Monday, September 28, 2009

Icons from the Byzantine era and the 20th Century

It's so interesting how Warhol drew inspiration from Byzantine icons in his creation of images of iconic celebrities. This exhibition is surely a must-see!

Double-Header of Warhol Exhibitions Opening this Fall in Athens

Andy Warhol, Alexander the Great, 1982,

ATHENS.- Potnia Thiron and Haunch of Venison will present a double-header of Warhol exhibitions in Athens this autumn. Opening simultaneously, Warhol/Icon: The Creation of Image at the Byzantine and Christian Museum and Warhol: Screen Tests at Potnia Thiron Gallery, will explore Warhol’s obsession with fame through his work as a painter and filmmaker of ‘icons’. The emphasis across both exhibitions will be on the relationship between his Byzantine religious beliefs, Slavic background and devotion to his mystical mother, and his apparently unfettered celebration of an American celebrity culture.

Warhol/Icon: the Creation of Image
Set against the backdrop of the world’s greatest collection of Byzantine icons, Warhol/Icon: The Creation of Image brings together a selection of the works which helped Warhol reinvent portraiture in the second half of the twentieth century. Curated by the distinguished Warhol scholar Paul Moorhouse, the exhibition probes the enduring significance and value of the icon, connecting historic sacred antecedents with Warhol’s modern icons: images of the famous created in a celebrity-obsessed secular era.

Common to the historic and modern concepts of an icon, the idea of worship is central. Warhol’s work endorses, dissects – and employs – those processes by which a real person’s identity becomes progressively obscured by their glamorized, iconic representation in the mass-media. Seen in the context of the Byzantine and Christian Museum’s historic icons, Warhol’s modern ‘icons’ are presented as the outcome of a complex metamorphosis in which the real has been transformed into a complex but glorious abstraction.

Highlights of the exhibition include a poignant medley of paintings of the bereaving Jackie Kennedy, and several exceptional images of Marilyn Monroe, Mao and Warhol himself. Each of these figures are idealized to the point where their ‘image’ transcends their private, personal identity.

Warhol: Screen Tests
The exhibition at Potnia Thiron, a few hundred meters from the museum, will present the largest ever assembly of Warhol’s classic Screen Tests. The gallery will screen 100 of the short film portraits in a fascinating counter-point to the Warhol/Icon exhibition. While in his paintings, his declared ambition ‘to make everybody look great’ is perceived unequivocally, the Screen Tests suggest a more ambiguous position.

From 1964-66, 189 individuals came to his Manhattan studio (the silver painted loft known as ‘the Factory’) to sit for portraits; the sittings involved each participant remaining immobile for around three minutes while being filmed. There was no sound, no action, no narrative and no script. Each film was a record of the sitter’s response to the situation Warhol had created.

The range of sitters is diverse – including early Warhol superstar ‘Baby’ Jane Holzer, actor Dennis Hopper, filmmaker and Warhol’s chief assistant Gerard Malanga, actress and socialite Edie Sedgwick, singer Lou Reed and artist Salvador Dali. As with the paintings, the films are underpinned by themes of sequence, repetition and series, but whereas the portraits on canvas focus on the transformation of a media-derived image, the films engage with changes produced by the sitter over time. Projected at a slightly slower speed than the three minutes they took to record, the films reveal the sitter with a dispassionate but ruthless objectivity. Rather than making ‘everybody look great’, the Screen Tests promote an entirely different quality – not fame, but humanity at its most vulnerable.

This pair of exhibitions, which are supported by the Warhol family, the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Andy Warhol Museum, present the twentieth century’s quintessential artist in a new light. Warhol/Icon: The Creation of Image and Warhol: Screen Tests provide an unprecedented and unrepeatable illumination of Warhol’s Byzantine sensibility and his interest in the religious roots of celebrity adulation.

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