Prague goes Pop

PRAGUE — Sometimes what is old in the West is new in Eastern Europe, even 20 years after the fall of communism.

In its first month, more than 10,000 people visited an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s films now showing at Prague’s Rudolfinum Galerie, according to Zuzana Kosarova, one of the organizers.

Landing the exhibition meant an arduous three-and-a-half year battle to agree on a date, she said. Organizers were persistent because Warhol's “work is very famous here,” she said, adding that Czechs have “read or heard about his films but haven't seen them,” until now.

Warhol died in 1987, two years before the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. He was born in Pittsburgh, but his family background is Ruthenian, a region in Eastern Europe that comprises Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Slovakia and Poland. Even though Warhol himself never visited his ancestral homeland, there is a museum dedicated to him in eastern Slovakia.

The exhibition, “Andy Warhol's Motion Pictures,” features a series of four-minute screen tests with instantly recognizable celebrities, such as Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, Salvador Dali and Susan Sontag. But it also features then-celebrities such as Jane Holzer, Edie Sedgwick and Ivy Nicholson, regulars at The Factory, where Warhol did much of his work in New York City during the 1960s.

Also featured are a series of non-narrative films focusing on activities such as “Haircut,” “Eat,” “Sleep,” “Kiss,” and, um, “Blow Job.”

All the films are black and white and filmed at 16 frames per second. The result is a sharp reminder of the literal meaning of the exhibition's title. When we think of “motion pictures” today, we think of Hollywood and all of the spectacular camera work that goes into blockbuster productions. In contrast to these movies, Warhol's exhibition uses "motion pictures" — literally, pictures in motion.

Andrea Ciencialova, a 23-year-old university student, was staring at “Kiss” along with her younger sister and mother.

“It's interesting how every couple kisses differently,” she said, watching the series of couples, both gay and straight, kissing. “We've been sitting here for 15 minutes.”

Her 15-year-old sister Petra, who is thinking about being an artist, said Warhol's appeal is his uniqueness. “It's his ideas,” she said. “Nobody before did this.”

Martina Konecna, a human-resource specialist from the city of Brno, said she considered Warhol “a very exciting man” based on magazine articles she had read. Still, she wasn't prepared for what she saw in the exhibition.

“It's very interesting,” she said. “I'm very surprised at the concepts — I've never seen anything like it.”

Her favorite picture was the one of Baby Jane Holzer brushing her teeth — a sentiment echoed by others. Except for “Kiss” it is, perhaps, the most action-packed film.

But not everyone came away impressed with the exhibition, such as Metin Altinos, a film student visiting from Istanbul, who said he likes Warhol's work but came away feeling flat.

“If you had a white frame or a black picture,” he said, “people will come to see it — if it's done by Warhol.”

"Andy Warhol's Motion Pictures" is at Prague's Rudolfinum Galerie through April 5. It was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in cooperation with The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

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