works created by Warhol in the later galleries.

Warhol was a man of the copies. Upon looking at his silkscreen pieces, we see a further intention to blur the lines between the original and the copy. The subjects he used for these prints are being ‘copied’ onto the mesh for more effortless duplications.

As I moved my hands through the plastic chains hanging from the entrance of the second gallery, featuring “The Factory Years”, I was immediately taken out of the usual art gallery scene and transported to a futuristic, shiny silver environment. Tinfoil plastered the walls, ceiling and furniture of the gallery. I count myself lucky to be able to experience this space alone, with no one else in it. The feeling was quite unreal as Warhol’s philosophy of ‘atmosphere’ came through those silver foiled walls. Warhol really believed in empty spaces, he felt that art is junk that occupies the beauty of an empty space and should be thrown out. The nature of the pieces displayed in this gallery holds true to the idea of ‘not occupying any (3-dimensional) space’. They were video installations of Warhol’s films. These video projections did not have a form of their own, they assumed the shape and size of whatever it is reflected on, which in this case, the silver walls.

Thick velvet curtains separated the foiled gallery and the next, which was an extension to “The Factory Years” exhibition. Upon entering, I was greeted by a long line of people queuing up at a photo booth machine that was placed towards the front of the gallery. The photo booth was so huge that it took up almost one-third of the tiny space. That left little space for the people waiting in line and even less for those trying to squeeze through the line of people to see the artworks on the wall. It was totally the opposite of what I had experienced earlier. I would have loved to have had more area to view the artworks. As I’m typing this, I could almost hear a present-day Warhol saying in my face, “You suck.”

Warhol loved the company of people. Back during the days when ‘The Factory” was in operation, he welcomed anyone and everyone into this place. It was one of the ‘hot-spots’ in town where he would hold groundbreaking parties. He had to go out every night and loved being surrounded by people and parties. However, behind the façade of this social butterfly lies a lonely man so detached from everything else around him. Which is often the way he depicted himself.

I watched, as visitors were lost in excitement, waiting anxiously in line with their friends for a go at the machine. Behind those theatrical curtains, the sitter adopts a different persona as they dress up with the accessories provided; the persona of a celebrity. This could very well be Warhol’s idea of “fifteen minutes of fame” as the individual is submerged into private self-contemplation while allowing their narcissistic-self to overtake. In a way, the photo booth is like a photocopying machine duplicating the image of it’s subject. It is a mere reflection of his character. We find ourselves looking upon the self-portrait of Warhol.

It was fascinating to be able to experience both personas of Warhol through the two spaces of “The Factory Years”. The cold-foiled room echoed his detached personality through projecting his films along its walls. On the other hand, one gets to be submerged in his partying persona surrounded by people, fame and high life. Here, we enter into an era of movie stars, celebrities and consumerism.

Following his obsession with the media. Warhol always had a love affair with his television and radio. If he were to live in the generation of computers and the Internet, it would be his heaven; nothing would fascinate him more than the amount of exposure an article on a blog brings, and the speed at which information travels online.

Warhol lived beyond his time and even ours. He comes from the future. Perhaps that is why people find it hard to understand him, for he is always one step ahead of us. It takes more than just a walk around the exhibition to get to know Warhol. He is not someone who can be described in a few words. No adjective in the dictionary does his character justice.

The best part is this, Andy Warhol would not care if you did not understand his work or his personality. The more you don’t know about him, the more his ‘aura’ comes across to you. According to him, the moment someone opens his or her mouth, the ‘aura’ of that person disappears.

Thus, this exhibition allows you to silently be submerged in his ‘aura’. As you walk through the galleries, feel his presence emerging from the works displayed. Enter the doors with no preconception of who he is; just experience the ‘aura’ of Andy.