Extreme close up images of silver rectangular helium filled pillows, copies of those used in American artist Andy Warhol’s renowned ‘silver cloud’s’ installation at the Leo Castelli’s gallery in New York in 1966, helped the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) Tony Ellwood wrap up his surprise summer show arts announcement media event recently. After being treated to a succinct well presented run down of the contents of the show by Max Delany, Senior curator of Contemporary art and design at the NGV and a postnote by Tony Ellwood, silver clouds rained down on everyone from above.
Tony Ellwood was well pleased with the reaction to his revealing that starting 11th December – 24th April 2016 at the National Gallery of Victoria, the summer exhibition will be by a dynamic duo in art Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei - surely the best-kept secret in town. Exclusive to the NGV in Australia the exhibition will display 300 + works across multiple mediums. This includes some 200 by the 20th century pop art prince, painter, print maker, avant-garde filmmaker, record producer and sometime author Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
A suite of original works especially commissioned installations by contemporary catalyst Ai Weiwei will comprise the most comprehensive representation of his work presented in Australia to date.
This will be a big show, being held in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, USA, taking up all the main exhibition spaces on the ground floor of the NGV International, one of the largest shows they have ever held.
After its summer showing here the exhibition will head to the USA for the summer of 2016. It will be sure to engage all the senses through the visual art, the expansion of learning and the ambient experience.
We are the sum total of all our shared experiences as human beings since the beginning of time; each inspiring the other down the ages, some more than most and across cultural boundaries
Exploring the art works of a modernist 20th ‘American century’ artist at the foundation of a reputed contemporary 21st ‘Chinese century to come’, will reveal how inspiration occurs now as it did in the past by human contact.
Ai Weiwei’s connection with the older much talked about artist Andy Warhol happened when he visited New York as a young man and it is fair to say that it has defined his work and life experience ever since. He didn’t ever meet Warhol personally, but encountering his art was enough to have him consider his own options for the future.
Weiwei commented “I believe this is a very interesting and important exhibition and an honour for me to have the opportunity to be exhibited alongside Andy Warhol. This is a great privilege for me as an artist” he said.
Photographed in front of a 1966-1967 self-portrait of Andy Warhol, the man and artist whose ideas he came to admire when visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1987, since then as a contemporary catalyst Ai Weiwei (b.1957 -) has presented his own point of view in many different ways and mediums.
Interesting young people in contemporary art is not as hard as having them open themselves up to historic art, a current challenge for all museums and art galleries around the world. The NGV summer show is a good example of this happening, albeit on a smaller scale – the past inspiring the present, even if it is only a half a century in between the two featured main artists.
Some of Andy Warhol’s icons will be here, including his Campbell’s Soup can and ‘cats’, cats and more cats…! Warhol’s cat obsession produced some very special images, which will be employed to enliven a special children’s space. Weiwei continues the tradition of Warhol’s cats in his own studio today, a connection between them both across time and space.
Warhol was the pop art prince of the second half of the twentieth century, inspiring dynamic new directions while constantly challenging those within his circle, as well as those living beyond the square, through his art works and business acumen.
He was in the good business of the best art and certainly didn’t pull any punches about it.
Warhol also didn’t view art as an elitist exercise, even though he ended up as being one of the elite himself, feted in society as he embraced the art of commerce with great alacrity.
He offered his own age a unique insight into the reality of their own perceptions, offering everyone a chance to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame.
He took art out of institutions into the malls and supermarkets of America, expanding it and his influence.
Along the way he impressed the young emerging Chinese artist Ai Weiwei who emerged out of the east for his first trip to the west and New York in 1981.
Weiwei ended up staying, studying and working in America, mostly in New York until 1993, absorbing the different aspects of the west that appealed and reflecting its contemporary influences on his art.
The show will explore the parallels and points of difference between the two artists, while showcasing a suite of major commissions by the NGV that will be presented alongside Ai Weiwei’s other works to date.
The Federation court will be filled with hundreds and hundreds of bicycles as part of a commission from Ai Weiwei based on his Forever Bicycle installation at Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again) was the first book Ai Weiwei purchased in New York, and was a significant influence upon his conceptual approach.
Accordingly the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition catalogue will be accompanied by a deluxe collectors’ book in a presentation case, including an original limited-edition print by Ai Weiwei; a prestigious hardback edition; and sumptuous paperback volume.
The publications are about exploring the conceptual, formal, and strategic and the historical resonances between both artists’ work and so who knows who they will inspire for the future.
Prior to World War I the societal thinking for this generation, which often seems disconnected now, has a lot to do with maturity and the world having changed so much through technology.
We can only hope as the new generation progress in life they will discover they do have a natural curiosity to find out how the past, present and future are intrinsically linked together by the human experience.
Andy Warhol was the buzz celebrity whose name was on so many lips when I was young and today’s generation still see him as forever young, one of their own. Why that is would make for a thought provoking conversation beyond the scope of this piece.
Much of it has to do with the fact that Andy Warhol was only 59 when he died and integral to the age of ‘modernity’, which started in the closing years of the 19th century. He represented the 60’s societal revolution happening in democratic society.
Warhol had become a beacon of hope for many creative people in my post World War II generation.
He wanted society’s leaders to realise art was a business and that artists, like everyone else in society, deserved to be paid for their work.
No longer should they have to die in poverty ‘romantically’ in a freezing cold garret, while everyone else made a motza off their work.
He changed the status quo in regard to art appreciation giving it to everyman and everywoman to own for themselves if they sought to do so. It’s all about our choices.
When Weiwei encountered Warhol he questioned the ideology of the communist regime, operating in his own country, and reflected that in his own art while politically he campaigned for what he believed in too, often with hard consequences.
Art is society holding a mirror up to itself.
Art reflects our attitudes, as well as our fashions and passions.
Mercedes Benz the major sponsor has a Warhol connection too, which should make for interesting promotional opportunities as we progress towards a very cool, but definitely very hot blockbuster summer exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Warhol would be pleased and Weiwei is, there is no doubt.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
11 December – 24 April 2016
The Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh, USA
June – August 2016