Thursday, July 21, 2011

happy birthday marshall mcluhan!

last night, as a prelude to today's centenary celebration of marshall mcluhan (born right here in edmonton!) i attended a talk at the aga (art gallery of alberta). the evening included a guided tour of the exhibition andy warhol: manufactured with the university of alberta's dr. marco adria, who discussed the similarities between mcluhan and warhol. not only were there a numbver of wonderful and iconic warhol pieces to view, the parallels between the two were striking (and actually reminded me of how much i actually do like warhol's work), and illuminating. interesting points and thoughts:
  • they both saw their function in the world as being witnesses of the changes and manifestations of culture. not judges. not advocates. witnesses.
  • both were devoted, if not devout, catholics, attending mass daily. evidently, warhol always carried an icon with him (and now i need to find out which one) - and the aesthetic of the icon was very common in his work. the centrality of the mass, the communal experience, was core to their projects and work.
  • they were both concerned with the disappearace of a sense of immanence, for the art object first, but also culturally. art, or images, used to contain a real presence. in the age of advertising, and "the retinal flash", images no longer have a sense of immanence, of weight.
  • they both embraced mistakes, and one of the manifestations of this is their love of puns. and while puns are playful, it is serious play. warhol's 'real' name was actually warhola, but he took on someone else's misspelling of his name as his own. similarly, mcluhan's book the medium is the massage was supposed to have been the medium is the message. they were willing to explore those kinds of incidents and mine them to see what they revealed.
after the talk, i took another tour around the exhibition. highlights for me were an early 1959 drawing - fish under glass - that paired a beautful line drawing of a fish with gold foil and collage eleemnts alongside a calligraphic recipe written in ink. there were, of course, soup cans - chicken noodle and scotch broth - but there were also several lovely little stencils, which were hand-cut (and not pre-drawn) for silkscreening.

another room held a number of his portraits - silver liz from '63 is classic and tina chow's 2 portarits, with their ghosted eyes, are haunting - but the most intriguing portrait was his blurred and overprinted small 1962 portrait of warren beatty. the idea of celebrity and identity being fugitive is almost palpable.

i have yet to sit down and watch his films (i tend to find film/ video work tedious) but there were 2 pieces - one of a male store mannequin and one of the statue of liberty - composed of 4 photographs stitched together (2 on top, 2 on the bottom) that were quite nice. the images were taken over the course of 1976-86 and then assembled. the last two pieces that really caught my eye were dollar sign from 1981 (so fun!) and a magnificent and hyoog (20'+) eye-popping pink last supper from 1986. the wigs were anti-climactic after that...

PS. the guide used an iPad for his notes and, after he showed us the marshall mcluhan quote he had inscribed on it - "we become what we behold", i now deeply covet one.