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Andy and Oz: Parallel Visions
A collaboration between the National Gallery of Australia
and The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, USA
.
11 October until 30 December 2007

Introduction | Two takes on Warhol | God save Oz | Nature & culture, fetish & fantasy | All the world's a stage | The final take | selected works

 

All the world’s a stage, a film set,
a television scenario, a photo-shoot: take 1/ take 2/ take 3/ take 4

Tracey Moffatt 'Something more #1' 1989 direct positive colour photograph Collection of the National Gallery of Australia Courtesy of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, SydneyTracey Moffatt 'Something more #1' 1989 direct positive colour photograph Collection of the National Gallery of Australia Courtesy of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney more detail


Andy Warhol as an artist and person has been one of the greatest influences in my life. It was really through him that I learnt to be a visual artist. His irreverence and funniness most of all taught me to relax about art. If you wanted to produce it all you had to do was ‘work at it’. Andy once said to one of his ‘kids’ who wanted to be a successful artist: ‘just stay at home and work really hard and then you’ll become really famous’. (Tracey Moffatt) 1

In one of Tracey Moffatt’s most famous works, Something more, she creates the impression of film stills cut from an Australian road movie of her own making. Each frame is in turn like a stage set – a constructed world of painted and fabricated backdrops in and around which the central protagonists act out the implied drama. From the first image, beauty and danger are present: embodied in the image of the artist in a dazzling red and black cheongsam; the threatening presence of the drinking thickset man at the table, and a sleazy woman smoking in the doorway trapped in her own fate. Against the stillness of these three figures is the movement of the young Asian man moving into the sightline and the blurring of two young boys. Across the whole set of images there is a sense of melodrama and, always, the possibility of something more. There are suggestions of taunting youths, gentle seduction, the shimmer of a new outfit, a violent encounter, sado-masochism and disaster. While the idea of a narrative is central – of a beautiful young woman who ends up sprawled, presumably left for dead, on a roadside 300 miles from the city – there is also in each image a fabricated, layered world that is closer to poetry; ambiguous, suggestive, open-ended. Like Warhol, Moffatt has a passion for the look of things – the way that dress is a theatrical and psychological device. There is a continual play in both artists’ works between glamour and a camp attitude, between artifice and reality, between documentary photography and an attraction to the bizarre in the everyday. For both artists, television and film provided an outlet for their dreams when they were growing up (Warhol in Pittsburgh and Moffatt in Brisbane). Like Warhol, Moffatt has also had a passion for Hollywood movies, reflected in her DVD compilations Love and Doomed (made in collaboration with Garry Hillberg): in the deliberate selection of images or cuts from a range of films that cumulatively tap into shared emotions of love and terror.

Moffatt’s work can be interpreted on many levels. It has, for example, been written that while her photographs and films ‘engage with many of the major social issues of the present era – landrights, immigration, mass media, globalisation – they also constantly reference and re-imagine her own past as an Aboriginal born in 1960 and brought up in a foster home in Brisbane’.2 Moffatt herself says:

I think all my imagery comes from my subconscious, from dreams. I am not talking about when I dream at night … but the dreams I have when I am awake. We can dream with our eyes open. This is why I’ve been hesitant to be written about as a social commentator. I think my work is very dream-like … I like to create my version of reality, the work comes from me, what I know. Things I have seen and experienced and things I think I have seen and experienced. Maybe it’s just an exaggerated version of my own reality. Sources of inspiration come from everywhere.3

Juan Davila also sees issues of cultural identity as layered and complex, drawing inspiration from diverse contexts and imaginative possibilities. For him, partial, simplistic readings of identity relating to Australia and his country of birth, Chile, have been ongoing sources of frustration. He recognises that the personal and political are linked; that society, history and attitudes about the way we live our lives are inseparable. He notes:

For me Pop art represented a fake popular culture in the sense that it was a Western only view. Warhol and Lichtenstein are an example of the clean White Anglo Saxon Protestant ethos. Product, marketing, money, social climbing, perversion, apoliticality and repression of emotion are what come to mind for me with Warhol. In the 80s we tried to rewrite the history of Pop art from the antipodes, mixing American and English Pop with local references, thus altering the Australian passivity in repeating imported culture. We also highlighted cultural materials rejected by the High Pop, for example Indigenous culture.4

Juan Davila 'On Sexuality and Politics ' 1984 synthetic polymer paint on direct positive colour photograph on composition board Collection of the National Gallery of AustraliaJuan Davila 'On Sexuality and Politics ' 1984 synthetic polymer paint on direct positive colour photograph on composition board Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge

Like Robert Rooney, Davila was included in Paul Taylor’s Popism show that considered the Post-Pop phenomenon.5 On sexuality and politics brings out other parallels or possibilities for a different ‘conversation’ between artists. Davila notes that during the 1980s in Australia there was a discussion about provincialism and that, along with other artists, he developed strategies ‘to counteract the prominence given to American and European art in a cringe that continues today’. The really moving ideas for Davila did not derive from the dominant Western idea of Pop art: ‘I have quoted both the works of Warhol and Lichtenstein, not because I love them, but because they can operate as a sounding board for what has transpired in the Reagan and Bush era. What I have loved all along is the Latin American Pop Baroque Art with it social commitment.’6

