One of Andy Warhol’s most monumental achievements is now showing at the MOCA in Los Angeles. This is the first West Coast presentation of Shadows (1978), a series that consists of 102 individual painted canvases installed to form one continuous piece.
Warhol originally conceived Shadows as room decoration, referring to this multiple part work as “disco-decor”. Although disco has been long dead, these 76 x 52 inch canvases still reinforce the American ideal of “bigger is better” — especially with color, and they provide an alternate perspective of an artist who is so recognizable yet remains an enigmatic character who keeps us guessing .
When Shadows was first installed at the Heiner Friedrich Gallery in New York, a critic wrote, “The show only looks good because it’s so big.” True, they are big, colorful and make a great backdrop for the ubiquitous “selfie”, however, MOCA Director Philippe Vergne encourages visitors to revisit these enigmatic, monochrome paintings and give them a closer look.
He describes Shadows as, “the line between the American dream and the American death. They are as dark as they are glamorous; they are as meditative as they are explosively hallucinatory; they are mourning mirrors with no reflections; they are a long film strip of serial images that evoke experimental film and the drones of the Velvet Underground. They are visual music.”
MOCA Senior Curator Bennett Simpson also noticed the musical quality of this work, describing Shadows as, “one of Warhol’s most mysterious and beautiful works, full of mood and feeling, repeated over and over, not unlike a song.” This isn’t surprising, given Warhol’s extensive collaboration with The Rolling Stones and his stint as the band manager for The Velvet Underground.
This is only the second time that all panels have been seen all together at the same time. In fact, Warhol himself never saw all 102 panels together. He also left no instructions on the order in which to hang them. The pieces aren’t numbered, so they can be hung at random. Perhaps by leaving room for play, he allowed viewers to have a new experience each time the panels are installed (in the rare event that is made possible).
Andy Warhol: Shadows runs September 20 through February 2 at MOCA, located at 250 South Grand Avenue.