You don’t know how long three minutes can last until you’ve sat for one of Andy Warhol’s “screen tests.”
Back in the mid-‘60s, the pioneering pop artist shot more than 400 of these self-reflexive short films—tripod-mounted, static close-ups of faces, shot for three continuous minutes under harsh lighting and then slowed down in postproduction. It was the exploration of the human face as art object.
His sitters included Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper, Marcel Duchamp and Yoko Ono, but you don’t have to be a cultural celebrity visiting his factory to experience what they did. At the interactive conclusion of the Norton Museum of Art’s entertaining and informative exhibition, “To Jane, Love Andy,” museumgoers can plop on a stool, punch a few prompts into a monitor, peer into a vintage Bolex camera (digitally modified, naturally) and have their three-minute, Warholian screen test (it’ll arrive in your e-mail box presently). I tried it, and I’ve rarely felt so vulnerable; I was conscious of every slight movement, eyeblink and facial tic, aware that my every action was under surveillance.
In other words, the experience plants everyday people into the shoes of someone like Jane Holzer who, let’s face it, was under the scrutiny of cameras and probing eyes for virtually every waking moment circa 1964, when even writers as cynical as Tom Wolfe salivated at her feet.
After all, she’s the reason “To Jane, Love Andy” exists. Sure, the exhibit offers another great excuse to present Warhol pieces in a new context, and we get to savor his flowers, his Marilyn Monroe and Chairman Mao, his Brillo Boxes and Heinz containers, his mordant car-crash death-scapes and his Coca-Cola bottles. There’s even a fascinating and dialectically clashing work he completed alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat.
But it’s really about Holzer, his original muse, pre-Edie Sedgwick and pre-Nico, herself an emerging model who met him on a Manhattan street while he was still an emerging artist. It’s well known that Warhol cast Holzer in her first movies, but they were also his first movies, which her presence inspired. The exhibition makes a compelling case that Holzer influenced Warhol as much as the other way around, and that their creative collaboration was one of mutual gain.
Word has it that when Warhol approached Holzer to become an actor in his 1964 underground feature “Soap Opera,” she replied, “Anything beats being a Park Avenue housewife.” Holzer could have had anything she wanted, including a life of leisure; she came from Palm Beach money, and in her early ‘20s, she wed an heir to a New York real estate fortune. In light of this, her slumming in the world of underground cinema and photography seems remarkably radical.
But as this exhibition shows, she was also a model for countless mainstream publications, with her impressive golden locks defining an ideal of beauty in ‘60s America. She was enamored with the Rolling Stones and vice versa, and she brought out the best in fashion designers, too; in the exhibition’s most swingin’ gallery, the sounds of the Kinks and the Stones pipe through speakers, surrounded by Holzer dresses designed by Yves Saint Laurent, Betsey Johnson, Viola Sylbert and others.
“To Jane, Love Andy” is comprised in large part of merchandise under glass, with magazine covers and photographs and 45 rpm records defining Holzer’s It Girl status. As Holzer continued her public flirtations following her spotlight in the center of Warhol’s factory, the merchandise randomizes: We see an advertisement for “Kiss of the Spider-Woman,” the 1985 Oscar winner she produced, along with a kitschy, retro jacket promoting Sweet Baby Jane’s, her onetime Worth Avenue ice cream shop. It seems to be calling out for Warhol to silkscreen it.
Holzer looks great in everything, in what will probably go down as the art exhibition that’s easiest on the eyes this season. But don’t be surprised if the piece that sticks with you the most is Holzer’s Warhol screen test, which gets its own room in the museum, projected onto an extra-large screen. We’re not used to analyzing every crevice and contour of someone’s visage; stare at that face long enough, with its seeming eternity between blinks, and she’ll start to look less like a beautiful starlet and more like an art object, a filmed sculpture—a collection of facial features suggesting an idea. She becomes larger than life, in more ways than one.
“To Jane, Love Andy” is at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, through May 25. Admission costs $5-$12. For information, call 561/832-5196 or visit norton.org.