AVANTGARDE ART

WARHOL at the mumok: A UNIQUE story?

We all know Andy Warhol. But do really know his whole oeuvre? Warhol’s art at the mumok museum in Vienna offers new insights.

I’m sure many of you have already been to an Andy Warhol exhibition. After all, it is always said: “Warhol is one of the most famous personalities of the 20th century “* – well, obviously he is. Everyone knows him, his Marilyns and his soup cans. So why visit another retrospective? Don’t misunderstand: Generelly every exhibition is worth seeing, if you are interested in art. But at what point is an exhibition really good? When is it FACTION?

It is quite simple. When two things are given:

1) The dramaturgy and staging of the exhibition are breathtaking and unique.

2) A story is told that has never been told before.

With #AndyWarholExhibits, Vienna’s mumok is showing several exhibitions that all revolve around Warhol’s work. In order to let things affect me as purely as possible, I visit exhibitions without getting any information in advance. Without reading press articles and exhibition folders. Just walk through and enjoy the exhibition – that’s the goal. Well, I can say one thing: Warhol’s art at the mumok did surprise me!

Well, entering the mumok initially confronts one with a great amount of confusion. Where to start – that is always the question within the very unique exhibition architecture of the museum. As soon as you decide to go to level 0, you are greeted by a yawningly empty hall – and you don’t see a single work. Because: (almost) everything is neatly displayed in showcases. The wall text remedies this and explains: “With its focus on Warhol, the mumok has a lot of plans. It wants to look behind the Warhol façade, exhibit his rarely shown works, shed light on him as a curator & installation artist, illustrate his preoccupation with gender identities, present another exhibition freshly curated according to Warhol’s historical, curatorial principles, and also show a new collection presentation of its own Pop Art works. Now, that’s a lot! You look around and actually see nothing at first.

Don’t give up! is the motto.

À la RECHERCHE du Warhol Perdu

Of course, this is only the first impression, because the numerous showcases then reveal great treasures. Andy Warhol’s shoe drawings, already exhibited as works of art in a gallery in 1956 (and not just made for Vogue, as often reported), smile at you colorfully and with ironic comments. The title of the series is – my heart beats a little faster in delight – À la Recherche du Shoe Perdu in reference to Marcel Proust’s classic.

The Ladies Alphabet features fabulously ironic drawings of various women (types) and smirkingly takes one into the world of New York drag celebrities from the 50s.

Warhol’s series Fifteen Drawings based on the Writings of Truman Capote reveal great drawings: very elegant, formally reduced and insanely impressive.

New and well-known art: Both a DELIGHT

One of the exhibition’s goals has been fabulously successful: Warhol’s art at the mumok offers many rarely seen pieces and unknown artworks. One leaves the first room, which at first did not impress at all, full of new impressions and sets out to explore the second half of the exhibition, which is full of the familiar works. First, one strolls through the reconstructed, historically documented exhibition of wallpapered cow heads, and then lands in the middle of the Silver Clouds. Very simple, very instagrammable.

Moving on to his rarely exhibited iconic films, flanked – as it was by Warhol himself in the 70s & 80s – by his colorful screen prints.

The multimedia spectacle Exploding Plastic Inevitable takes you – reconstructed from the original 1966/67 space – into Warhol’s decadent world of Velvet Underground, Nico et altri.

Especially these two parts of the exhibitions take you very well into Warhol’s New York world and make the FACTION of his universe at that time very vivid.

In addition, his children’s pictures (works from an exhibition in 1983), photographs of the 80s or the pornographically explicit Sex Parts from 1978, among others, also find their place.

Is it FINISHED already?

And then, all of a sudden, the exhibition is over. Somehow the end of the story is reached too quickly. You ask yourself: Was that it?

No, actually not, because there are two more exhibitions that follow on from #AndyWarholExhibits: Defrosting the Icebox, a small, somewhat whimsical show that imitates Warhol’s exhibition principles by bringing rarely shown works from the Kunsthistorisches Museum as well as their transport boxes and exhibition interior architecture to the mumok.

MORE exhibitions, MORE Warhol, MORE Pop Art

And at Misfitting Together, a collection presentation of some of the museum’s holdings, you can see works by artists Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and other protagonists of the 60s.

Both exhibitions flank Warhol’s cosmos in their own way – and each brings along completely different interior design solutions. Both exciting – but both also unwieldy. In the truest sense of the word, they are difficult to access, whereby the architecture and the very discreet guidance system are primarily to blame.

Also: Does A LOT OF WARHOL bring up A LOT OF FACTION?

What remains of all this are many exhibition halls and just as many works. Many new impressions, promises kept and somehow also a fair amount of chaos. Is Warhol’s art at the mumok worth seeing? Yes, for sure. Rare things can be discovered at the show – including even reconstructed, historical exhibitions. That doesn’t happen often.

But is the exhibition FACTION? No, not at all. One is greeted by a musty hall full of showcases – there is no magic to speak of. And if there is, then the magic lies in the little things. For in the mumok, Warhol himself provides ironic magic & elegant surprises. At most, the museum shows many aspects of the complex #AndyWarholExhibits. This would have FACTION potential, because the exhibited pieces move on different meta-levels. And meta is – as I have often pointed out – ALWAYS GOOD.

However, the Warhol focus in the mumok is too small-scale, too soft, too cam. What is missing for me is the big FACTION gesture. A self-conscious, dramaturgical as well as architectural, red thread is missing. A good pinch of Hollywood, a touch of EPIC – that would have been it, to make it UNIQUE. The exhibition wants a lot, shows a lot – but doesn’t dare to do much.

Well, Hollywood or not - it's time to go to Warhol! Because you rarely see him in such diversity as at the mumok. The exhibition may not be unique - but Warhol is.

*Andy Warhol Exhibits. A glittering alternative, Ausstellungsbegleitheft, Seite 1, Mumok. Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, 2020.

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