More Voices: Barry Shank

Mon, Feb 16, 2009

I think the thing that struck me the most about all my encounters with the Warhol show--and there were many, ranging from touring my undergraduate students through the show, participating in the Peel Slowly and See conversation, speaking to the Alumni Association, and taking my own daughter through the exhibit twice--was that this show really brought home the point that art and life and the spectacular and the everyday are not separate from each other.

Warhol's art engaged with aspects of living that matter to almost everyone, but often seem too commonplace to draw our attention. How do we deal with the marketplace? How can we think about the relationship between surface appeal and lasting value? What goes into the creation of lasting value? Does lasting value even matter if we can get a good price for what we're doing now? All those questions rise up, but they really are subsets of a larger question: how can business and art approach each other in a way that does not shut down the values of one or the other but that forces those values into a productive conversation?

In addition, this exhibit demands impolitely that we ask ourselves what happens when we take seriously the material form, the matter, the stuff, that we make things out of? Are movies really moving pictures or are they an opportunity to focus our vision for a long time on something or someone we love? Is music really the search for pretty harmonies or is it the opportunity to focus our hearing on sounds that throb and ache and echo with longing? Is painting the achievement of an individualistic rejection of the commonplace or is it the pictorial recognition of the truly common and mundane that holds us all together?

Those questions came up for me every time I went through this wonderful show. Luckily for me, they're unanswerable.

Barry Shank, Department of Comparative Studies