Boring things

One of the coolest things about the art world is how tiny it is. On a lovely Saturday afternoon I ran into the producer of the recent PBS documentary on Andy Warhol. I was excited to see this acquaintance because I had loved this project. It was thoughtful, sincere, honest, a little creepy, and interesting. I’m not saying I think Andy Warhol was a great person, but he was a great artist.

One of the brilliant things the producer and his director Ken Burns did was have Jeff Koons read from the Warhol diaries. It was amazing to hear Koons whisper Warhol’s words. In particular I loved the lines at the end of the two-part film: “I tell every young artist, just make more art. And in the time it takes for everyone to decide if it’s any good, go back and make more, and make more art. Just make more art.” Inspirational.

So tonight I’m back from MoMA and an artist’s reception. Through a little fluke a couple years ago I had some work donated to the museum so I got invited to this thing. And while there, I got to thinking about Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter.

MoMA currently has an installation that, on a diagonal axis across five rooms, counterposes Richter’s Bader Meinhoff paintings with Warhol’s Empire State film. A great pairing: Richter loved Warhol, and since Richter’s MoMA retrospective EVERYONE loves Richter.

The thing I found so interesting about looking at Richter’s paintings and then Warhol’s film is how boring they are. And intentionally so. In the Bader-Meinhoff paintings, as in much of Richter’s output, he has “taken,” “snatched,” or “sampled” images for the vast sea of imagery that floats around us in the course of modern life. He then takes those newspaper clippings and renders them as paintings, which in turn are preserved, at the highest levels of humanity, for our contemplation.

For me this has had the effect of making me really look at newspaper photographs, really really look. Some of them are amazing. There are photos floating around you every day that rival Vermeer. Be on the lookout.

Walking through the connecting galleries and discovering Warhol’s film was a delight. Beautifully installed, it loomed six feet off the ground and ten feet high. It looked a lot like a Richter painting.

I stood there for a minute, not much more, and I realized my luck. I had walked into the room at a key moment.

The Empire State film is very long. For those¬†who don’t know it, it is simply one extended shot of the top three-quarters of the Empire State Building. As the photography is totally static one can get drowsy watching it. And you notice yourself getting drowsy. But then things “happen.” And I had arrived on the scene just as something major was about to happen.

I stood there for a minute and noticed the scene was growing dark. It was the moment in the film that the sun was going down. Ever … so … gradually … the image started to fade to almost black … and … then THE LIGHT! The light on the Empire State Building goes on. And the film continues.

What Warhol’s film does, like Richter’s paintings, is make you notice how amazing the world is. The dumbest little thing, like the light on the Empire State Building, is a cause for celebration.

4 responses to “Boring things”

  1. hey lane. this reminded me of dave’s noticing post. you both provide an injunction i appreciate. i’ll remember it when thumbing through a newspaper.

    i still need to see that warhol movie. we saw a trailer for a new film about edie sedgwick, with dylan and warhol fighting over her. it looked pretty terrible. i’d rather see the burns.

    your post made me think, too, of something i just noticed this morning riding north on mulberry street — and that’s how terrific the empire state building looks from that vantage point, smack in the middle of little italy.

  2. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Lou Reed/John Cale-Songs for Drella-Work

    “Sometimes when I can’t decide what I should do
    I think what would Andy have said
    He’s probably say you think too much
    That’s ’cause there’s work that you don’t want to do
    It’s work, the most important thing is work
    Work, the most important thing is work”

    The film to see “about” Edie is called Ciao Manhattan.

    We saw it on a double bill with Heat at the New Beverly I don’t want to admit how many years ago and it is strange stuff. I loved the Warhol/Morrisey film at the time but have been unable to get the other one out of my head. An unrecognizable Edie plays herself in color in a jumbled together plot looking back at life in New York. The documentary black and white footage of her Factory years is just as striking as ever and the juxtaposition with what she has become combined with the pomo aspect of her druggily narrating her own story is weirdly apt.

    There’s a show out here at the Getty combining Caspar David Friedrich (of all people) with Richter-missed the MoMA show so will have to make do with this one. What I’ve seen of Richter thus far I have loved though-thanks for the insights, Lane

    As for Koons…

  3. PB says:

    I can remember the first time I saw a Rothko painting and thought: oh that is what red looks like. I was struck by color in a way that felt absolutely like and yet unlike anything in real life. Nice to see you back Lane.

  4. Lane says:

    Ruben, Koons is KING! well maybe not king, but a very good and interesting artist, not all of it, the paintings stink, But he’s quite good actually.

    The pairing of Friedrich and Richter is a natural. I think Friedrich is from Dresden as well. In any event he was, and is, very important to Richter. He kind of sybolizes everthing that Richter longs for in painting and has been irretrivablly lost. It’s interesting that it’s playing in Los Angeles, which is the other side of Richter, an embrace of everything that is NOT old crusty European “culture.”

    Koons is good, but Richter is THE BEST!