A radical thesis on the parallels between Andy Warhol's Factory and Lewis Carroll's Wonderland that has won the approval of academic experts on both artist and the author is to become the basis of an "entirely new genre" of art exhibition.
Currently in development, the 'AW' project will combine technology and performance in a manner designed to immerse attention-poor digital natives in the work of the 20th century American Pop artist. It will achieve this by sending them down "a sensory Rabbit Hole" inspired by the work of the 19th Century English author. Advanced negotiations are underway to tour AW in New York, London and Shanghai within the next 18 months.
Numerous original Warhol artworks will be combined to create what Shai Baitel, AW's creator, described as: "an entirely new genre of exhibition: a fully immersive and experiential deep dive that takes visitors to the essence of Pop Art."
Baitel is the Artistic Director of the Modern Art Museum (MAM) Shanghai, and was first struck by the parallels between Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the artistic practise of Andy Warhol four years ago. He said: "The similarities that are most compelling are not necessarily in plain sight. Rather they are in a shared approach and DNA: the manner in which both deal with the senses and the stimulation of them."
Armed with this insight, Mr Baitel approached experts in both fields to develop his thesis. Alongside the children's book historian Leonard Marcus and the Warhol expert Eric Shiner, former director of Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum, Baitel has authored an expansive 12,000 word monograph. Entitled The Men In The Mirror it explores the conceptual and narrative overlaps between two men who worked in different media, different cultures, different countries and different centuries - but who shared an essential imaginative fearlessness that produced two equally radical bodies of work.
Mr Baitel elaborated: "Look at the silk screens which Warhol created in his portraits. These portraits are literal, a mirror. Yet he presents the images in such a way that shape and the color of his subjects are twisted, made different. As if you have consumed something that is artificial in order to see the subject in such a heightened, altered way. The same would apply also to Carroll's Alice: with her all kinds of things are happening. She is eating and drinking liquids that make her see herself and the world around her totally differently. Her perspective is broken down and then rebuilt anew."
Warhol expert Eric Shiner added: "This novel experience literally whisks visitors into the underground worlds of Andy Warhol and Alice in Wonderland in exhilarating ways that will both surprise and awe. Melding beloved literary themes and well-known Pop Art imagery together into a journey heightened by scents and tastes, visitors will have a multi-sensory experience unlike any before. This is a rare chance to inhabit the inner mindscapes of two of culture's powerhouse figures in the most 'curiouser' of ways."
Now The Men In The Mirror is to become the basis of an exhibition that will seek to deepen the audience's understanding of Warhol through an experience that mirrors that of Alice. AW, Baitel said, will produce that experience for its visitors by stimulating them in a manner which even those desensitised by constant access to smartphones will be unable to resist. "In the past you would go to see an original artwork on the wall of a gallery and that would be enough to engage you. But in the digital world this is no longer enough."
The exhibition will be a 45-minute process in which the audience is guided through a five-room narrative structure framed by Warhol's art and Carroll's storytelling with the aid of 25 specially trained curatorial performers. Mr Baitel said: "The curation of the show is incomplete unless the audience is in the space. The show only becomes a show when the audience is part of it.... And the actual experience of going through the exhibit in a way mirrors Alice's experience of falling down the Rabbit Hole" The five rooms are titled Sense, Mirrors, Queens, Pop, and Transformation. After passing through each of the five theme-based immersive rooms the audience will encounter original works of art that were the inspiration for the experience they were immersed in.
Mr Baitel added: "We are presenting the work of Warhol in a new and unconventional way that reflects his own unconventional instincts. Is this mere entertainment? I don't think so. We tell a story to today's audience that demands to be stimulated in a modern and completely immersive manner. They will not only see original art - they will also get to experience it."
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