Eva Meyer-Hermann is the curator for the upcoming Wexner Center exhibition, Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms. Get to know more about her in this interview.
How would you account for Andy Warhol’s star appeal?
In my eyes, there are two main reasons: One is the mystery still surrounding his person and his personality, which stands in enormous contrast to the deliberately public figure he made out of himself. He created his own role as the “famous artist”: no artist was ever photographed so often, and his image and images are still seen everywhere. As a “public artist,” he pretended to be visible and accessible to everybody and yet he was not, since you’ll never know what “the human” Warhol was about.
The second reason is his typical American success story, which is still so striking and admirable that many people can identify with him. It’s the “rags to riches” story of a poor immigrant’s son who suffered with health problems in his youth paired with the story of his lifelong struggle with his appearance and his gender identity, which never matched the average standards of the masses. He is perceived as “one of us,” but one who was able to turn his blue collar background into a success story through strong work ethics. This is very American for me, that success is regarded equal to “work” and to “money.” I think everybody could identify with him and everybody wished to be capable of doing what he had done. And in the end, he was not only playing make believe but actually enabled people to also be “famous”—be it for only “15 minutes.”
Of course it’s a very complex question, and to really answer it would a lot of sociological, and psychological, knowledge too, about why people are fascinated by another person, why do they make a person an “idol”—it is a strange push-and-pull between being attracted and being rejected at the same time. I very much hope that these questions are still resonating in the variety of Other Voices, Other Rooms.
If you had to single out one aspect of Warhol’s art or life as most influential and relevant today, what would it be?
To put it in a very abstract way, I would say it is the changed notion of the relationship between the individual and the group, between the single human and the society. To be more specific and to approach this in “art”-terms, it is the changing notion of “authorship” since the 1960s. One big change that a structure like “The Factory” brought about is the idea that art is produced “collectively”—and that is still of enormous influence for contemporary art practice, replacing the single “genius” model of an artist like Pablo Picasso from the first half of the 20th century. It is not the single “genius” who accomplishes something but the “collective” creativity, yet still under conceptual control of course of the artist-“leader”. This change definitely coincides with and also may have triggered the growing popularity of art through all classes of society over the last decades.
What makes Other Voices, Other Rooms different from most exhibitions of Andy Warhol’s art?
The show seeks to show all aspects of what Warhol accomplished in the field of art. It also tries not to be dogmatic in any respect; it wants to be open and leaves a lot to the judgment of the viewers. As a visitor, you have the pleasure (but maybe also the duty) to make your own decisions about what media, what content to relate to, and what conclusions to draw for yourself out of it.
Do you think you see and think about Warhol’s work differently from U.S. curators or art historians? If so, how and why?
I don’t think one can put it that generally. After all, I can’t get into the minds of U.S. curators and art historians to know how they would approach a Warhol show. But to be serious: I think being European is of a certain advantage here. Seeing things from a distance might aid in generalizing questions and positions. That can present a danger of oversimplifying things, of being naÏve, since not every tiny detail might have been taken into account. But, on the other hand, a generalizing view also helps the public to get into the theme, and that’s something I am most interested in: to give something back to the public, to “mediate” something which is—for specialists like curators and art historians— recognizable in artworks, but not that easy to communicate to everybody. I think a lot of exhibitions (not only in the U.S.) suffer from being “over scholarly,” and so maybe not always understandable.
What makes the Wexner Center a good place to see this show?
The very admirable and outstanding building by Peter Eisenman for the Wexner Center offers the perfect set for the special “mise-en-scène” of the exhibition. From the beginning of the shaping the concept for the exhibition, I was playing with a landscape metaphor. Truman Capote’s story of “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, in which a 13-year-old is “on the road” in the vast swamps of Alabama to look for his identity, served as a stimulus for me (which I also could relate back to Warhol’s personality). I wanted to conceive a show that gives the visitor the opportunity to “wander” around, to dwell in scenarios, to become an active “explorer.” The wonderful exhibition design (scenography) by the Berlin team of chezweitz & roseapple makes perfect use of the already existing “landscape mode” of the Eisenman architecture. I believe it is a perfect match for all the three main partitions: Cosmos, Filmscape, and TV-Scape!
Also available: Podcast interview with Eva Meyer-Hermann