In June 1963 Andy Warhol acquired his first silent 16mm Bolex movie camera. Three months later, the artist and a few friends embarked on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles to attend the opening of The Ferus Gallery’s exhibition devoted to his silk-screened Elvis canvases. For his first trip to California, Warhol brought along the Bolex and documented the exhibition in what he called a “home movie,” Elvis at Ferus (1963). He also shot footage for Tarzan and Jane Regained…Sort Of (1963), a feature-length avant-garde adventure that follows Taylor Mead as Tarzan through Hollywood. Immersed in the fan culture of popular cinema, pulp novels, and gossip magazines, Warhol conflated the tawdry images and iconography of Hollywood into his experimental films, using parodies of celebrities, the exaggeration of their tragic public moments, and riotously altered archetypes of the commercial film industry.
Best known for his migration from Pittsburgh to New York and his metamorphosis from Andrew Warhola to the bewigged pop artist known as Andy Warhol, he was a phenomenon unquestionably rooted in the East Coast. However, this reinvention of self—and the myth of New York as a geographic symbol of limitless personal and professional potential—draws upon parallel mythologies that previously led audacious individuals to the exploration and settlement of the West in the mid-19th century. The West—particularly Hollywood—as both a dynamic concept of fantasy and reality and a dramatic geographic location provided Warhol with aesthetic inspiration for such films as Horse (1965), an outrageous departure from the traditional Western, and Lupe (1966), which used the heartbreaking biography of Mexican actress Lupe Velez as a campy tribute to Hollywood.
The West: Myth, Character, and Reinvention by Andy Warhol provides an unexpected context for the reconsideration of a selection of Warhol’s films that were inspired by and shot in California and Arizona. The films for this exhibition are all directed by Andy Warhol, from the U.S., and drawn from The Museum of Modern Art’s collection.
Organized by Anne Morra, Assistant Curator, Department of Film.