In the late 1970’s, Andy Warhol embarked on a new printing project, replicating a single photographic image of the artist’s studio bathed in shadow, a single “cap” of light hovering just to the left of center. Reproducing the image over one hundred times in a series of color pairings, shades and contrasts, the work created a haunting, surreal environment, currently on view at MOCA in LA for a landmark exhibition of the piece on the West Coast.
The work, on loan from the Dia Foundation, is one of Warhol’s more intriguing experimentations as he continued to refine his practice, a marked departure from the pop culture appropriations that had defined his focus over the past two decades. The artist had already shown an inclination towards exploration, however, having begun producing his Oxidation, Rorschach, and Camouflage series just a year prior. These works, blandly colored decor designs printed on wallpaper or produced through happenstance methods. True to form, Warhol himself flippantly referred to the Shadows series as “disco decor,” and seemed to see the pieces more as a piece of interior decorating than paintings proper.
Given the artist’s fascination with the landscape of pop culture, this distinction is an interesting one, underlining a tie between the banal signifiers of mainstream interior design during the 1960’s and 70’s, and the artist’s unavoidable link to these elements. For all the conceptual operations of his work, Warhol, perhaps more than any other artist, always possessed an awareness of art’s codependency on the spectacle of consumer culture, and his work here could in fact be considered a subtle operation outside of a high/low cultural dichotomy. Rather, Warhol seems to embrace the emptiness of his picture plane, and perhaps even the emptiness of his subject matter, as a mirror to the work’s decorative nature.
By contrast, there’s something particularly cinematic about the way the images present themselves in the space, a series of variations in the dimensions of each element giving the impression of the flashing camera light, or a faulty projector. Much like Tony Conrad’s famous “flicker films,” the work’s subtle alterations reproduce the act of projection, tying itself back to its own techniques of production as much as to the act of photography itself.
Shadows is on view through February 15th, 2015.
— D. Creahan