Andy Warhol at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to October 22. 416-979-6648. $18, stu/srs $15, youth $12. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
In supernova: stars, death and Disasters 1962-1964 at the AGO , David Cronenberg crawls into Andy Warhol 's head via a series of paintings and films. All of them are taken from the the foment of the early 60s, after Warhol left his job as a Madison Avenue graphic designer and set himself up as the silver-wigged android/impresario who gave us pop art, the Factory stable of superstars and the Velvet Underground.
I'd have personally rooted for John Waters as a cineaste guide for a Warhol show, for pretty obvious reasons. But Cronenberg is surprisingly comforting and comfortable talking about the intricacies of Warhol's aesthetic: his rootedness in film, his rejection of individual gesture and expression, his use of mechanical production and chance, his unironic worship of celebrity and glamour and his insistence on a completely neutral and voyeuristic distance.
This is Cronenberg's show as much as Warhol's, and his audio commentary does much to shed light on the images. In his comment on the Troy Donahue diptych, he points out how Warhol's repeated silkscreen images resemble the individual frames of a film strip. The seemingly identical portraits betray slight shifts and differences that echo the passing of time and encroaching mortality.
Cronenberg puts Warhol's morbid fascination with death and his obsession with celebrity on equal footing the glitter of presence plays into the void of absence. Many of the icons Warhol idolized in paintings Jackie Onassis and Liz Taylor, for example were engulfed by personal tragedy, while disasters, car crashes and criminality lent ordinary mortals their own brand of fleeting celebrity.
The films, play against the prints' and paintings' portrayal of disaster and glamour. His screen tests series gives an intense and uncomfortably sweaty look into people willing themselves to be larger than life, while his movie "couch" provides as a sense of what a truly freewheeling and democratic space the Factory was.
The only thing odd is the solemn and rapt atmosphere of high art that shrouds the show in academic fussiness. If Warhol were present, he'd leave us a 16mm camera so we could get in on the process, Factory-style.