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Warhol exhibition a lesson in materialism

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 10:10am

My original plan was to write about taking my children and their friends to see the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. But this was foiled as I could not organise an outing until the Easter break, which would be just a few days before it closes at the end of the month.

I attended a private guided tour and will highlight parts of the exhibition that I think are noteworthy for children.

Presented chronologically, which is easy for children to understand, the exhibition begins with photos of a young Warhol, who was often confined to his bed with bouts of a nervous system illness. During these times, he would draw, listen to the radio and collect photos of movie stars such as the autographed photo of Shirley Temple addressed to Andrew Warhola (the artist's birth name) that is exhibited.

"Warhol created a series of paintings for children using vintage children's toys."

The first gallery contains Warhol's early works as a successful commercial illustrator in the 1950s. He was very close to his mother, and even involved her in the art he created by asking her to write text in her feminine calligraphy directly onto his paintings. Visitors can look for grammatical errors in some of the text because Warhol's mother, an immigrant from what is now Slovakia, was not a native English speaker.

Warhol's work was informed by his fascination with celebrity and materialism. He was unafraid to copy and replicate everyday American consumer goods, and present them as works of art. Even in his early commercial work, we see the theme of repetition.

His passion for repetition was so mechanical that he dubbed his art studio The Factory. The exhibition includes a replica of a silver-walled room in which we may wander around and see photos of Warhol and his collaborators at work. This part of the gallery also includes the Silver Clouds art installation in which silver cloud-shaped balloons float freely about a glass-walled room, ready for visitors to play in. The second gallery shows works from the last two decades of Warhol's life. It was during this time that socialites and celebrities commissioned him to recreate their image with his signature pops of colour on the eyelids or lips.

Again, Warhol showed a willingness to share art experiences by collaborating on paintings with younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. The only outrightly subversive works on exhibition are the abstract Rorschach-like images that he and his friends created by urinating on chemicals to produce various chemical reactions. Even so, I think children will enjoy learning about the oxidation process.

The final part of the gallery showcases Warhol's Time Capsule and Children's Gallery art projects. In the first, Warhol would place correspondence, magazines and souvenirs from his travels into a cardboard box, and when that box became full, he would seal it up, date or title it and start on the next box. At the exhibition are mementos from his visit to Hong Kong, including notes written in the '70s on Mandarin Oriental stationery and postcards of the then Hong Kong skyline.

Warhol created a series of paintings for children using vintage children's toys. The Children's Gallery is exhibited in the same way that it was originally showcased in 1983, with the paintings hung low so that they are at eye-level with the young audience for whom they are intended.

For further reading on this iconic artist, I recommend Mike Venezia's Andy Warhol from his "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists" series of titles. This picture book is sensitive to its school-aged readers by providing an interesting and comprehensive introduction to Warhol and his art while omitting some of the more controversial aspects of his life.

"Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal" exhibition runs from 10am to 8pm daily, to Mar 31

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicate to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them bringmeabook.org.hk

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