13 Most Beautiful... Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, was an amazing show. Commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts, 13 Most Beautiful featured 13 of Warhol's silent film portraits known as the Screen Tests - each just four minutes long - set to music by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (formerly of the band Luna) in a world premier at the Byham on Friday night. The band played beneath a large screen with the "portraits" projected, all silent films in black and white. The music seemed to become the thoughts of the individuals projected on the large screen.
The 13 were chosen from some 500 such "screen tests" that included famous folks, such as Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, as well as unknown people whom Warhol thought possessed star power. In 1964, Warhol put together a collection of these called 13 Most Beautiful Women, followed shortly thereafter by 13 Most Beautiful Men. Why 13? Reading about the Screen Tests, I learned that the number 13 came from a New York City Police brochure of the 13 Most Wanted, which was also the title of Warhol's mural for the World's Fair.
Some of the famous faces included Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, and Nico. During Lou Reed's film portrait, they played "Not A Young Man Anymore" - a Reed/Cale/ Morrison/Tucker song. During Nico's film portrait, Britta sang Bob Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine". (Nico, a German singer Warhol discovered and made famous when he made her a lead singer of The Velvet Underground, has a popular cover version of this song.) The rest were Dean and Britta originals, composed specifically for these Screen Tests.
(still from Lou Reed's screen test)
The intimacy of the extreme close-ups made them mesmerizing. Movements were overall subtle. There was an occasional chew of gum, or the use of an occasional prop - a bottle of coke, a cigarette. The most active of the portraits was number 13, Jane Holzer, who brushed her teeth the whole time. Just as interesting, however, were the almost motionless ones, such as Ann Buchanan (pictured at the top of this entry) who stared out at us without blinking until tears fell down her cheeks like crystals. Her features softened while the music grew more dreamy and whistful.
Andy Warhol let a camera run and walked away. It was true to his "Factory" methods, and yet, like the rest of his work, the results are substantive. Even in portraits of others, he is able to be our mirror.
I've seen the work of Cindy Sherman, a feminist artist-photographer, at the Hirshhorn and other museums, but had never seen a collection of her photographs or a complete series until I discovered The Complete Untitled Film Stills collected in a book at the Strand. The book was put together by the MoMA, which collected all 69 photographs of the series. Sherman arranged the sequence of the photos for the book.
The photos are all black and white, created between 1977 and 1980. Sherman photographs herself, being all three artist, model, and actress. The images are not self-portraits however, because they are not depictions of her own identity. The photos resemble movie stills, and viewed one to the next, her heroines of implied but mysterious narratives create an overall depiction of femininity - with the understanding that the femininity we are seeing is fictional. The roles she portrays are stereotypical, and the fact that we know the images are fictional draws awareness to the idea of gender roles being constructed. There are elements of fantasy about them (dress-up and theatre) that make the Stills intriguing. Seeing the photos together impacted me in a way that seeing her individual photographs had not, because so much of what she is doing is in the performance - the contrast of characters from one image to the next, creating a fantasy of women rather than a picture of one.
Magdalena Bors photographs fairy tale scenes that she makes from ordinary household things. The trees in this one remind me of the board game, Enchanted Forest. I love how playful and imaginative her images are! You can see more on her web site: