Pop art at the MAC

Published Thursday, 28 February 2013
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Last Friday marked 26 years since the death of Andy Warhol and the response to the first major exhibition of his work in Northern Ireland indicates that time has not diminished the artist's cult status and following.

Whether you appreciate his pop art as a colourful comment on celebrity culture and mass marketing, or just see a tin of condensed soup, there's no denying the retrospective packs a visual punch when you enter the MAC Belfast.

A collection of 126 lithograph and screen printed posters spanning Warhol's career greets you in a glut of colour and iconic imagery.

The pieces are a great example of his obsession with film, music and popular culture as well as a certain amount of self-obsession as Warhol used what was popular at the time to advertise his work and name.

Iconic imagery includes Perrier, Campbells, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and the Beatles to name but a few that are given a colourful Warhol twist.

Also, in a more secluded corner is the imposing presence of Chairman Mao with a backdrop of the vivid and surreal 'Cow' wallpaper- which the curator tells me is made to measure the specific dimensions of the gallery space. This is probably to prevent cases of extra rolls ending up on eBay but he tells me that a small piece did end up in an auction for £1600.

In the ante-room, while video footage of Warhol plays, 'silver floatations' or pillows inflated with helium and air bob up and down. The pillows are added to every week the exhibition runs.

The fact that these pieces are 'made to order' productions demonstrates Warhol's technique of mass producing art - I can picture minions in a factory printing out reams of surreal wallpaper and firing out silver balloons while Warhol busies himself partying with celebrities.

Wahol's cow wallpaper.

His '1986' Camouflage work of military patterns painted in bright garish colours capture an essence of Warhol's work, a fascination with repetitive images and bold colour and yet the subject matter is something used to keep hidden, a nod to the artist, who despite becoming extremely famous was enigmatic and aloof.

His later work, which is displayed in the Large Gallery is particularly poignant after the colour and glamour of the first retrospective, it has none of the former vivid colour and glamour.

White canvases are brandished with black illustrations of a burger, a paratrooper boot and a mustard yellow dollar sign.

The style of the large, brash and minimal paintings harks back to newspaper illustrations and Warhol's beginnings in advertising.

They reflect a naked anxiety about American obsession with war, religion and the artist's fears of death in the wake of an attack by one of his entourage - all perfectly highlighted by the large white stark gallery space.

The MAC is a perfect venue for housing the Warhol exhibition, like an elaborate and stylish warehouse, one can picture the artist and his entourage at home here as in Warhol's original 'factory' workspace, churning out prints and throwing lavish parties.

If you are expecting to see the big pieces, the Monroes, the Campbell Soup tin, then you may be disappointed. But the assembled collection from the Royal Gallery Scotland, Tate London, as well as some from a private collection, is a great insight into the ego and glamour of Warhol and the construction of himself as an artist and celebrity.

Andy Warhol.

This more humble collection is still worth around an estimated £30m, £10m of that represented by Warhol's 1978 self-portrait 'Strangulation'.

With around 5,000 people through the doors in its opening weekend, there is no doubt that Warhol still engages people's curiosity and imagination.

Whether it is 'true' or 'high' art is up to you.

And the MAC is giving pop art fans a fully 60s experience with a series of Warhol-inspired events, from multimedia shows featuring the artist's silent film portraits to 'Screen Tests' which feature famous faces including Dennis Hopper and Lou Reed.

And, for one night only, New York's most famous nightclub and one of Warhol's favourite hangouts comes to Belfast as Studio 54 is recreated with an original resident DJ - which is already sold out.

The exhibition is also a great taster for other upcoming events in the art world here, most notably the Turner Prize which comes to the City of Culture year in October. It's the first time the award has ever been held outside England.

The Andy Warhol exhibition runs until 28 April.

© UTV News
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Louise Convery
Louise Convery

Louise Convery is an online journalist at UTV.

Previously a freelance newspaper journalist, she trained at the University of Ulster, Coleraine after attending Queen's University, Belfast.

She spends her day writing about Northern Ireland politics and current affairs, but is also an amateur culture vulture with a penchant for live music, comedy and arts events.

In her spare time she tries to be sporty with Belfast Roller Derby.

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