Monday, 7 January 2013

Shooting at Warhol

Exhibition of works by Andy Warhol (1928-87) in Hong Kong
with scheduled tours in Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo.

With a mock-up impression of The Factory at the foreground,
'Silver Clouds' - conceived for the Leo Castelli Gallery
 in 1966 was re-enacted.

Andy Warhol, Reclining Male Torso, 1950s 
(image The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh)

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, 
Collaboration (Crab), 1984-85
(image The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh)

My Forbidden Camera

With more than four hundred exhibits comprising artworks, photographs, films and an array of accoutrements, the Warhol exhibition held in the city is a well-executed retrospective.  It captures the artist’s oeuvre from every stage of his career in delineated timeline, though skimming at surface regarding his colorful lifestyle that could open doors for viewers.  As for exhibition design, the warehouse-like set-up mimicking ‘The Factory’ studio was a nice touch that added an extra dimension the canvases alone could not tell.

Endangered Species prints, 1983 shown 
in Singapore in early 2012.

Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, 1984  

Andy Warhol, Mercedes-Benz C111 Experimental Vehicle from 
the Daimler Collection – commission for the car maker’s 
centenary, 1986 (work not appeared in the exhibition).

Apart from the multitude of silk-screen works that people are so familiar with, it is a relevation to find a few of his line drawings which demonstrate solid training in his formative years.  The inclusion of a few joint paintings with Jean-Michel Basquiat, completed at the last stage of his life, left a glimpse of the creativity endgame Warhol might perhaps try to pull together. (This thought is deduced from the general criticism on his late works including the Endangered Species Suite, Michael Jackson and Mercedes-Benz series, which are considered to be too commercial and repetitive.) 

Empire – the film and other footages showing him 
paint before the camera are run in the exhibition.

Curiously dark lighting on the Campbell soup cans.

From the quality of the exhibition photos above, readers might have observed that I have contravened with the ‘No-Photo’ condition.  Rules are rules; everyone should always have the courtesy to comply.  The act was not intended to pose a challenge to the institution but rather committed out of a necessity to make a point.  The debate in focus is: Non-flash photo-taking in public museums and galleries should be allowed.

The Arguments

The objections are empirical and well-versed:  imperfect photographic quality; distraction to oneself and other visitors; lack of grace and etiquette; shortcomings to publication sales; infringement to rights; and potentials for forgery.  All above reasoning related to monetary issues already have existing channels to deal with; they have nothing to do with casual photography in museums.

Thousands of Warhol’s works including these already exist on the internet and publications.  Why insist on disallowance?

Li Wei performing Mirror at ART Hong Kong - 
liberal photo-taking policies are adopted in 
increasing number of art fairs today.

Improvisation for conceptual art – John Baldessari’s Brain/Cloud,2009 at Tate Modern. Well-mannered good fun only stimulates creativity and life; and Warhol’s works, or Pop Art in general, are not meant for pontification. 
(photo Nils Jorgensen for

On the contrary, not only is photo-taking an enjoyment in itself, it may be argued that this could be an active form of interaction between the viewer and painting – a medium much lamented lacking in.  It needs little reminding that the images taken in museums are not kept in photo albums as in the past; nowadays they are posted, circulated and talked about on web-based social networks.  Painting, if existing inattention summons its slow death, must try every means to explore on the digital age and the power of propagation for survival; on this, art museums have a pivotal role to play.

Should photo-taking be tolerated in this exhibition, one would never know if serious discussions on art might occur among the public to the liking of most art purveyors.  Surely this is an effective way of spreading art, be it in the form of appreciation or criticism.  By containing it in the conditions-filled setting of museum for sole viewing is one way of preserving the dead, just like what we do in a morgue.  To speculate further, LCSD might unknowingly help foster exclusivity – a practice well mastered by the auction houses (notably, Sotheby’s and Christie’s*).

 'Double Elvis [Ferus Type]' sold at Sotheby's for
a stunning 37 million (US$) in May 2012.

A Shutter for Opening

Warhol - an avid photographer himself, would not 
like to turn away other photographers. 

However, considering the increasing portion of venues worldwide is adopting a more liberal approach on this issue, the public-owned museums in Hong Kong have definitely a very stiff and stern attitude to turn.  These museums invariably forbid non-flash photography in non-permanent exhibitions and at places even permanent collections (the exception I remember was the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial 2009). Under this restrictive confines, they might contribute as incubators for pensive onlookers. 

In the spirit of the artist, I trust Warhol would not mind if his works are photographed and images are spread around in public.  After all, the ideas of Pop Art were extracted from mass culture; and the act of reproducing imagery was what he believed in.  To allow casual photography in public museums, it is essentially the manners of which that need to be considered, not the causes.  By starting early and catching up with the rest of the world in the case of Hong Kong, is the only way that good behavours can be developed promptly enough to meet the future.

