Exhibition Review: “I want to be a machine” Paolozzi & Andy Warhol – Edinburgh

I visited this exhibition on the first day of its opening, in November 2018 (it runs until June 2019).  Generously, there was a free lecture (see pics below) on day one, in the middle of the day, at the National Gallery on the Mound.  Then you could hop on the link bus which drives out to the Modern Gallery.  (Free but £1 donation each way is quietly requested).  

It feels like two separate exhibitions – there are very few links

Once you grasp that, your brain can stop trying to look for connections and enjoy the separate shows.  The exhibition is a game of two halves.

In Modern 2, Rooms 1 and 2 showcase Andy Warhol’s work, on the linked landing to rooms 3 and 4 (Paolozzi), both artist’s timelines are shown one above the other, not intermingled,

Best part of the Exhibition?

I think by far the best room for me was the final one, Room 5, downstairs, which has Paolozzi’s reconstructed studio (actually 2 studios in one), film posters of Andy Warhol’s productions (mostly produced rather than directed) – and a small bench facing a large TV showing three excellent video films by Bright Sparks in connection with the National Galleries.  Here’s one of them, for a sample: “What is Pop Art?”

These films are wonderful introductions to each artist separately (sigh!) and to the topic of Pop Art.  I would recommend beginning a visit to the Exhibition by looking at these films and into the chaos and fascination of Paolozzi’s studio/mind.  

Strengths of the Exhibition

I’ve seen a few pieces of Warhol’s art, in the permanent collection at Tate Modern, ten years ago, so his work is not entirely new to me.  (There, I was blown away by a recording of his voice, planning the nitty gritty logistics of his protegee band, “The Velvet Underground” – should they get a van?)

In this current exhibition, I appreciate:

  • The opportunity to attend a free lecture, invitation open to all, no need to book, on the first day of the exhibition
  • The exhibition is free
  • The chance to get up close to the famous screenprints (I felt that the Jackie Kennedy prints were fascinating because the base layer was a slightly shiny lilac, not a flat colour)

  • very good displays of books/photos in glass display cabinets/vitrines especially seeing the books which both the artists made, often for very small circulation
  • viewing the new form which Warhol was developing just a couple of weeks before his death: stitching together repeat photographs
  • large-scale sculptures by Paolozzi (there is a giant robot figure in the cafe downstairs)

a fantastic sentence in the explanatory text “Collage is a supremely twentieth-century technique, providing an analogue to the way we switch television channels or flick through magazines, past articles and advertisements dealing with all sorts of subjects”.

Small weaknesses in the Exhibition (on day one)

  • its rigidity in showing Paolozzi and Andy Warhol’s work separately, so it was impossible to compare, their work was never side by side or even in adjoining rooms
  • a slight accompanying catalogue (just 32 pages) so it’s a pamphlet, not a book
  • notes accompanying picture were often in one huge chunk of text, whereas if separated into paragraphs, they would have been more inviting.  The eye needsthat white space.
  • typos in accompanying notes – as the text was so overwhelming in its blockiness, I read few – but noticed in Room One that a magazine was for “well-healed
    ” members of the middle class and in the next room that “therestrips may have inspired Warhol” (presumably should be “these”)

 

  • in Room 4, a very distracting, piercing and atonal piece of music was playing from a video display of a film made by Paolozzi – it was headache inducing, and I did say to the attendant to suggest that this volume be lowered and, because it was so distracting, noted this also in the visitor’s comments book.  It made you want to shorten your visit to both the Paolozzi rooms.  (The presentation could have run with lowered sound alternating with the presentation running with no sound)
  • the bench facing the video screen in Room 5 has only space for 3 people – space for more would be good, people genuinely wanted to sit through the info
  • a slightly meagre feel, due to only showing one tin of soup, in the famous sequence by Warhol – where the whole point is the repetition of commercial art (although to be fair, there is repetition of the famous photo portrait screenprints of icons)

The show is a great opportunity to see two major modern artists’ work upclose.  It must be a great boon to art students to study them, and both were so prolific that any joint exhibition is always going to feel a little crushed and restricted.  However, I should revisit it soon – if the typos and music level have been adjusted, the whole exhibition will be raised a level.  And perhaps if I cross the road to Modern One, their excellent bookshop will have a good book on Paolozzi or Warhol, to compensate for the tiny catalogue.

 

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