Press Events in Mons and Edinburgh

Early in October I represented the museum at press events marking the opening of two of our exhibitions in Europe. It was a bit of a hectic schedule, but it was exciting, fun, and a great honor. Plus, I got to wear my favorite silk neckties.

The first was at BAM. Not the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Beaux-Arts Mons in Belgium (watch for Brooklyn news elsewhere on our site). Mons is a lovely ancient city near the French border, with a history dating to the Neolithic. It was the alleged site of a mythic case of “divine intervention” during World War 1, but I was interested that the poet Paul Verlaine was locked-up in the Mons prison for nearly 450 days for shooting his lover Arthur Rimbaud in 1873. Antique angels AND pre-punk progenitors!

Here and now, Mons has a sparkling art museum, newly renovated into an excellent facility. “Andy Warhol: Life, Death and Beauty” was organized by the guest curator Gianni Mercurio in consultation with our curator Nick Chambers and other colleagues. Mons was picked to be the European Capital of Culture for 2015, and all of us here were honored when we learned that their government had selected a Warhol exhibition to break the news to the world.

Sixty-five journalists from all over Europe squeezed into a sunny rooftop room. The city’s youthful mayor, Nicolas Martin, spoke for a long time about the exhibition and the selection of his city as the culture capital, and their overall plans for this honor. We’ve worked with Gianni several times in the past, and he has a sharp eye. In addition to the 3 topics in the show’s title, it also has a religious sub-theme: the Last Supper, the Nativity, and even Warhol’s riff on Albrecht Durer’s Praying Hands (an image which also adorns Warhol’s grave, as you can see in our Figment project). Maybe this is because Verlaine re-converted to Christianity during his incarceration?

The conference resulted in just a single forgettable question from the media. Afterwards I was approached by photographers and others for conversation, but had to wrap it up fast (missed the free lunch) and was quickly whisked back to Brussels to catch my flight to Edinburgh, where another press conference awaited the following morning.

Though up for just a month, we believe that “Andy Warhol: Pop, Power, and Politics” was the first art exhibition ever held in a seat of government, and we had a truly phenomenal setting for it in the spectacular buildings of the Scottish Parliament. Our show was one of two in Parliament marking the centennial of the Andrew Carnegie UK Trust. Why Warhol? Several reasons: because he, much like Carnegie, was a philanthropist (through the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, he left his estate to support others’ creativity after he passed away). Also, the two Andys share the rags-to-riches story: Carnegie left his native Dunfermline (quite near Edinburgh) as a penniless boy before making his fortune in Pittsburgh. Warhol was a son of lower class immigrants in Pittsburgh who made his fortune in New York City, after having been educated in the institutions founded by Carnegie! And finally, Warhol was fascinated by political power, and painted portraits of the political leaders of his day, most of which were in the exhibition.

I had a few days in magnificent Edinburgh, late night ghost tours and such, the narrow Closes, peppery haggis, amber whiskies, delicious Indian and vegetarian food, and history writ large (plus a wonderful experience with National Health Service). At Edinburgh Castle we entered the tiny room in which Mary Queen of Scots gave birth, and saw the iron grate through which kings spied on their court. The trip came full circle when I spied the massive ancient cannon called Mons Meg, having been forged in Mons in 1449. We had a much easier time arriving from there to Edinburgh than did old Meg.

Matt Wrbican