*In September 2012, an agreement was made between Christie’s (the major sponsor of this exhibition) and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts on the exclusive sales of Warhol's works kept in the foundation.  Click here for details.

The touring exhibition of ‘Andy Warhol – 15 Minutes Eternal’ is held at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from December 16, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

E-mail Exchanges with the Curators:

[18 January, 2013]

To: The Hong Kong Museum of Art

Attn: Curators concerned

Dear Ms Tam and Ms Ng

I have just seen the Warhol exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

As a stakeholder of the arts and a patron of museums in Hong Kong and other parts of the world, I would like to express my opinions on the issue of 'no photograph' prevalent in the public museums of this city.  This rule, applied in strict-jacket, does not help the development of art and audience building.

Please see below link with my complete view for your careful consideration.
Best regards

[18 January, 2013]
Dear Sundial, 
Thank you for your email. Your writings and views on Andy Warhol and the exhibition are much appreciated. 
We understand the enjoyment that phototaking could bring to the general public. In this regards, phototaking without flash is allowed in most of our exhibitions displaying our own collection, such as "Collecting for 50 Years - The People and Their Stories" and "Cruising the Universe: Fantastic Animals in the Arts of China". 
However, there are cases in which the lending institute of the works does not prefer phototaking by the general public, such as The Andy Warhol Museum. Phototaking is not allowed even at their museum in Pittsburgh due to copyright reasons. It is a pity, but we do respect their preference. 
As a substitute, we are displaying graphics of some important pieces on the walls around our building where phototaking is allowed. Although it cannot be compared with the real objects, we believe it can bring some good memories to our visitors. 
Thank you again for your opinion. It will help us do more and better in the future! 
With best wishes, 
KL Ng 
Curator (Modern Art)

[19 January, 2013]
Dear Ms Ng
I am glad to receive your response to point out that two exhibitions out of twenty-four allowed photo-taking in the museum in the last two years.  The figure, as we all know, is few and far in between.  This situation is not exclusive to the Museum of Art in which you manage, but applies across the board to the special exhibitions at The Museum of Heritage, Museum of History and Museum of Teaware.  On this, I must stress that LCSD has a vital role to play in such an outdated policy.
I do not think your office need any reminding that most progressive museums/gallery in the world have adopted a liberal approach on this.  To name (out of an endless list), they include the National Gallery London, V&A, Tate Modern, MOCA Shanghai, MOMA, Lourve, Hamburger Bahnhof, Arken (Copenhagen), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark), and indeed most museums in the Scandinavian countries.  The Hong Kong Art Centre is an equal on this score.  The Pittsburgh Warhol Museum only demonstrates a very dated approach to art curating philosophy; or it represents a protective administration with monetary interest at stake.  Need I go any further on their business relationship with the Warhol Foundation and Christie's.
I hope your office can understand that I am not the lone voice on this repressive policy; it is a policy that most people in HK have some opinion but they do not bother to raise.  It is up the professional people like yourselves who can steer the right path and lead the way.  I would be glad if your office can express an willingness to adopt non-flash photo-taking policy as much as possible, or in case where persuasion to art lenders are required.
I would like to copy this to M+ and hope that they can allow non-flash photography when the museum is open in the near future. 
Your sincerely

[26 January, 2013]
To: The Asst. Director (Heritage and Museum) LCSD
Attn: Dr. Louis Ng
Dear Sir
Since I do not receive any further response from the curators at the Museum of Art or your office – the policy making body, I consider that the LCSD is in no position to adopt a lenient approach to the issue of non-flash photography in public museums in Hong Kong.
On this, I am disappointed at the lack of commitment for the public good this branch of the department demonstrates.
I would keep monitoring on the running of the venues managed by the government, and if necessary raise you from the comfort zone of civil administration.
Yours sincerely

[1 February, 2013]
Dear Sundial
Thank you for your emails.
As a public museum, we are dedicated to enhancing visitors' museum experience, and we certainly would allow non-flash photography of most of our collections in the galleries, just like many of the museums you mentioned.  While it is our wish that the no photography restriction could be relaxed as far as possible, I hope you can also understand that there are cases when the exhibits o display are on loan from private collections or other institutions which, for copyrights or other reasons, do not allow photos to be taken.
Thank you very much for your patronage and thanks again for your kind advice.
Yours sincerely

瞄準安廸華荷  〈中文摘要〉



從展覽現塲照片, 讀者也許發現筆主已違反藝術館〝不准拍照〞的規則。在此本人申明不存在冒犯主辨方之意願。此舉亦無意挑戰大會,無疑參觀條件理應遵守。拍照行為除帶率性外,此舉屬有理據的必然表達。循以上前文帶出焦點主題:「公共博物館及美術廳應接納無閃光拍照」。







巡迴展 —《安廸華荷:十五分鐘的永恆》由二一二年十二月十六日至一三年三月三十一日於香港藝術館舉行。


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.