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LOU'S VIEWS: IMA's new Warhol exhibit as much about commerce as art

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Lou Harry

It is impossible to extricate the artist from the art when it comes to Andy Warhol. And it’s impossible to extricate Andy Warhol and his art from the world of commerce, because the artist himself was so influenced by—and generated so much—money.

That’s a main point in the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s latest high-profile show, “Andy Warhol Enterprises.”

Running through Jan. 2—and co-curated by the IMA’s Sarahy Urist Green and New York-based art historian Allison Unruh—it’s a show best appreciated by those who look to art for questions rather than for answers.

Embracing mass media and unashamedly courting notoriety, Andy Warhol managed to build a fame that extended well beyond the 15 minutes he predicted everyone would eventually be known for. Creating a character (yes, that’s a wig) and prone to provocative statements (“Business art is the step that comes after art”), Warhol made a name for himself by literally putting his money where his art was.
 

A&E Early Andy Warhol commercial work, including the 1957 ink and watercolor “Miss Dior,” is included in the IMA’s exhibition. (Photo Courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art)

Money and dollar signs welcome visitors. I can imagine a creative teacher leading a field trip inviting her students to add up the value of the currency and coins.

This is no exhibition gimmick, though. The exhibit does a strong job of establishing the roots and branches of Warhol’s interest in the commercial world, showcasing not just his “art as art” pieces. Yes, there are Campbell Soup cans and Marilyn Monroe canvases, but there are also illustrations-for-hire that Warhol created in the 1950s for publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and advertisements he appeared in during the 1980s for Drexel Burnham, Sony and others.

Collectively, they offer a compelling through-line narrating an interesting arts life. But questions still hover. Was there a point when the commercialism overcame and dominated the artistic instinct? Is Warhol in part to blame for the “success” of a contemporary artist now being gauged by the sale value of his or her work? Is embracing pop culture less valid artistically than rejecting it?

Will we be going to see the Warhol show because of the evocative power of the aesthetics of the work or because of our fascination with the artist?

And does that matter?
____________

The Indiana Repertory Theatre opened this season with an adaptation of “Holes,” one of the most popular and award-winning young adult novels of the past few years.

Louis Sachar, the author of the book and the screenplay of the entertaining film version, also adapted the play for the stage. That kind of control keeps things close to the source material, which is fine if you are being tested on the book and don’t want to actually read it. It’s less satisfying if you are looking for a unique theater experience.

The IRT production, running through Nov. 6, brings to the table effective design, unflagging pacing and more-than-acceptable performances from the cast—at least on the grown-up side. What it doesn’t do—and maybe it’s just not possible—is make a compelling case that there’s a good reason, other than economics, to stage “Holes” at all.

It’s a problem that faces many literary and quasi-literary adaptations. They may be fine for school field trips. But without inspired rethinking (think of last IRT season’s delightful “Around the World in 80 Days”), page-to-stage translations can easily feel like ViewMaster versions of the original. The scenes and characters were clear, but I still felt twice-removed.


____________

After seeing Dance Kaleidoscope’s season opener “Mad for Musicals,” I received a note from DK’s head honcho David Hochoy inviting me to come back and see it again. Apparently one of his dancers was out with an injury on the evening I saw the show. Alas, schedules didn’t allow me to go back.

It might be—or, at least, seem—unfair to comment on a presentation that was incomplete. And I sympathize with any specialized performers who have to make last-minute adjustments to their delicate work. So I’ll limit my comments to work that didn’t involve the ensemble.

In the first half, choreographed by Hochoy to show tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, Mariel Greenlee effectively danced and acted an escalating emotional breakdown in a solo take on “Losing My Mind” (from Sondheim’s “Follies”), and Jillian Godwin shined brightly and athletically in both “Bloody Mary” and “Something’s Coming.”

On the other hand, the over-familiar “Send in the Clowns,” with company vets Liberty Harris and Kenoth Shane Patton, felt distant rather than connective. And the climactic “Being Alive” was overly busy and unfocused, with Patton seeming to crash the party and take over mid-dance, leaving it a muddle.

The second half, with Nicholas Owens designing the dances, focused on more rocking Broadway material, but didn’t look too deeply.

Where was “Spring Awakening” or “Next to Normal” or any other less-predictable material? Instead, we got the expected-but-fun “Hair” opener (I’d love to see Owens have a choreographic go at a full production), the expected “Rent” numbers (one of which ended with a gag-inducing pose that I thought went out with ’90s show choirs), “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” featuring the underused Brittany Edwards, and an emotionally empty solo dance to the “Elaborate Lives” duet from “Aida.”

And while two songs from “The Wiz” may seem like overkill in a seven-number set, “Home” proved a surprising pleasure as a succession of female dancers defined their worlds with movement. It was a balance between material, performer and dancers that more of the program could have used.•

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com. Twitter: IBJArts and follow Lou Harry’s A&E blog at www.ibj.com/arts.