The first impression of On sexuality and politics is its dramatic scale, its visceral qualities, its strength and poignancy, its edgy erotic power. Davila comments on the process:

[On sexuality and politics] contrasts the new painting in the 80’s, for example that of [Jorg] Immendorf, with the discourse of photography. The picture wavers between photography and painting. I recall also altering the work many times with the concept of the unfinished work. I tried to make Authorship multiple and open.7

These photographic, painterly works are theatrical in their staging, interweaving religious iconography with sexual politics and the politics of the art world. Davila has noted that he is interested in the process of replacement of what is real by its reproduction. There is a fascinating reversal of this in On sexuality and politics in the way he replaces the reproduction with the real – the many reproductions of the pietà or images of remembrance, replaced with a sweating self-portrait holding a young half-naked man on his lap. (Davila notes that the image was photographed in front of the Shrine of Remembrance and is also a reference to Diggers at war.) Around the bodies, he has painted trademarks of the styles, names and imagery of artists who have ‘made it’ in the art world. It may be tempting to read the portraits of the male protagonists as a shift from the sacred to the sacrilegious, the iconic to the iconoclastic. This may be true but it may also undermine the potency of the image. Could the transmutation of a religious icon not also be a re-reading of love and suffering? Davila is passionate about questions of sexual repression, believing it to be as important as political repression in his native Chile. On sexuality and politics can therefore also be seen as part of a wider investigation of masculinity, machismo and the outsider, made all the more urgent taking into account the context of the 1980s when AIDS was having a devastating impact around the world. Like Warhol, Davila often includes homosexual references in his art, while simultaneously guarding his privacy. In this work Davila allows confrontation to be coupled with a certain tenderness, shifting our orientation so that the images of the outsider take centre-stage, leaving the field of possibilities – sacred and secular – wide open.

Like Davila, Moffatt and Liu Xiao Xian, Christian Thompson incorporates his self portrait into his photo-based work. In the act of transformation he suggests alternate ways of thinking about identities. In his Emotional striptease series he questions issues to do with personal and cultural identities; refusing, as a young Aboriginal artist, to succumb to narrow, easy stereotypes. In this series he depicts himself wearing a ruff and holding a boomerang over his head, while in another image a female model poses in a whalebone corset. Attributes from Australia’s colonial past are no longer shackles but have become complicit in a contemporary process of reclamation. For Thompson, these works are about turning images of Indigenous people as victims around; taking control – in a spirit of defiance, with panache and theatrical flair. Part of the liberation for Thompson in his encounters with Warhol’s work has been his diverse identities.

Andy is the child of European migrants. I identify with him as an outsider or fringe dweller. I’m not sure why but characters like Francis Bacon, Quentin Crisp, Boy George and of course Andy Warhol have always appealed to me. Perhaps it is their larger than life exterior or their ambiguity? Their inbetweeness? The collision of their seemingly disparate senses of self …8

Christian Bumbarra Thompson 'Andy Warhol' 2004 C-type print Collection of the National Gallery of AustraliaChristian Bumbarra Thompson 'Andy Warhol' 2004 C-type print Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge

Like Warhol, Thompson has long enjoyed the idea of dressing up as a means of altering identity. He identifies with the spirit of experimentation and inventiveness in Warhol’s work, including his multiple representations of himself. Warhol was deeply interested in ways of imaging the self, changing his name from Warhola to Warhol. In the 1950s he began to effect a physical transformation. He started to lose his hair during his early twenties and wore a small hairpiece to hide the fact. In photographic contact sheets of self portraits in The Andy Warhol Museum he is shown ‘doubling his efforts to hide and transform himself – once by wearing whiteface makeup and by posing near one of his hand-painted folding screens, whose purpose was to create privacy’.9 The personal wigs that Warhol wore from the mid-1960s were shades of blond veering to white that made him instantly recognisable.

It is this ‘look’ that Christian Thompson adopts in his portrait Gates of Tambo – Andy Warhol. The long, pale hair falling across his face leaves us in little doubt of the subject of his impersonation, despite the concealment of his face. At the same time, the spout of water that he blows from his mouth adds a sense of absurd humour, echoing Bruce Nauman’s Self portrait as a fountain 1967. Thompson’s reasons for depicting himself as Warhol are in part because of the ongoing relevance Warhol has to contemporary culture, predating our obsessions with reality television. Thompson also points out that Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from Australia travel widely, live in different places and take their ‘selves’, their cultural, social and artistic backgrounds, with them in an ongoing process of engagement with fresh ideas and alternative ways of looking at the world. As he says:

Andy and Bruce [Nauman] are absolutely creative forefathers. I have never thought of my work or my position in Australia as being ‘not’ international but in fact the opposite, I feel international as much in regional Queensland as I do in Amsterdam or New York. What is pure is the energy that perpetuates the simple gestures which are most central to our existence.10

One of Warhol’s most audacious cross-cultural migrations into portraiture is his depiction of the Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung. As Robert Rosenblum writes:

It is something of a miracle that a contemporary Western artist could seize, as Warhol has, the Olympian Big Brother image of Mao Tse-Tung. In a quartet of canvases huge enough to catch one’s eye at the Worker’s Stadium in Peking, Warhol has located the chairman in some otherworldly blue heaven, a secular deity of staggering dimensions who calmly and omnipotently watches over us earthlings.11

Liu Xiao Xian, an artist born in China who migrated to Australia as a young adult, recalls that in the 1980s when Warhol’s images of Mao Tse-Tung first became known in his country of birth, they sent shockwaves through society. He recalls that at the time many people still revered Mao, reading their little red books – not just in China but around the world.

