Between 1963 and 1968, Andy Warhol made approximately 60 films and over 500 “screen tests”—three- to four-minute cinematic portraits of anyone he found interesting hanging around his famed Factory studio space in Manhattan. Warhol’s most famous work from those five years, like Sleep
, the eight-hour film of artist John Giorno sleeping; Kiss
, in which various couples are filmed kissing for three minutes at a time; and Empire
, an eight-hour, slow-motion film focusing solely on the Empire State Building at dusk, are now art and film school staples, sacred tomes for anyone exploring experimental cinema. But even as Warhol’s influence as a filmmaker continues to endure, large swaths of his film output remain unseen by the public.
Since gaining the copyrights to Warhol’s film catalog from the Museum of Modern Art in 1997, The Andy Warhol Museum has been hard at work digitally preserving his work and developing compelling ways to exhibit it to audiences. As the museum caps off its 20th anniversary of operation this fall, the latest deep dive into the Warhol film archives is explored through a once-in-a-lifetime event that celebrates not only Warhol’s artistry, but those he inspired.
Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films
will screen 15 newly uncovered short films from Warhol’s ‘63-‘68 period and pair them with original, live-music accompaniment performed by a murderer’s row of Warhol acolytes, including Galaxie 500 and Luna frontman Dean Wareham, Suicide’s Martin Rev, Television’s Tom Verlaine, The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger, and Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox. The Warhol Museum partnered with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the UCLA Center for the Art of Performance for the event, an extremely limited tour of three shows. The first show takes place in Pittsburgh on Friday, Oct. 17.
is a continuation of the ideas explored in the 2006 event, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests.
Commissioned by the Warhol Museum, 13 Most Beautiful
featured Wareham and his wife/bandmate Britta Phillips writing and performing original work for 13 of Warhol’s famed screen tests. The program was a smashing success and eventually toured internationally with nearly 80 performances, paving the way for the more ambitious plans of Exposed
“[13 Most Beautiful
] really hit a nerve with me. I was dumbfounded by its success. It showed me that there is a real appetite for exhibiting Warhol’s films in a performance mode,” said Ben Harrison, Curator of Performing Arts at the Warhol Museum.
To select the films, Warhol Museum Curator of Film and Video Geralyn Huxley and Greg Pierce, Assistant Curator of Film and Video, traveled to Hamlin, McKean County, where MoMA maintains The Celeste Baros Film Preservation Center, an $11.2 million state-of-the-art archive currently housing all the original prints of Warhol’s films. After watching over 150 short films, including more of Warhol’s screen tests and many others shot with his Bolex camera, Huxley and Pierce brought back roughly 35 films to Pittsburgh.
“Some of the films selected are very early works, just Warhol deciding what he wanted to do with the camera,” said Huxley. “We made sure that the films we initially picked stood on their own and were visually interesting.”
The screen tests in particular were shot during the rapid growth and heightened hysterical evolution of The Factory’s robust artistic scene. Warhol filmed these portraits originally at normal speed, then slowed them down when projected which, according to Harrison, would “create this kind of levitating, mysterious quality where every little wink or smile, was a revelation.” Warhol managed to capture on film hundreds of ‘60s luminaries, like Marcel Duchamp, Allen Ginsberg, Mario Montez, Marisol, Taylor Mead, Jack Smith, Mary Woronov, Edie Sedgwick, and even himself. Beyond their aesthetic value, they also serve to document a pivotal moment in American art.
“Just as artifacts, these films are amazing,” said Wareham. “The essential thing with the screen tests especially is just the sadness of them. Being able to looking at these people frozen in time in their youths when you know some of the stories that happened to them. More and more these important figures from that era of The Factory are not here. Even Warhol himself...it’s sad that Warhol is not here.”
Harrison enlisted Wareham to take on something like a guest curator role for Exposed
. Not only would the musician be involved in selecting films for exhibition, he was tasked with putting together performers -- five artists scoring three films each -- that could do justice to Warhol’s unique filmmaking perspective. Wareham immediately thought of Tom Verlaine and Martin Rev, two of his artistic heroes who, in his own words, “both have a sort of cinematic quality with what they do to their music.” They also represent the post-Velvet Underground New York City landscape of ‘70s punk and art rock with their seminal bands Television and Suicide.
Wareham and the American underground rock of Galaxie 500 and Luna through the late ‘80s and ‘90s bridges the artistic gap between Verlaine and Vega, and Friedberger and Cox’s work throughout the 2000s. On stage, the lineup will represent three generations of American musicians who feel indebted to Warhol’s influence, expressed through their music in wildly different fashions: the doomy proto-electronica punk of Rev’s Suicide, the wiry, intricately woven guitar epics of Verlaine’s Television, Wareham’s pared-down dreamy psychedelic rock, Friedberger’s nervy, hyper-literate indie Americana, and Cox’s intimate, avant-garde garage rock.
For Harrison, the eclecticism and shared enthusiasm of the musicians involved with Exposed
is a testament to the impact Warhol’s genius had on such a wide spectrum of creative people, and how that legacy continues to remains vital 27 years after his death.
“Warhol is still a very key touchstone for a lot of artists and musicians,” he said. “For me, [Exposed
] is about demonstrating Warhol’s relevancy in culture still, and how that influence is unwavering.”