Various Artists – [Box Set]

Thursday, 04 August 2011

Probably the most famous bit of philosophy that Andy Warhol ever uttered – ignoring the indelible mark he made on the realms of music and theater and art – was that, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Since the artist first made that proclamation in 1968, the phrase has been used to justify innumerable entertainment industry phenomena and other such passing fads. Since that time, while trends in pop culture have changed both dramatically and repeatedly, Warhol's phrase has endured; with only the units of measurement having changed. Those “fifteen minutes” became as many seconds and nanoseconds with the birth of the internet, and with the birth and subsequent explosion of online social media, has been rethought to become a matter of “everyone will be famous to fifteen people.”

Times, social mores, values and entertainment – as well as the public's consumption of it – have changed. The public's perception of the world has been torn down and rebuilt/reinvented/redefined at least a dozen times over since Warhol bravely contained the public's general attention span to a numeric value, but that “fifteen minute” assertion has been one which has ensured that Andy Warhol remains an icon even now, twenty-four years after his passing in 1987. His artwork, images, ideas, disciplines and proclivities (as well as his opinions and views, by extension) are now displayed as exhibits which tour through children's museums and are taught to both high school and university students alike; in effect, Andy Warhol ended up proving his own assertion wrong as his work continues to be discovered by new minds daily. The work and the man remain inspiring and provocative too, as Fifteen Minutes: An Homage To Andy Warhol illustrates. Assembling a multi-discipline collection of work by eighteen artists, this 3CD/4LP box set is completely unique in that it attempts to offer complete experience of Warhol as well as his effect on pop culture and the arts, by showcasing the reach of his influence more than the work of the artist himself. In keeping with that spirit, each artist who contributed to the audio portion of this set (much of which is spoken word and ignores conventional song structures) also created a print of original artwork for inclusion with this (very) limited edition set; in effect, what buyers get is an experience quite unlike any other.

The uniqueness of Fifteen Minutes is apparent right away as one scans the list of contributors included in the set. Rather than going the obvious route and tapping a big, star-studded cast of names that are regularly associated with Warhol and his Factory, there is clearly some desire to present something else – something genuine – here. On Fifteen Minutes, the usual suspects that one would expect to see attached to an 'Andy Warhol music collection' like Lou Reed, John Cale, Jayne County, Mo Tucker, David Bowie and Devo have been overlooked wholesale in favor of including Warhol's peers and contemporaries in the art community like John Giorno, Path Soong, Jeff Gordon, Ivan Karp and Yura Adams, with the only “full-time musicians” included being Patti Smith and Bob Dylan (of which only Dylan really contributes a conventional song). With that in mind, Fifteen Minutes would look like a dicey proposition to anyone right off the bat; a viewpoint that would only get more justifiable when they see the jaw-dropping price tag attached to the set. The deluxe edition is limited to eighty-five copies at $20,000 each, the slightly-less-limited edition retails for $600 – the extra $19,400 gets buyers the same music on the same formats, but gets autographed prints of the artwork, instead of replicas. Even so, it's hard not to be drawn in by the decadence and artifice as one trips through the music and flips through the art. In listening to the albums it's possible to pick out real grains of the influence that Warhol has had on both the arts and these contributors. Here, it's possible to find the blatant commercialism and vacuousness that Warhol was often accused of in the Sixties and Seventies in “Titles,” where Pat Soong simply name-checks the work in Warhol's sketchbook. There is a confrontational stance employed by Ivan Karp in “The First Time” reminiscent of the one Warhol had to have taken as he challenged artistic conventions with his Pop Art construct. There is a stark attractiveness to Patti Smith's “Edie” that perfectly sums up the subject of her spoken word piece, Edie Sedgwick, but there are sparks of Andy in it too somehow. There is a direct and bold edge in Smith's sibilance – in all of the dialogue that the contributors share here, in fact – that owes a debt to Andy Warhol's persona and public image. It doesn't sound at all supernatural really, but each of these tracks does echo Warhol, somehow.

Of course, any discussion about Andy Warhol wouldn't be complete without giving an impression of the self-indulgent side to Warhol's character. This opulent side is the one which yielded motion picture works like Sleep (which starred John Giorno – who contributes one of the most solid tracks here, “Thanks For Nothing,” ironically) and is represented on Fifteen Minutes by the forty-minute discussion between Vincent Fremont and Brigid Berlin which takes up all of Disc Two. There's no doubt that there's no script for Fifteen Minutes' second disc as the conversation on it veers in every imaginable direction – from talk of Warhol's Factory to the internet to Max's Kansas City to Berlin walking seven blocks topless through New York to the excitement which surrounded the art world and Warhol in the Sixties and Seventies – with the natural flow and build of any conversation over coffee. In that sort of organic delivery, listeners will begin to flash on the films that Warhol made between 1963 and 1968 because it, like them is a true slice of life, in all its rambling, inchoate glory. It's true that Disc Two is not the easiest thing to hear if you paid for it – just as it wasn't at all thrilling to watch a man sleep on film for hours, or eat, or watch the New York cityscape as Warhol filmed it – but it is an interesting commentary on the nature of musical performance on records because Disc Two is perfectly naked reality.

It might sound confusing to read it, but “Naked Reality” is exactly what Fifteen Minutes shoots for in its presentation. This set is supposed to be a tribute/homage to Andy Warhol and it does work – but perhaps not in the ways that listeners have grown accustomed to accepting and consuming box sets. Fifteen Minutes presents the impact that the artist made on the art community as a whole – in visual arts, music, theater and film – and showcases Andy Warhol as a source of intangible inspiration, not as a cutout to be propped up in the corner and stared at. After absorbing all the work included in Fifteen Minutes, it's hard not to believe that the set is a perfect success; this is the kind of presentation that would certainly have made Andy Warhol proud.



15 Minutes: Homage To Andy Warhol
has been released to coincide with Warhol's birthday on August 6. Order it here .

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