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Warhol's art really resonates today
2013-05-20
By Wang Jie

ERIC Shiner, the director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, showed up recently at the opening of "15 Minutes Eternal," the largest Warhol exhibition ever held in Asia.

More than 400 works across all media by Warhol (1928-87) are featured in the exhibition exploring artistic expression, celebrity culture, mass media, advertising and other issues. The artist changed the way we look at art, creating iconic images of Campbell's Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong. The exhibition is underway at the Power Station of Art through July 28, and all the works are on loan from the Warhol Museum.

Organized chronologically, the exhibit provides insight into Warhol's personal life and the beginnings of his art in the 1940s and 50s, his rapid rise to fame in the 1960s, his multifaceted activities as an artist and all-round cultural producer in the 1970s and 80s.

Shiner spoke to Shanghai Daily after the opening about Warhol's works and life.

After graduating in 1994 from the University of Pittsburgh with a double major in art history and Japanese, Shiner began a one-year internship at the Andy Warhol Museum when it opened. He went on to become an expert in contemporary Chinese and Japanese art. In 2008 he returned to the Warhol Museum.

Q: When did you first hear about Andy Warhol and what was your impression?

A: I first became aware of Andy thanks to his appearances on MTV in the early 1980s. I thought he was cool and fashionable and the epitome of NYC life. I still think that, but of course, now that I am fully familiar with his entire body of work and life story, I have come to respect him as one of the hardest working and most entrepreneurial artists to have ever lived.

Q: What's the biggest challenge as director of The Andy Warhol Museum?

A: Every museum director always has to say that fundraising is our biggest challenge. It takes a lot of money to operate a museum, so I am always thinking of innovative ways to make money to keep us going.

Q: Even 26 years after his death, Warhol remains complicated. Describe him in three words?

A: Fictional, non-fictional, voyeuristic.

Q: Warhol once said successful business is art and confessed he loved money. Is this good or bad for contemporary art?

A: It is both good and bad. I truly believe talented artists should never apologize for making money from their art. Warhol was immensely talented, and was rewarded financially because of his hard work and dedication. However, I don't think it is healthy for artists to only try to get rich through their art. They need to help change society and make it better. Warhol accomplished that; money was an added benefit.

Q: Pop Art reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, but now it seems a cliché. Your view?

A: I think it has become the foundation for all contemporary art practice, both in America and abroad. It opened the door to allow anything to be art, and as such it has great cultural import. I wouldn't say that it has become cliched, however, as teenagers in the States still think that Pop Art is incredibly cool.

Q: Please explain the title "15 Minutes Eternal."

A: When I was conceiving the title of the exhibition, I wanted to play off of Warhol's famous quotation, "In the future, everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." He seemingly foreshadows our contemporary reality of social media, reality TV and mass media overload and excess. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter in America and WeChat (an instant message tool) in China, we all have access to a never-ending stream of content from those in our circle. We create our own content and share it with the world, making us all mini-celebrities for a moment in time. I wanted to capture the idea that Warhol's fame is a constant and he'll be here forever ... "eternal."

Q: In 2010, a Warhol silk screen print was auctioned for HK$380,000 (today US$48,961) by Christie's. Will this touring exhibition help raise the price of Warhol's works in Asia?

A: Undoubtedly, yes. Of course, we do not benefit from auction sales directly nor do we organize exhibitions to help the market. We tour to primarily educate the public about Warhol's life and work. But I admit I am always very proud when a painting does well at auction. It's somewhat like watching your child do well in a soccer match, as you want to cheer him on!

Q: There's so much mass production of prints. Isn't it difficult to authenticate Warhol works and tell the difference between original and fake?

A: Yes. The foundation in NYC has stopped authenticating. This is not strange, however, as very few single artist foundations provide authentication services. As with most art, authentication is the responsibility of galleries and auction houses.

Q: Warhol visited China in 1982, quite early for a Westerner. Did the trip influence his work?

A: Yes, absolutely. As soon as Andy returned to NYC, he started working on black and white ad paintings with images taken from advertising brochures from China. He also used many photographs he took there in his Sewn Photographs series in which he stitched four of the same photograph together in a grid.

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