Q Contemporary Gallery marks its third anniversary this weekend with an exhibition of work by Andy Warhol – a rare thing in Beirut.
An attempt to recreate Warhol’s famous New York studio, “The Silver Factory” is an exhibition-cum-celebration of three years in the business, though the show might mark the Q’s last hurrah.
The iconic U.S. pop artist of the 20th century, Warhol was a famous – and infamous – figure on the 1960s New York art scene. Having abandoned a career in advertising, he expounded the revolutionary theory that, in an age of consumerism, art too was a commodity that could be mass-produced.
The Factory – a name that references the assembly line Warhol employed to mass-produce his silkscreen prints – was located in multiple venues around New York between 1962 and 1982.
Though Warhol has been dead for 25 years, The Factory legend lives on. The Q Contemporary’s owner, Syrian collector Motaz Kabbani, has, with the sponsorship of the Swiss bank Compagnie Privée de Conseils et d’Investissements, employed this celebrity to celebrate his own space’s third anniversary.
The focal point of “The Silver Factory” is a collection of all ten of Warhol’s vibrantly colored screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, 2500 of which were churned out in 1967.
The prints are on loan from the private collection of curator Emmanuel Javogue, who has flown in to oversee the exhibition. The Q’s space has been transformed into a replica of Warhol’s first studio, complete with tin foil-covered walls.
“I offered other artists,” Javogue says, “but ... Warhol is definitely one of the most important contemporary artists now in the world. He has influenced a lot of the artists in the younger generation in the Western world but also here ... We thought Warhol is someone who is like a brand today. He’s become more than an artist.”
The Monroe prints hang at the far end of the space, the only work of art on show. The enormous faces in their psychedelic colors proved a gathering point for guests at Wednesday’s opening night party, many of whom were keen to have their photo taken before the iconic work.
“We thought Warhol will be ... able to connect to the wider public and at the same time have a sense of a party,” Kabbani explains. “The whole factory scene was taking place against a backdrop of turmoil in the U.S. ... and this is exactly what’s happening here.
“You’re creating a shelter in hard times where people can party and it’s just like a one night only kind of a thing and then life goes back to normal.”
“The concept was really trying to recreate the way Warhol was working when he actually did these works,” Javogue says. “We could have put other Andy Warhols in other parts of the gallery, but we were really trying to recreate the Andy Warhol spirit and part of it was partying ... People would be dancing while others were filming and some others would actually prepare silk screens. It was part of the atmosphere.”
Alongside the silkscreens, the exhibition consists of a pyramid of Campbell’s Soup cans (famously captured by Warhol in 1962 on a series of 32 canvases), video projections of film footage shot in The Factory, and a collage of black-and-white photographs of the artist and his famous entourage.
The photos of Warhol with some of the most high-profile figures in New York at the time – including Bob Dylan, Edie Sedgwick, Salvador Dali, Truman Capote, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Alfred Hitchcock and Mick Jagger – remind viewers of the central role Warhol played in New York’s 1960s cultural scene.
The exhibition represents a rare opportunity for local audiences to view a complete set of Warhol’s Monroe prints in Beirut.
The logistics of transporting such a work to Lebanon are formidable.
“It is so difficult that we had to be very clever,” Javogue admits.
That said several visitors to Wednesday’s opening party expressed disappointment that there were not more pieces on show.
The exhibition seems to have been geared primarily toward Wednesday’s party, which was conceptually interesting. Though more than half of them ended up standing outside the gallery – possibly a result of the country’s smoking ban – the event attracted a large crowd. The Factory’s famous party atmosphere was successfully recreated with the help of copious amounts of vodka and a DJ – a combination which got people dancing.
Wednesday’s visitors became as central to the concept’s success as the art itself. Whether or not the exhibition works in the absence of a crowd is less certain. The attempt to recreate the studio’s bohemian atmosphere may fall a little flat when the tin-foiled room is empty of people.
For a gallery that specializes in contemporary art, though, “The Silver Factory” is a fitting concept. Kabbani confided Wednesday that it may also be Q Contemporary’s last exhibition, at least in its current form.
“We going on hiatus for a while,” Kabbani said. “We’re renovating the place for a new concept and then Q will do some shows around the city, but it won’t be at the same rhythm as now ... it depends on what’s happening around us.”
This decision is partly linked to recent events in Syria, he confirmed. “I am Syrian and that is part of it,” he admitted. “The subconscious of the whole region is very heavy these days and I hope through art we’re able to bring – I wouldn’t say joy but some kind of solace into all this.”
“The Silver Factory” is up at Q Contemporary in Downtown until Nov. 17. For more information call 03-300-520.
By India Stoughton