I like the idea of haunting without just referencing ghosts. So many things can be haunted: skin by a scar, the ground by a burned down building’s foundation, a photograph by a bird flying in the background. Currently, the Guggenheim is showing Haunted, an exhibit examining the way art can be haunted by the past, ethereal figures, violence, or uncanny feelings. We stopped by the museum a few weekends ago. (It was the same Friday we also went to Bear in Heaven; that was a busy day.) The main rotunda was dark, it’s window (seen open in the window above), blacked out for the films that were being shown on the top floor. There was one of Andy Warhol’s large prints of the electric chair, and a really chilling installation by Christian Boltanski of a Jewish school class just before the Holocaust. Markus Hansen’s Curtain may have the best material list ever: dust, varnish, and breath on glass. One video installation made me feel instantly nauseous. Something with a kid making jerky, repetitive movements…a little too close to some nightmares I’ve had…perhaps nightmares I’ve been haunted by.
We also saw the Julie Mehretu Grey Area pieces that are on display, which were really detailed and absorbing. Although they weren’t part of the Haunted exhibit, the works had such dense depth to them that you could believe some unexpected image was hiding in the lines.
Downstairs in one of the small theatres, we watched a showing of some of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Warhol shot them in the 60s, usually featuring one of his “superstars” who populated his life and Silver Factory parties, or just someone he thought had star potential (like Dennis Hopper). They are portraits through film, with only the subject’s face in the screen for several minutes. I was afraid I might get bored just watching someone’s face, but it was riveting. It’s rare to just look at someone for so long without speech, to really study their features and expressions. One screen test subject stared into the camera with her eyes open until tears fell down her face, another brushed her teeth for an obscene length of time, another stared from the dark with her face half hidden. The key to screen test success did seem to be having half your face in shadows, lots of eye makeup and fake eyelashes, and a disaffected expression. I need to work on all those things.
When Warhol made the films, they were silent. But for the screenings at the Guggenheim museum they were accompanied by music by Dean & Britta. Dean being Dean Wareham of the early 90s shoegazers Galaxie 500. For Lou Reed’s screen test, they recorded a cover of a Velvet Underground song I’d never heard before: “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.” All of the songs fit perfectly with the mood of each screen test, whether happy, cool, or confrontational. You can hear more of their 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests on Dean & Britta’s myspace.
And for anyone who has come by my blog via NY Daily News, hello!