The Housatonic Museum of Art is practically across the street from my building and it’s nice to clear my head occasionally to check out what’s on the walls at the Burt Chernow Galleries. Usually the visit is a solitary experience.
Not today. The Warhol show is a week old and a students are still wandering through. Relatively speaking, that qualifies as a Blockbuster for the Bridgeport art scene.
“In the Company…” displays some of the Polaroids from Andy Warhol’s collecton, which were donated to Housatonic, and the works of other artists such as Jeremy Kost, who has used a Polaroid to chronicle New York City nightlife (such as it’s been) of the past 10 years, and Warhol contemporary Billy Sullivan.
There was a subversive seventies and eighties vibe throughout, depicting a world before most HCC students were born. This world is mainly but not necessarily white, kind of decadent, worldly and knowing. Images drew on not so much the gay world, but an outsider, outlaw-sex kind of thing of punk, drag and the suggestion of a little coke somewhere outside the lens. Students here, who are normally rushing between classes or to a job or some other responsibility, don’t normally stop to reflect on what’s hanging on a gallery wall.
Very little explained Kost’s film “Rainblo” of the tattooed man slowly applying drag makeup, or the fuzzy black-and-white clip from late-70s Manhattan public access television. Behind that was a wallpaper of some fairly unpolished fanzines of the 1990s, photocopied and arranged by Harmony Korine. On another set is another cable show, “Andy Warhol’s TV,” with a 1981 interview with my new best friend John Waters and his star, the divine Divine who having her makeup done during while Waters reminisces about Baltimore and his early films like “Mondo Trasho” and “Female Trouble” — from which clips are shown, which really excited me. In 1984 I would have had to drive a half-hour to the Deptford AMC 8 to see the midnight movie, and now all I have to do is cross the street!
Warhol’s Factory life is bridged to today’s world by the likes of Madonna and the Lady Gaga, both depicted here by Kost. The Factory and everything in its orbit seems so far away yet familiar. And it’s probably refreshing to see art from something other than an upper-middle-class and suburban point of view.
On the back row is something that, while contemporary, connects to Warhol’s early “screen tests.” Rashaad Newsome’s “Shade Compositions (Screen Test 2)” is described by the artist as a video that documents African American women acting out “sassy vocalizations” as part of “ethnographic research.” She’s big as life on the back wall and it signals a big welcome to students of color at HCC.
A colorful takeaway poster provides some context, however, including a short piece on the importance of Warhol as a “Gay Art Star,” a less examined piece of his legacy. Warhol not only rejected the “brushy emotive style” of that time, but the art world’s macho pose. His machine-age techniques eventually eclipsed Jackson Pollack’s abstract expressionism as Warhol celebrated everyday images in America, right down to the soup cans.