Art: Andy Warhol, Other Voices, Other Rooms, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London

The all-singing, all-dancing Warhol jamboree rides into town, tossing witty barbs, terrifying the cops and the upholders of common decency as it gallops. Kind of.

The Andy show has hit the Hayward gallery fresh from a stint in Amsterdam, home of drugs, sleaze and tulips. It’s a firm crowd-pleasing move from the Southbank Centre who have clearly invested heavily in bringing the travelling collection to Waterloo, but one that seems to overlook quality in favour of footfall.

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It’s split into four main sections – Warhol trivia (his time-capsules, his polaroids, his doodles), video and audio of the sights and sounds of the Factory, a collection of the shows he produced for MTV and his better known larger scale video/film work. The collection makes good use of the Hayward space, some might argue too good use as the works do seem to be a little crammed into the lower floor of the gallery (there’s a different exhibition on upstairs at the moment).

I’m generally a big fan of the Hayward, some of their recent exhibitions, Undercover Surrealism and Laughing in a Foreign Language in particular, but as a someone who is hugely interested in the work of Warhol (I’m a shameless Velvet Underground afficionado, and really appreciate the importance of his large scale screen prints), I think they’ve got it wrong with this collection.

I came away from Other Voices, Other Rooms with a deeper understanding of Warhol the curator, the archivist, rather than him as an artist. Now, I know that part of Warhol’s talent lay in the way he was able to capture and transform the banal into art, but there’s too much of the untransformed banality in this exhibition to make it really worth a visit (hey, times are tough, you can’t afford to go to every new exhibition!)

The video clips of life in and around the Factory, for example, are just plain dull. Sure, they are interesting for a couple of seconds (but once you get beyond the haircuts, the clothes, the fashion shows, the glimpses inside Studio 54 there’s very little of any real value left). Now, you could argue that this is in itself Warhol’s artistic judgement, but I’d just say that you were being a smart arse, and I think you’d be wrong.

Warhol’s MTV films, are again interesting from the perspective that they document the excess of the late 1970s and 1980s, but they shine only as…well….MTV programmes…and there’s just so much of this mediocrity, spread very thinly at that.

The one opportunity the show has to redeem itself is the final gallery, showing some of Warhol’s longer fully-fledges film works on a succession of dramatically large screens, flanked by some impressively comfortable foam sofas. It all just feels a little cramped – surely these works would have been better digested at the BFI‘s season of Warhol films last year The layout of the gallery means it feels like you are being channeled through, so its not really condusive to stopping and watching. So a a little bit of scandal (banana sucking ahoy), and you are spat out into the shop. Ahh the shop, looking better stocked than I’ve ever seen it before. Maybe that’s what this exhibition was about all along….

Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms shows at the Hayward Gallery, London until January 18th, 2009
Image:© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc

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