In the interest of full disclosure I’ll start by admitting I’m not the Warhol fan I used to be. If my regard for Andy Warhol were to be drawn as a bell-shaped curve, I’d estimate my current position at about halfway down the far side. I haven’t completely lost interest, but I’m nowhere near the advocate I was before. As to whether my waning appreciation is the result of hating the player (Warhol) or the game (his work), I’m not entirely sure. I expect it’s a bit of both. Given the span of a 40 year career, it’s pretty much inevitable that an artist will make some lousy work and do some lousy things.
And while many would argue that “it doesn’t matter how the artist behaves, we should judge them by their work”, that suggestion falls flat in Warhol’s case. His personality, his quotes, his likes, his dislikes, his wounds, his face, his friends, and his fears are so much a part of his oeuvre that it’s impossible to separate him from his work.
“Other Voices, Other Rooms” presents a similarly problematic dichotomy. Think of it as the age-old question of form versus content. There’s the thing itself, the form, which is comprised of materials; how it’s made, what it looks like, how big or small it is, how you navigate your way through it, etc. And then there’s the content; that is, what it says and what it means.
I point this out because OVOR absolutely slays when judged on form. It’s easily the most inventive and ambitious installation I’ve seen at the Wexner Center. There’s plush carpeting, there’s sound booths, there’s two-sided screens, string curtains, and thirty-foot high wallpapered walls. There are objects, knick-knacks, bright lights, and balloons. The form, that is, the stuff of the exhibition is first rate; well designed and well executed. Kudos are due everyone involved for transforming the Wexner space in a way few could have imagined.
The content though is an altogether different animal. It’s hard to imagine that snippets of conversations, half-realized video projects, and interminable screen tests would mean anything to anyone other than the most fervent of Warhol fans. It’s the kind of treasure trove a biographer might find useful, but I’m not sure it says anything greater than the fact that Warhol had pretty much unlimited access to camera equipment, beautiful people, celebrities, and drugs. Of course all this can be contextualized by insisting that Warhol foresaw a future where we’d all have cameras and 15 minutes to spare. And while that may be true, it’s sad to see how seamlessly the hapless acting, pointless dialog, and inattention to craft from 40 years ago fits into today’s YouTube idiom.
This bumbling lack of effort, this unwillingness to care about the product or say anything meaningful stands in sharp contrast to the early drawings on display. Warhol had a way of laying down lines that I’ve never figured out. They’re simultaneously confident and delicate; exact while also appearing spontaneous. If there are indeed “other voices” in this exhibition it’s the voices of those drawings. They’re saying, “Here’s the hand of the artist not obscured by fame. Here’s some modest works, not bathed in cynicism”.
Jeff Regensburger is a painter, librarian, and drummer in the (currently dormant) rock combo The Patsys. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) from The Ohio State University in 1990 and an Master’s Degree in Library Science from Kent State University in 1997. Jeff blogs sporadically (OnSummit.blogspot.com), tweets occasionally (@jeffrey_r), and paints as time allows.