Andy Warhol Exhibition Opens in the Saudi Desert


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Andy Warhol exhibition

The new exhibition opened in Saudi Arabia this month.
Fayez Nureldine / AFP through Getty Images

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s first exhibition on Andy Warhol opened at the Maraya, a mirrored constructing within the desert. Titled “FAME: Andy Warhol in AlUla,” the show is part of the second annual AlUla Arts Festival, a government-funded initiative to assist bolster the country’s popularity as an arts vacation spot. 

Many of the items on view are on mortgage from Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. The show was curated by the museum’s director, Patrick Moor.

“‘FAME’ is intended to be an introduction to the facet of Warhol that I consider is most fascinating to many younger folks, including Saudi youth, as Andy Warhol’s journey, which started as a child staring at the movie display and amassing publicity stills, is changing into extra common through the rise of social media,” says Moore in a statement. “‘FAME’ is an opportunity to further extend Warhol’s legacy by reaching new audiences.”

The show zeros in on Warhol’s fascination with superstar via some 70 fastidiously selected pieces of the late Pop Art icon’s work. One part consists of portraits of celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan and Salvador Dalí. Another houses Warhol’s Silver Clouds, a room of enormous metallic balloons. 

The exhibition opens towards the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, which focuses on diversifying the oil-rich nation’s economic system. Part of the technique is investing within the arts: In recent years, the nation has been bringing in musical acts like Alicia Keys, Post Malone and Bruno Mars for concerts and constructing cultural spaces just like the Maraya. 

Human Rights Watch calls these efforts “​​a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator.” Similarly, “FAME” has been met with combined reviews. Some think that bringing an artist like Warhol to Saudi Arabia for the primary time will open up an important cultural dialogue, while others say that it’ll make it simpler to look away from the regime’s brutality.

Painting in the exhibition

The show examines the Pop Art icon’s interest in celebrity tradition.

Fayez Nureldine / AFP by way of Getty Images

“FAME could properly validate an authoritarian regime whose official insurance policies and practices, especially those regarding sexual freedoms, are abhorrent,” writes Hyperallergic’s David Carrier, who ultimately declined to attend the exhibition in Saudi Arabia, the place same-sex sexual activity is illegal and can be punishable by dying. “To show Warhol beneath the sponsorship of the Saudi fundamentalist regime is almost like organizing a club called ‘Jewish friends of the Third Reich.’”

Moore, the show’s curator, tells Artnet’s Rebecca Anne Proctor that he needed to concentrate on Warhol’s work quite than his personal life.

“Andy was plenty of issues; he was an artist, he was a businessman, he was an entrepreneur, he was a media mogul, and he was also a gay man, however that’s not all he was,” Moore says. “So not each exhibition ought to or needs to concentrate on that side of Warhol’s life because Warhol was an artist, not a homosexual artist.”

Carrier can also be troubled by the Andy Warhol Museum’s decision to mortgage out pieces for the exhibition. He acknowledges that cash-strapped arts institutions could make good money from such loans—but on this case, can such actions be justified?

“Ultimately, in fact, if our Pittsburgh museums really feel the need for monetary causes to lease the collections, that’s as a outcome of these establishments lack sufficient native funding,” he writes. “We need to ask what sorts of compromises we’re prepared to tolerate.”

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