Art Inspection

Chasing Warhol's Shadows

In 1978, fairly late in his career, Andy Warhol embarked on a large-scale work of masterful ambiguity — even for the master of ambiguity himself. Shadows is a vast environmental work made up of 102 canvases, variations on two abstract images of shadows on matte colored surfaces, hung edge to edge and close to the floor.

Even certified “Warholics” may have missed this monumental work, which required seven trucks and a massive amount of earthquake insurance to bring to Los Angeles’ MOCA from the Dia Art Foundation in New York.

MOCA celebrated the opening with a dinner at The Standard, Downtown LA where we had a tête-à-tête with Monsiour Vergne about his decision to bring Shadows to MOCA Grand Avenue, and what the world has left to learn from Andy Warhol.

Bennett Simpson & Philippe Vergne

STANDARD CULTURE: Why did you decide to bring Shadows to MOCA?
Philippe Vergne: It is rare to have a piece that changes the way you think about an artist. Nobody thinks of Warhol as an abstract painter, or as someone who does installations that can embrace an entire building. Yet, they are still very Warhol.

They are about seriality and producing work within a factory, with an assembly line. They are about repetition. It’s programmable repetition that produces the work.

Warhol is one of the most exhibited artists of the 20th century. Why is it so important to continue showing him?
He was not a pop artist, he was more than a pop artist. His work was about the vanity of Western Culture. From his obsession with daisies to his obsession with celebrity; which in a way is an obsession with death.

How is celebrity an obsession with death?
They say 15 minutes, and then you go. It’s a vanity, overexposure.

How would Warhol respond to overexposure in year 2014?
Warhol said that everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame. If Warhol was living today, I think he’d say that everybody wants 15 minutes of anonymity.

In a way, that’s what the Shadows is about, the moment the anonymity appears. The moment his body is no longer here, when his body becomes a ghost, and yet he’s still here. I don’t think we’re done understanding the legacy of his work. That’s why he’s so exhibited. And that is what’s so interesting. When he was alive he was not the most celebrated artist of his time.

What do you take away from this piece?
Even if the work is fetishized right now, it was not about the painting. Look at Shadows, for example, it's a piece about time, architecture, moving images. Warhol defied painting.

For him it was about capturing a moment in society. That’s why he did Warhol television, Interview magazine, and produced the Velvet Underground and movies. He went on Love Boat, he had a very keen understanding of where media culture would take us, and what is meant to be as an artist, a public figure. He developed a way of working that many artist today are still feeding on. We don’t even need to name them. It started in 1962 and they're still doing it.

Andy Warhol: Shadows is on view until February 2, 2015 at MOCA Grand Avenue.

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