Mr. America arrives in Buenos Aires

Left, Larratt-Smith and Sokolowski discuss Warhol at the Malba.
Left, Larratt-Smith and Sokolowski discuss Warhol at the Malba.

Having wound its way from Colombia to Argentina, the long-awaited Andy Warhol, Mr. America exhibition, a 170-strong collection of the painter, printmaker and filmmaker’s most emblematic pop-art works, opened today (October 22) at the Malba, the first time so many pieces by the North American have been shown in Buenos Aires.

Curated by the Canadian Philip Larratt-Smith, Thursday’s pre-launch offered up a dialogue between Larratt-Smith and Tom Sokolowski, director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Larratt-Smith chose the title Andy Warhol, Mr. America for various reasons, including, he said, “to show how Warhol is looking at (North) America from the inside, and here in Argentina you are looking at it from the outside.”

In their discussion about the gay painter who avidly followed the “American Dream” but was a marginal figure due to his Slovakian roots, social class and physical appearance, Sokolowski added in the talk: “Warhol had so many strikes against him that he had to go all the way and be a success. He was committed to self-transformation, and what is more (North) American than self-reinvention?”

Talking to the Herald, Sokolowski said all the works, which have shown in Bogotá and will tour San Pablo, have come from the Pittsburgh museum, and it took three years to arrange this exhibition with the Malba. Those classic images of the multitude of Marilyn Monroes and the Campbell’s soup cans are included, and the latter, said Sokolowski, deals with the reality of what normal working-class people are proud of and eat — images of the dark side of the US — as well as some Polaroid snapshots.

Sokolowski, who first met Warhol in 1971 as a student, said of the painter’s use of photography: “He liked the earliest Polaroid camera because it was aimed at dumb people, because it was just ‘point and shoot’. As he said, ‘I’m not a photographer’ and he wasn’t interested in the more sophisticated cameras. He took people to trains stations to those photo booth machines but he never intended to show all these like this, as they were used as sources for his portraits.”

The museum director knew Warhol for around 20 years although, he added, not as a friend. “We met when I went to study in New York, and we’d chat and gossip for 10 minutes — he loved to gossip — but then he’d be away, because we think he had Asperger syndrome. It means being brilliantly focused on one thing, which was his art, but if someone asked a simple question such as ‘what do you think of your mother?’, he just couldn’t deal with it. He wouldn’t look you in the eye when you talked to him, but he was a very interesting character.”

The art exhibition is taking up two floors while the Malba is also hosting a cinema cycle dedicated to Warhol’s films including Lonesome Cowboys, Outer and Inner Space and Blow Job. No need to rush down though: Andy Warhol, Mr. America is on until February 2010.

Where & when: Andy Warhol, Mr America is on until February 22, 2010 at the Malba, Figueroa Alcorta 3415. Open Thursdays to Mondays from midday to 9pm. Open Wednesdays until 9pm. Shut Tuesdays. Guest curator: Philip Larratt-Smith. Admission $15, Wednesdays $5.

Photo by Mariano Fuchila.

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