Star Gazes: Re-performing Warhol’s Screen Tests

What is Madonna’s “Material Girl” but an adaptive re-performance of Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”?

poster for Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol "Motion Pictures"

at The Museum of Modern Art
in the Midtown area
This event has ended - (2011-01-19 - 2011-03-21)

In Features by Victor P. Corona 2011-07-26 print

Few topics trigger as much debate in the New York art world as the issue of re-performance. A year ago, the Marina Abramović retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art stirred new thinking about performance pieces as scripts that can be enacted in distinct ways by younger generations of artists. But debates about the appropriation of images and motifs are not limited to fine arts professionals. For example, what else is Madonna’s “Material Girl” video but an adaptive re-performance of Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”? The question of re-performance in artistic process and its engagement with iconic figures inevitably emerges when evaluating the legacy of Andy Warhol and his place in New York’s art scene. Rob Pruitt’s shining Union Square monument to the Pop artist and Thomas Kiedrowski’s new guide to various Warhol-related locations around New York are only two examples of ongoing interest in a particular aesthetic vision that continues to inform our culture today.

Breedlove sits for Ventur’s screen test.Early-career artists are also building a body of work that addresses elements present in Warhol’s art. For the last two years, Conrad Ventur has filmed re-performances of the 1964-1966 Warhol screen tests with the Superstars and Factory visitors who sat for the original films, including Bibbe Hansen, Billy Name, Mario Montez, and Ultra Violet. After screening these works at Brooklyn’s Momenta Art and galleries in Rome, Istanbul, and elsewhere, Ventur recently returned to New York to complete a new screen test series featuring 14 contemporary stars of New York nightlife, focusing his lens on the new breed of young creative dynamos that reflect the city’s unequalled cultural energy. In evaluating the newly completed re-performative project, Alexander Cavaluzzo writes that Ventur’s “continuation of the idea offers a refreshing play on the old concept” of the original Warhol films.Darian Darling sits for Ventur’s screen test.

With the Lower East Side’s gritty St. Jerome’s bar as the backdrop for the new series, Ventur’s work explicitly grapples with the intimacy of the gaze evident in Warhol’s own screen test films, which have also been called “stillies,” “portrait films,” and “facial studies.” The series features a diverse group of creative individuals involved in projects ranging from music videos and performance art to photography and dance. Upon viewing the screen tests of, say, the popular jazz musician Brian Newman, performer and dancer Anna Copa Cabanna, or DJ and trendsetter Becka Diamond, one inevitably sees ambition, hope, and perhaps a touch of apprehension about a life and future spent in the spotlight. True to the power of the original Warhol screen tests, core elements of the subjects’ personas emerge, as in the staid allure of Kelle Calco or Breedlove’s playfully irreverent exchange with Ventur’s camera. Fittingly, the new series premiered at the book launch for Kiedrowski’s new Warhol guide, with most of the screen test subjects in attendance, and will be screened again in the future.

Brian Newman in Conrad Ventur, 'Untitled (Night Life)', 2011.

Ladyfag in Conrad Ventur, 'Untitled (Night Life)', 2011.

Ventur’s project also responds to the renewed curiosity about Warhol films nurtured by the Museum of Modern Art’s Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures exhibition, particularly the ways in which his films force a reckoning with the experience of spectatorship. In selecting which screen tests to show, the exhibition curator, Klaus Biesenbach, featured the most glamorous stars that sat for the original series, including Baby Jane Holzer, Dennis Hopper, Nico, Lou Reed, and Warhol’s paramount Superstar, Edie Sedgwick. Of course, it is too soon to tell whether the young nightlife personas featured in Ventur’s latest films will ever approach the iconic status of the screen test originals. But when viewing the vibrant glint in their gazes, whether pensive or flamboyant, there is an unmistakable vitality that demands further contemplation of these New York stars.

Victor P. Corona

Victor P. Corona. Victor P. Corona, Ph.D., (http://victorpcorona.com) is a sociologist at Columbia University, where he is finishing a book about New York nightlife. He lives in Manhattan. » See other writings

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