The exhibition Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures marks the continuation of the long-term effort to preserve one of the artist’s most important bodies of work. Before his death in 1987, Warhol stipulated that his works should be cared for by The Museum of Modern Art, and in 1997 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts completed the donation of the surviving 4,000 reels of original footage and print materials. Between the Warhol Museum (which holds the copyright), MoMA (which holds the original material in safe storage), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (which did the cataloging)—all supported by the Warhol Foundation—preserving these works for generations to come was a monumental and collaborative task. Especially since, in the words of MoMA’s former chief curator of film Mary Lea Bandy, “The material arrived in decrepit cardboard boxes in 1987.”
The restoration of the original material and the digitization preserved this important body of work, and, as 16mm film material and 16mm film projection equipment is less readily available, the digital versions allow the films to be accessible to a large global audience.
The slow motion and special lighting of the Screen Tests mimic the flat aesthetic of early silent movies, and the Screen Tests were never meant to be talking heads on television monitor cubes. However, in recent years, even decently sized flat-screen monitors with the 3:4 aspect ratio of original film material are no longer produced.
The black framing around the special screen material gives the image the sharp edges that the ubiquitous 16mm projection screens on tripods did for educational, home, and institutional viewing, and the black around the big screen in a movie theater provided for the cinematic display in earlier times.
Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures oscillates between the original size of a 16mm projection on a portable screen and the “big picture” of the movie theater setting in which Warhol showed Sleep, Empire, and Kiss. The show opens to the public this Sunday—I hope you’ll have a chance to stop by and see these fascinating works in person.