Two artists from different worlds, deeply embedded in their own cultures, commenting, documenting and forcing change either actively or passively, now brought together in a major exhibition of their work, currently on show at the National Gallery of Victoria.
When Andy Warhol went to China in 1982 Chairman Mao had only been dead for a few years, and it was a mere 10 years since Richard Nixon had made his historic visit in 1972; the same year which saw Warhol’s own rather revolutionary silk screen portrait of Mao as celebrity icon. By 1982 the country was still very much as Mao had left it, albeit with some loosening of the central control that had all but obliterated the idea of an avant-garde art scene; art being very much a weapon of propaganda under Mao’s rule. Indeed Warhol himself was virtually unknown on the streets of Beijing, and Christopher Makos’s marvellous photographs show us a Beijing that has now almost disappeared into history, with Andy Warhol happily inhabiting the role of just another western tourist.
Once Warhol seriously took up photography in the 1970s the floodgates opened, and this book contains a selection of the hundreds of pictures he took (or had taken) during his visit to Hong Kong and mainland China in 1982. A kaleidoscope of impressions, portraits and tourist snaps, Warhol’s inquisitive eye appeared to get distracted by everything, and he clearly relished being a stranger in a strange land.
Ai Weiwei has, like Warhol, made himself into an almost industrial artist revelling in found objects, re-purposing and repetition as well as the creation of his own beautiful handcrafted pieces. A ferocious social and political critic, he uses his art and Warholian sense of media savvy, to comment on the world around him, sometimes with dangerous effectiveness. This volume highlights notable work across a dazzling array of forms, from installations and photography to porcelain and wood, through to large scale architectural commissions, all of them imbued with his deep seated sense of justice, and outrage at justice denied. “So Sorry, refers to the thousands of apologies expressed recently by governments, industries, and financial corporations worldwide in an effort to make up for tragedies and wrongdoings – though often without shouldering the consequences or the desire to acknowledge let alone repair.”
Just as Warhol embraced the media of his age from photography to film, so too has Ai Weiwei used the technology available to him to further his artistic and political aims. Finding his artistic work increasingly inhibited by the Chinese government, in 2005 he turned to the virtual sphere to get his message out, creating a blog and publishing a stream of posts which pinned his artistic and political credo to the mast. After he was finally forced to close the blog down in 2009 he took to Twitter with similar effectiveness. This volume presents a wide selection of some of his most notable posts, including his now famous expose of government responsibility for the shocking loss of life following an earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, the ramifications of which are still being felt. Publish or be damned!
These two terrific documentaries are also available to view at the Library, if you want to explore these remarkable lives in more detail.
Andy Warhol gives one of the greatest interviews of all time, uh yes.