Feb 13 2013

A Tale of Two Exhibitions: Warhol in Singapore and Hong Kong

by Sylvia Tsai

“15 Minutes Eternal” at the Hong Kong Museum of Art restages ANDY WARHOL’s installation Silver Clouds (1994/66). Copyright the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York. Courtesy Hong Kong Museum of Art.  

A traveling show of the largest collection of Andy Warhol’s works opened at the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMA) in December. “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal,” organized by The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to mark the 25th anniversary of the artist’s death, hit Singapore’s Art Science Museum (ASM) in March before coming to Hong Kong and continuing onto Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo. Having visited the exhibition in both Singapore and Hong Kong, I found suggestive differences between the two editions.

The Hong Kong show opens with the artist’s early work from the 1950s: his commercial advertisements and fashion illustrations, along with his early studies on paper. The careful contours of Reclining Male Torso (1950), executed with ballpoint pen on Manila paper, testify to the artist’s steady and practiced hand.

The majority of this first gallery, however, is dedicated to Warhol’s work from the 1960s (his “Factory Years”), which features the interactive installation, Silver Clouds (1994), a recreation of the 1966 version at the Leo Castelli Gallery. Just as engaging, the following room is painted silver and papered with foil to evoke Warhol’s studio, the “Silver Factory,” where viewers can watch Eat (1964) and Empire (1964).

Warhol’s portraits from the 1970s to 1980s continue in the adjacent gallery. During this period, Warhol explored a variety of materials as seen in the 1978 double self-portrait (made with both acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen), the five acetate collages of “Mohammed Ali” (1978), the four gelatin prints of Robert Rauschenberg (1981, 1986) and Oxidation Painting (1978)—a canvas primed with copper-based paint that Warhol and his assistants urinated on, causing chemical reactions that produced a diet-dependent spectrum of color. 

The Hong Kong Art Museum presents WARHOL’s portraits from the 1970s and 1980s. Copyright the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York. Courtesy Hong Kong Museum of Art.  

In comparison to the exhibition in Singapore that displayed only 260 artworks and objects, Hong Kong’s “15 Minutes Eternal” presented a more in-depth and historical view of the artist, with over 468 paintings, drawings, photographs, screen prints, photos and archival objects.

What the ASM lacked in quantity, however, it made up for with its beautifully designed and thematically focused galleries. Clear wall text introductions and timelines of Warhol’s life and career explained objects and photographs. The galleries felt more spacious and the artworks, more organized.

Additionally, each venue made the exhibition relevant to its audience. In Hong Kong, the show included Time Capsule 23, a box of items that Warhol collected during a trip to Hong Kong in 1982. In it, we see selected items such as a boarding pass and itinerary for Warhol’s trip from Hong Kong to Beijing, a baggage tag, personalized folder and letterhead from his stay at the Mandarin Hotel, a Lonely Planet travel guide, as well as an article from the South China Morning Post dated October 31, 1982.

Singapore, without the historical connection to the artist, held a competition for students from Lasalle, the local art institute, that presented the question, “If Andy Warhol was alive now in Singapore, what would he be doing on the topic of ArtScience?” There were thirty-six project proposals, and the works by the three finalists were shown at the ASM in conjunction with the Warhol exhibition in the main gallery.

Happily surprised to see the broad range of the artist’s interests, I was drawn more to the Hong Kong exhibition. “15 Minutes Eternal” in Hong Kong corrects a restrictive and ahistorical understanding of the artist—who is frequently remembered only for his famous silkscreens—by presenting the cultural icon’s many and varied experiments.