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How to exhibit Andy Warhol? A critical approach towards Andy

Warhol’s exhibition concept (1962-1971)

by Marianne Dobner (10.03.2015)

How do you exhibit artworks by Andy Warhol properly nowadays? A question that I’ve asked myself several times during my time as an assistant curator at the Museum Brandhorst in Munich, preparing the exhibition Reading Andy Warhol. The line between exaggeration and understatement is thin: Are you going to paper the walls with Cow Wallpaper, paint the walls silver and block the room with a vast number of Brillo Boxes? Or will you let the artworks speak for themselves? Whatever you decide, one question remains: What would Warhol do? As a curator you are always faced with a choice: Will I install the artworks in the same manner as the artist, filling in the artist’s shoes, or will I follow my own intuition, presenting the artworks within my own exhibition concept. In order to even make a decision, one has to know the exhibition concept of the artist and this proved to be more challenging in the case of Warhol than intended. The artist himself, curators and critics helped to create a myth that still exists and continues to be well preserved to this day: “Warhol is so unconcerned with creative involvement that he prefers not to take credit for his work and signs it only for the convenience of identification, cataloguing and sales.” Giving this statement by curator and former director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia Samuel Adams Green some thought, the question arises: Did Warhol even have an exhibition concept or was it simply up to the curators to create one?

I’ve structured my thesis into three parts. The first part of my thesis addressed this specific problem by examining nine key exhibitions from the 1960s and proved that Warhol did have a specific exhibition concept, but clearly wanted to preserve the illusion of there being no such thing as a leitmotif behind his exhibitions. A second part functioned as a case study. I dealt with Warhol’s first European retrospective in detail, which occurred in 1968 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The case study aimed to reconstruct the complex dynamics between the curators and the artist himself. A third part of my thesis included interviews with museum curators and Warhol experts like Neil Printz, Nina Schleif and Matt Wrbican, discussing their specific views on Warhol’s exhibition concept. What actually makes a good Warhol exhibition? How did they exhibit Andy Warhol’s oeuvre earlier and how would they curate a show by him today? Would they follow Warhol’s specific exhibition concept? By following through these questions and applying them to the actual archive material it became possible to receive a keen insight into different possibilities on how Warhol’s oeuvre could or should be exhibited these days.

My thesis did not aim to be a description of individual artworks made by Andy Warhol – this has already been done sufficiently – but rather to present a description of the various exhibition situations. Although Warhol’s exhibitions have been repeatedly discussed in the current literature as singular milestones, until today only Stephen Koch in 1969, John Coplans in 1971, Charles F. Stuckey in 1980 and 1989 as well as Benjamin Buchloh in 2001 have put his exhibitions into a larger context – seeing not only a connection between them, but perceiving an aesthetic concept and taking the original physical context into account.

My journey took me from the 1960s to the present – from Andy Warhol’s personal exhibition concept to diverse exhibition concepts on Andy Warhol from contemporary curators. Initially, I asked myself the question whether Warhol did have an exhibition concept and if so, what were its characteristics? Quickly, I realized the central leitmotif: repetition. The same groups of work had been shown over and over again. His exhibition concept of the 1960s shows a stringent development: from white walls to Op Art like Cow Wallpaper – from the same object repeated in a slightly different manner to mechanically produced series – from painting to sculpture to film. Warhol finally treated everything the same way.

The reason why I wanted to reappraise Warhol’s exhibition concept brings me back to the present. As a curator you are always faced with a choice: Am I installing the artworks in the same manner as the artist, filling in the artist’s shoes, or will I follow my own intuition, presenting the artworks within my own exhibition concept? So ultimately the question will be asked: How should we exhibit Andy Warhol’s oeuvre nowadays? Here is my recipe: Find a less known side of the artist, see the artist and his artworks within his original context, work across the artist’s lifetime period (1950s – 1980s), as well as across the media, and finally help the visitors to discover their own personal approach.

Wissenschaftlicher Werdegang
  • seit 2014
  • Studium der Kunstgeschichte (Doktorat) – Universität Zürich
  • 2013
  • Studium der Kunstgeschichte im Rahmen eines Forschungsstipendiums der LMU München – University of California, Berkeley
  • 2012-2014
  • Masterstudiengang „Aisthesis. Historische Kunst- und Literaturdiskurse“ an der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, der LMU München und der Universität Augsburg
  • 2010-2011
  • Studium der Kunstgeschichte im Rahmen eines ERASMUS-Aufenthaltes – Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
  • 2008-2012
  • Studium der Kunstgeschichte (B.A.) – Universität Wien

  • * Marianne Dobner, „The House That Went To Town“, in: Nina Schleif (Hrsg.), Reading Andy Warhol, Ostfildern 2013.