During the 1970s, China was totally closed to the world … I saw Warhol’s work first time in the mid ’80s when China had reopened itself to the world for about five years. I remember there was a major exhibition of American Pop art at China’s National Art Gallery in Beijing. It was as though a bomb had exploded among the Chinese art world especially to the young people like myself. I was starting to use photography in my art practice and I was largely influenced by Pop art artists, such as Warhol, Hockney, Rauschenberg and others.12


Andy Warhol No 5 from Mao Tse-Tung 1972 National Gallery of Australia © Andy Warhol. Licensed by ARS & VISCOPY, Australia click to enlarge

With the passage of time, many of the younger post-Cultural Revolution generation of artists became interested in the Pop idiom, easily grasping Pop art’s engagement with the effects of mass production and the mass circulation of ideas. They also took on board the spirit of inquiry and energy implied in the re-invention of the cultural icon of Mao in their own works and in their own ways. Liu Xiao Xian has been fascinated by Warhol’s use of seriality and multiples in his work, recognising the potent effect of the reinforcement of images of the same scale placed alongside one another. Like Warhol, Hall and Horn, he also understands the effects of the macrocosm and the microcosm. In Reincarnation – Mao, Buddha & I, he uses new technology to striking effect with each giant portrait – of Mao, the Buddha and himself – inhabited by thousands of tiny portraits (not clearly visible in reproduction). The artist takes this further:

The work is completed in three portraits … Each consists of 100 panels of A4 size prints. Tiny portraits of each subject are used as ‘basic elements’, which in turn construct the portrait of the other, i.e. ‘Mao’ is made out of ‘I’, and so on. Technically, I utilise the principle of the halftone image reproduction – the tones are broken into dots, which I have swapped for tiny images to emphasise that the universe is made up of basic elements …

The work is constructed to such huge proportions not only to meet the technical requirement, but also to allow the 108,300 small images to compete with each other outrageously for attention. Moreover, the delicacy of changes from small to the general as a whole may lead us into thoughts about micro
versus macro.13

Liu Xiao Xian 'Reincarnation – Mao, Buddha and I' 1998 digital images printed in black ink from inkjet printer on thin board Collection of the National Gallery of AustraliaLiu Xiao Xian 'Reincarnation – Mao, Buddha and I' 1998 digital images printed in black ink from inkjet printer on thin board Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge

The multiplicity in the work suggests our human interdependence, as well as our connections with the recent and more distant past and with the future. The reinvention of the Buddha, Mao and the self is about the mutability of one presence into another, a changing of roles and a continuum beyond this life. After seeing the work up close and at a distance, the ambiguity of identities becomes obvious in the constant changing of roles. In this the artist draws upon the Taoist principles of Yin and Yang; basic elements providing the ‘explanatory basis for the formation of the cosmos and its symbolic correlation in the corresponding human world’. He also refers to the Buddhist Scriptures, noting ‘that the immensity of the gigantic cosmos has no boundaries? Yet, it is so small that the infinitude of the inside has no end’.14

 

Deborah Hart
Senior Curator
Australian Painting and Sculpture after 1920

 

Notes
1 Correspondence from Tracey Moffatt to Deborah Hart, 3 September 2007
2 Paula Savage, Tracey Moffatt, exhibition catalogue, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, p. 7
3 Tracey Moffatt, exhibition catalogue, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, p. 33
4 Juan Davila, correspndance with Deborah Hart, 10 September 2007
5 See Paul Taylor, Popism, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1982
6 Juan Davila, correspondence with Deborah Hart, 10 September 2007
7 Juan Davila, correspondence with Deborah Hart, 10 September 2007
8 Correspondence from Christian Thompson to Deborah Hart, 3 September 2007
9 Andy Warhol, 365 takes, staff of The Warhol Museum, p. 74
10 Correspondence from Christian Thompson to Deborah Hart, 3 September 2007
11 See Henry Geldzahler and Robert Rosenblum, Andy Warhol Portraits, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1993, p. 148
12 Correspondence from Liu Xiao Xian, 16 September 2007. The impact of Pop on Chinese art was evident in the landmark exhibition, Mao goes POP: China post-1989, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1993
13 Liu Xiao Xian in Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, Anna Gray (ed), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, p. 403
14 Liu Xiao Xian in Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, p. 403

 

This exhibition is proudly supported by the National Gallery of Australia Council Exhibitions Fund