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We all scream for silkscreen

We all scream for silkscreen

Toronto Star
by Peter Goddard

In life and death, Andy Warhol has been called a great many things, from deviant pop genius to crass celebrity hustler. Starting Saturday in Kitchener, we’ll be hearing something new about him: Andy Warhol, children’s artist.

Warhol and kids? In Kitchener? Exactly. “Andy Warhol’s Factory 2009,” at the Waterloo Regional Children’s Museum, is a convergence of bullish regional ambitions and savvy showmanship for what should be a payoff for everyone involved, not the least for Warhol’s legacy, which continues to morph in all directions as the art market’s most dazzling success story.

“Now when you hear about all those Warhol exhibitions moving around from city to city, Kitchener will be on the list,” brags Mark Garner, head of the Kitchener Downtown Business Association. “Bringing in Warhol has been a massive coup for the area.”

The initiative of David Marskell, museum CEO since 2006, “Factory 2009” follows in the wake of much-ballyhooed shows such as “Warhol Live” at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and “Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths and Disasters 1962-1964” at the Art Gallery of Ontario three years back. Yet the Kitchener show has its own promises to keep, such as little-seen Warhol work among the 18 paintings, with plenty of kid-friendly images in the artist’s “Toy Series.” There are also some of the toys the artist played with growing up in hard times in Pittsburgh in the 1930s.

“Warhol’s perfect for kids,” enthuses Marskell. “There are the colours, the whimsical nature of a lot of the art itself, and his simple paintings of cars, dogs and helicopters. There are eight prints of his that have Mickey Mouse and the Wizard of Oz. This is a great introduction to art for children.”

A Warhol mini-industry has sprung up in and around the museum, as is par for the course with anything attached to the pop artist’s name. An extensive speaker’s series begins Jan.18, which includes Canadian Warhol collector Marla Wasser, who curated aspects of “Factory 2009,” and Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Also part of the mix are Saturday afternoon screen-printing workshops hosted by a Kitchener T-shirt printing business, various educational initiatives and “Warhol Wednesdays” evenings aimed at adults.

“When it comes to Warhol, people say, `Oh sure, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,'” says Sokolowski. “And there is that. But not only did Warhol do a specific body of work for kids, he also drew his inspiration from TV and other sources that kids understand. His work is about recognition of objects that are part of the American collective spirits, not about heavy theoretical issues.”

Thankfully for Marskell, yarns about the seamier side of Warhol’s life gained little traction around Kitchener-Waterloo.

“My board has been very supportive,” he explains. “They know that when it comes to bringing Warhol to a small community I’m not going to do anything dumb. We’re showing a series of Stephen Shore Factory photos we’ve got from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in Cleveland)” – Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick and Mama Cass Elliot among them – “but we’re not showing the one that’s basically of an orgy. We’re not talking about the man. We’re talking about the art.”

A number of earlier versions of “Factory,” co-produced by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the Warhol Museum, have appeared in the United States, each with an educational angle. “People could become engaged in making work in the Warhol manner or in taking a course in how you make a video,” says Sokolowski.

One of the leading motifs threading through the Kitchener show is that kids growing up in a postmodern Warhol world know in their bones what Warhol is all about. “If Warhol were still around,” suggests the show’s catalogue, “he wouldn’t be on YouTube – he would be YouTube.”

Another theme is that Kitchener is ready for Warhol. The city’s much-celebrated new downtown core is a far cry from “the rough, working-class area” Gordon Hatt discovered when he first walked down King St. 20 years back. “Its character has changed, with nearby universities and with information industries replacing the old manufacturing industries,” says the internationally respected curator and critic.

Hatt heads the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA), which connects a number of excellent area art spaces, such as Cambridge Galleries, to a number of CAFKA-generated arts initiatives. Veracity, a CAFKA-sponsored mini-biennial this September, will have work from a number of international art stars, including Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Germany’s Mariele Neudecker.

“The Tannery District,” as it’s billed, with its proposed warrens of techno-businesses and smart restaurants, will be the Kitchener-Waterloo riposte to the Distillery District in Toronto.

Even more ambitious are the plans for Waterloo to be home to a satellite version of the Venice Architectural Biennale being held next year in Italy.

The Children’s Museum, open since 2003, looks to have a cultural impact beyond its core mandate, as I discovered during a recent tour of the facility with its cavernous four-storey-high central atrium carved out of what once was the 80-year-old Goudies Department Store.

A truncated version of Empire (1964), Warhol’s silent portrait of the Empire State Building, will be projected in the atrium. A miniature replica of Warhol’s Silver Factory from 1960s New York now stands where Goudies shoppers once bought the store’s famous cinnamon buns.

“The Factory” is also positioned as a calling card for the museum. “We’re having corporate hospitality nights during the Warhol in the hope more people will see what the space offers,” says Angela Olano, the museum’s head of marketing.

“Canada has only six children’s museums,” Marskell points out. “But they get about 34 per cent of their funding from municipal government. We don’t get any. I have to raise $900,000 a year to survive.”

Survival. Now there’s a need Warhol understood completely.

“Andy Warhol was addicted to the working-class aesthetic,” Sokolowski reminds me. “Work was his métier. It was in his blood.”

Peter Goddard is a Toronto-based freelance writer. He can be reached atpeter_g1@sympatico.ca

originally posted in The Toronto Star

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