Meta Warhol: In Conversation with the Curators of “Eric’s Trip” at Lisa Cooley Gallery

Andy Warhol’s legacy has manifest itself in popular consciousness in ways both obvious and nuanced; the artist’s appeal lies in the fact that his work transcended boundaries between high and low art, music, cinema and plastic arts, as well as concept and execution. His influence extends far beyond the Pop revolution he helped to proliferate. Both celebrating Warhol’s enigmatic influence and building upon it, “Eric’s Trip,” now on view at Lisa Cooley Gallery, is named and themed after Reel 9 of Andy Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea Girls. Reel 9 depicts performer Eric Emerson delivering a free-associative monologue while tripping on LSD. Warhol punctuates the piece with his own adornments of psychedelic cinema technique and technicolor floodlights.

Curated by Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacono, “Eric’s Trip” takes its lead from Chelsea Girls’ experiment in consciousness, transcending any one chemical or artistic influence and instead revealing to us the potential depths of artistic perception, and the value of looking inward before looking outward. The show expands upon the musicality of the film, as Cynthia (a painter on the gallery’s roster) and Mark (a curator, critic, and Warhol scholar) play in a band together. They drew inspiration for the exhibition’s title in part from a Warhol-influenced Sonic Youth song of the same name. Artsy spoke to the curatorial duo about the exhibition’s thesis and what unites the diverse range of disciplines and artists included.

Artsy: How do these works interact with one another?

Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacono: Have you ever imagined your dream dinner party? You’ll invite some people you really admire (heroes, idols, mentors), some old friends, some new friends. Everyone will bring something different to the night: the wine, the charm, the humor, the looks, the love. This show was like that for us. We invited a dream list of artists, including idols (Nancy Shaver, Judith Linhares, Sheila Hicks), old friends (David Kennedy–Cutler, Margaret Lee, José Lerma), and newer faces (Mathew Zefeldt, Victoria Fu, Kamau Amu Patton, and Rory Mulligan).

We had strong impulses about how they would relate, yet were still surprised by the specifics. It was moving to see the spark between Rory Mulligan’s black-and-white photographs and the colorful gestural paintings of Judith Linhares. It’s so rare to see straight photography placed anywhere near a painting in a contemporary gallery. Similarly, it’s rare to see Sheila Hicks in relation to new media work like Kamau Amu Patton, a pairing which drew new connections between the undercurrent patterns in textile and video technology. We worked hard to make sure that each work had its own niche such that any of the works could easily be billed as the star of the show.

Artsy: What are some of the non-Warholian traditions these works draw from? They’re pretty diverse.

CD & ML: Breadth is something that was central to Warhol’s practice, and we chose to highlight it here in order to expand what is meant by the term “Warholian.” Our intention here is to broaden Warhol’s legacy to be more true to his works, rather than the myths that have come to be built around them. We selected a diverse group of artists, each who draw on their own wide and unique set of traditions.

Take David Kennedy-Cutler. David’s clear plastic sculptures are the embodiment of gestural action sculpture. They reference the forcefulness of Pollock’s gestures, yet simultaneously efface that history in their transparency (just as Rauschenberg erased de Kooning). They are specters of Abstract Expressionism, shadows of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, and tracers of dancers like Judith Jamison, Yvonne Rainer or, for that matter, Eric Emerson. Or Judith Linhares. Judith’s paintings reference a broad spectrum of traditions around color, fantasy, and “the nude,” relating to artists as far-ranging as Manet, Joan Mitchell, Kiki Smith and Matisse. Like Eric Emerson in Warhol’s film, the figure in Linhares’ Polly, for instance, may be offered up for the visual enjoyment of the viewer, but there is a distinct sense that she is much more interested in her own enjoyment than ours. Her stare is directed inward, not outward. Just like Eric Emerson, she is “grooving on her own body,” and in her disinterest suggests that we might want to do the same.

Artsy: Is the subtext here that artworks have the power to alter perception in a way similar to a psychedelic trip?

CD & ML: To us, the notion of a “trip” simply suggests a transversal narrative, from point A to point B. Transformation is implied, but not necessary. Life is perhaps the ultimate trip. Consciousness is intrinsically hallucinatory—overwhelming, immersive, shifting, and intensely singular. As such, the notion of “tripping" puts pressure on whatever modes of linguistic or visual representation are called upon to communicate the experience with others. Any attempt is intrinsically flawed and bound to fail.

Warhol knew this. His film of Eric Emerson’s trip in The Chelsea Girls is, on the one hand, a perfect depiction—we can approximate an understanding of LSD even if we have never experienced it. Yet, on the other hand, it is a total failure. Eric struggles with language, finding it ever limiting and stilted. (“I groove on the easiest words to say,” he tells no one in particular. “But it doesn’t even have to be said.”) The lights flicker and the camera wavers, distracted. No one can ever see or feel what Eric felt.

The works in the show each propose a unique approach to this problem. They examine and describe the limits of subjective perception, using art as a bridge between the singular body and the communal one. They may not ever really cross that bridge, but we feel that this is beside the point. What is important is not where you end up, but how you got there.

Eric’s Trip” is on view at Lisa Cooley Gallery, New York, June 28th–Aug. 1st, 2014.

Charlie Ambler

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