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TV REVIEW : Warhol Profile Doesn’t Penetrate Enigmatic Artist

Times Art Writer

He has been dead for more than two years and the tent has folded on his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but the jury is still out on Andy Warhol. Was he a genius or a fraud, a wise child or a cynical street kid? Or was he a minor talent with an uncanny ability to sniff out the Zeitgeist?

“Andy Warhol,” premiering at 10 tonight on KCET Channel 28, doesn’t render a final judgment of the late Pop artist. Instead the 90-minute profile hears testimony from members of the art and avant-garde film world who worked with Warhol. Their memories, assessments and occasional criticisms mingle with Warhol’s art and films in an engaging biographical collage, hosted by Melvyn Bragg of London Weekend Television’s “South Bank Show” and directed by Kim Evans.

Strains of “Over the Rainbow” and romantic shots of smokestacks--a reference to the fairy-tale quality of Warhol’s life and his working-class background--quickly give way to pounding rock music and brash Pop imagery, but the film maintains an ironic distance.

At the end Warhol comments, “Death can really make you look like a star, but then it could be all wrong because if your makeup isn’t right when you’re dead, you won’t look really right.” As he applies makeup and turns into a computer-generated image, we realize that we still don’t know Andy Warhol; we have merely learned some things about his life from his infinitely more knowable friends.

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Dealer Ivan Karp, for example, talks about Warhol’s decision “not to drip” (in the reigning style of Abstract Expressionism) and reveals himself as a salesman with a taste for tough-looking art that turns out to be fun. Gerard Malanga, Warhol’s chief assistant from 1963 to 1970, proves himself a shrewd, if self-interested, critic when he notes slippage in Warhol’s art--from chillingly detached portraits of famous strangers to splashy commissions later churned out by “a court painter.” “It’s an American disease to love famous people,” and Warhol had a severe case, according to film director Emile de Antonio.

When called upon to explain himself, Warhol is a stony-faced shadow who says “uh yes” and “uh no” to interviewers or begs them to give him answers as well as questions.

“This thing about Andy can’t keep going on because now it’s really finished,” says actress Brigid Berlin. She is wrong. In art world circles, Warhol is generally considered the quintessential Pop artist, but his public reputation is far less circumscribed. Fascination with Warhol won’t go away because he never revealed himself. Unlike stereotypical Americans who blurt out their life stories and plead, “Do you like me?” Warhol kept his feelings under his wig.


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