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  • Scared
    Well the heat got too much and the censor of the comments deleted all of them on the hiring of IUPUI story, good job IBJ, instead of checking facts if you're worried you censor
  • Lou?
    I can't support actions that are wrong. A cultural institution in this town needs to repair itself. I wouldn't blindly write about travel in the South during segregation while people were being blasted with water hoses in the streets. Peoples lives have been thrown into turmoil by the recent actions IMA. Good people. Think about that. Then tell me how much you enjoy the show.
  • I'm starting to understand why these people are gone
    http://blogger.com
  • puzzle
    Sabrinact,

    I disagree with the foundation of your most recent post. Contrary to what you say, one certainly can talk about one piece of a puzzle without being expected or feeling the need to look at the whole.

    For an obvious example, every sports story discussing the merits of a particular game doesn't have to--and shouldn't be expected to--address the finances of the team, the ticket prices, and the conditions of the service staff. If the column is a commentary on the game, then it's a commentary on the game.

    You'll notice that nothing in the above column looked at the management or financial structure of the IRT or DK. I talked about what I experienced on their stages. It's the same with the IMA show under consideration for this particular column.

    You can look for coverage of the business side of the arts elsewhere in IBJ--and often on my blog. This, however, is a review column and has been since it was created three and a half years ago. You can expect it to remain that.

    Respectfully,

    Lou Harry
  • Excellent post
    The last post is great. Thank you for standing up for what is right!
  • Lou
    My response to Lou is that you cannot want to talk about one piece of a puzzle when the whole is connected. Any IMA art show cost money, employees and ex employees have been told for three years the museum has no money. Over and over the argument is that art falls under a different budget. I do not disagree that this is true, but you cannot continue to put on show after show, have huge parties, support a director whose whole room and board is a museum expense, not art, you cannot continue to cut staff in every department, and still have money to present in Europe as a prior IBJ article last summer listed. You are "guarding" a visiting show with 6 IUPUI students, not security, not police. Do the people who donated this art realize this? It is all fun and good to do a story reviewing art at the IMA but the bigger picture needs to be the focus, and if you want facts not so called rumors then ask, plenty of people are willing at this point to talk. I have read enough cute reviews about the IMA in the Indianapolis Star, wonderful stories about the Andersons in Indianapolis Monthly, and The magazine on women in Indiana. Enough fluff, You cannot view a diamond exhibit and ignor the miners who produce them, you cannot do stories on any major achievements and ignor those who are making the sacrifices. If you can raise money for Art why can't you raise money to pay and keep devoted staff? You could simply charge a small admission fee, to not do so to help your employee's is shocking. I was probably to harsh when I called for a boycott as a few other writers have said don't punish everyone, and they are right. But I for one have had enough feel good stories, reviews about museum art exhibits and parties, lets for once focus, and stay focused until positive change is made. I have said at this point all I need to and this will be my last comment, I do wish all the IMA devoted employee's the best and hope for their sake change will come, then I too can enjoy the Art stories again
  • on topic
    Sabrina,
    Attaching unsubstantiated anonymous claims to a review column isn't the way to get positive attention for your cause.
    Now, if you want to write what you thought of the exhibition...
    --Lou
  • Drop in the bucket
    Only a very small portion of the Warhol exhibition in underwritten. Boycotting the museum might not be the right approach, but take the sentiment seriously, please, board members and public. Anderson and his henchmen spend money irresponsibly, recklessly and at the expense of the employees who haven't had a raise in years and the former employees who were let go "for budget reasons." It is disgusting to see and we are trying to tell the wonderful supporters of the museum what is going on in here.
  • No blackballing
    Let's not lose focus here. There are many IMA staff, from exhibition administrators to educators to curators, many of whom probably also oppose certain recent personnel and financial decisions made by the management and OKed by the board. Boycotting the museum would punish the whole organization, which keep in mind is a not-for-profit, instead of a few individuals whose decisions were unpopular.

    This is a smart and thought-provoking show, responsibly underwritten by a corporate sponsor, which benefits any and all art lovers in the community. Not to mention money lovers.

    Complain as you will, and write letters if you feel strongly, but don't punish the whole institution by boycotting. That only hurts the arts community, and the cultural landscape of Indianapolis as a whole.
  • IBJ scared
    Once again I hvae posted and whoever runs this gets scared. If you don't want comments then don't let people post, if you want comments unless they are in someway profane leave them posted. Once again I call for an IMA boycott until they change leadership, nice to see that Harvey feels the opposite, so the IMA is in good hands with another home run, lets hope we are getting to the bottom of the ninth with two strikes two outs and we can get Max out at home
  • it's all about the $$$
    This exhibit seems totally appropriate for the "new IMA", because absolutely everything for them is about the money! Sure, this is a great exhibit, but I for one will not spend money to go see it when there's no one left there to guard the art.
  • Please
    Please start your own blog, Sabrinact, and take your agenda there.

    The exhibit is excellent and the opening party was a blast. This exhibit is not to be missed. Yet another home run for the IMA.

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