Warhol draws music

By Alidor Aucoin on October 2, 2008

Andy Warhol’s genius was that not only did he connect graphic design, cinema, sex, politics and pop  culture, but as a new exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts demonstrates, Warhol was also the world’s most successful groupie.

 Warhol Live, Music and Dance in Andy Warhol’s Work, which runs until Jan. 18. tracks  the artist’s considerable contributions to and fascination with the music industry and the people who made it.

“Warhol never went anywhere without his tape recorder, and he spent most of his time listening and taping,” said Emma Lavigne, Centre Pompideau in Paris. “His optic nerve resonated with his eardrums.”

Obsessed with fame, Warhol regarded musicians and rock stars as little more than brand images.  He manufactured slick, commercial pictures of them to sell his Interview magazine which featured transcripts of his tape recordings.

 Warhol’s paintings  of Sting, Michael Jackson, and Mick Jagger, to name a few, are but scintillating reflections of the sheen of fame.

“Warhol loves every form of music, whether it was classical, avant garde or popular,” said Matt Wrbican, an archivist at the Andy Warhol  Museum in Pittsburgh. He was just all around it all the time.” But Warhol himself was much more honest: "I don't really like music, I like the people who make it."

Few people are aware that Warhol began designing  jackets for long playing records, in 1949, and continued to do so until he died in 1987.

 Included in the show are 50 of his album covers, ranging from the banal (the gold edged jacket for Van Cliburn’s 1962 recording of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto #1)  to the suggestive,, (the zippered Rolling Stones 1971 Sticky Fingers lp).  There’s an entire gallery devoted to Warhol’s obsession with Jagger.  Jagger’s handlers are not happy with the exposure, and have prohibited the museum from using any of the Jagger images in its promotional material.

There are more than 640 works in the show, including photographs, gelatin prints, paintings, films, video clips and archival documents.

The exhibition is built around four major themes: Tuning In, which explores Warhol's early interest in music; Sound and  Vision, which looks at his commercial interest in  music and dance, Producer, which highlights Warhol as the manager of a recording and film studio,  the Silver Factory. He clearly anticipated reality  television , and the two films here Sleep, shows a man asleep for eight hours,  and Empire,  a single shot of the Empire State Building from early evening until dawn.

The final element, Fame, covers Warhol’s contributions to pop culture in the 1970s and up until his death in 1987. The  gallery is a time trip back to Studio 54, the legendary New York disco, and is  filled with his iconic works of rock stars such as Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Prince, Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, and  Debbie Harry.

If the images fascinate, it is not because of any real conviction behind the works, but because Warhol recognized and exploited the seductive power of celebrity, and it mechanical appeal.

Montreal’s Paul Maréchal, has contributed the 50 Warhol-designed LP covers to the show, which was put together by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Pompidou Centre in Paris with the co-operation of the Andy Warhol Museum. Maréchel will talk about his collection at the museum on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. A lavish two volume boxed catalogue is available in English and in French for $120.

Warhol Live: Music and Dance in Andy Warhol's Work runs until Jan. 18 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. For more information, call 514-285-2000 or visit the museum's website at www.mmfa.qc.ca.

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