Filmed from nightfall to early morning, Empire consists of a single frame of the Empire State Building. Recorded from the neighboring Time & Life Building, the skyscraper appears suspended in midair. Flashes of light marking the start of a new reel, the changing summer sky, and fleeting windowpane reflections punctuate an otherwise motionless image. Empire is projected at a slowed-down speed so that it screens for a total of eight hours—allowing viewers, as Warhol said, “to see time go by.”
The artist was inspired to make Empire following the announced construction of the World Trade Center; its twin towers would soon eclipse the elder landmark’s record as the world’s tallest building. Warhol was fascinated by fame—as evidenced by his paintings and silkscreens of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis—and his gaze presents the skyscraper as a fading superstar. Although *Empire*’s extended duration was intended to challenge audiences, it also opens spectatorship to a place where boredom has the potential to be tantalizing.