Andy Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture

At the end of 1962, a unique Italian lady made her way to the United States from France by boat. On Tuesday, January 8th, 1963, she was ready to receive an audience of roughly two-thousand dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy. And the next day, the public was invited to gaze upon her. The lady in question was Leonardo da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa, the Renaissance masterpiece having been loaned by the Louvre for a brief exhibition in the States. Displayed for three weeks at Washington’s National Gallery of Art followed by three-and-a-half weeks at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, reportedly over 1,600,000 people had laid eyes on the Mona Lisa by the end of her North American tour. Unfortunately, each visitor was only able to glance at her for “an average of four seconds”1Hales, Dianne. Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered. Simon & Schuster, 2014, p. 244. to “20 seconds or so”2Sassoon, Donald. “Mona Lisa: the Best-Known Girl in the Whole Wide World”. History Workshop Journal, no. 51, 2001, p. 1.. With people allowed nowhere near enough time to appreciate the painting, this could be considered one of the first instances of art as a ‘happening’, something one does simply to be able to say “I did that” or “I was there”. So we can imagine how critics that viewed the Mona Lisa‘s American appearance this way reacted to Andy Warhol‘s Invisible Sculpture, an installation that caused many to crane their neck to glimpse the so-called King of Pop Art standing next to an empty pedestal. And such a display of celebrity-meets-artistry could’ve, arguably, only been done in one location, the place it actually was exhibited at: New York City’s nightclub-as-art-gallery, Area.

But what made Area so special?

Imagine that, for as far as the eye can see, there is a throng of people gathered, this horde hoping to get inside the famed Manhatten nightclub Area but willing to settle for merely seeing one of the many celebrities in attendance. But for those lucky few already within the club’s walls, they may be being treated to neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat trying his hands at DJing, or perhaps they are gazing upon Keith Haring producing one of his graffiti-inspired paintings on a wall. Or one might spot actor Matt Dillon and director Francis Ford Coppola shaking hands, the duo having previously worked on The Outsiders together. And over there, isn’t that former model-turned-actress Patti Hansen lazily grasping onto the jacket of her husband, The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards? Yes, it is. And illuminated by that strange greenish backlighting, that wide-eyed pair is Brazilian drag queen-cum-actor Patrício Bisso and cult cinema director John Waters. Or maybe one’s attention is captured by the Goddess or the Queen of Pop, Cher and Madonna respectively, who are in the company of some of the nightclub’s co-founders. And, in truth, all these things actually happened.3Photographic evidence of these occurrences are detailed within: Goode, Eric and Jennifer Goode. Area: 1983-1987. Harry N. Abrams, 2013. As for why all these who’s who members of celebrity society attended Area, it was because the location was a mecca for creative hedonism in 1980’s New York.

Founded by brothers Christopher and Eric Goode alongside childhood friends Shawn Hausman and Darius Azari, the Area nightclub was only open from 1983 to 1987 but throughout those years it completely transformed itself regularly, as a new theme dominated the 33,000 square foot space roughly every six weeks. Best described as extravagant costume parties filtered through performance art installations, it wasn’t uncommon to see things like the nightclub’s pool become a giant bowl of alphabet soup, as it did for the “Food” motif. Or illumination to spill off of a 10-foot burning cross, as it did for “Religion”, a subject which also included a confessional booth complete with a quote-unquote priest. Even the dancefloor wasn’t safe from alteration, such as when it was converted into the likeness of a gas station for the “American Highway” theme. Even the “windows were pretty cool performance spaces”, as Interview magazine’s former associate publisher Paige Powell recalls, going on to describe how “once there were these girls living in the windows, just doing everyday stuff as if we weren’t all nightclubbing around them”.4Powell, Paige. “Intimate Snapshots of Madonna, Warhol and More.” T Magazine, 2 Nov. 2015, nytimes.com/slideshow/2015/11/02/t-magazine/intimate-snapshots-of-madonna-warhol-and-more/s/02tmag-paige-slide-HQ4K.html. Accessed 4 Jan. 2018. And it was one of these window spaces that Andy Warhol would temporarily occupy, sandwiched between an empty plinth and a label that read: ANDY WARHOL, USA / INVISIBLE SCULPTURE / mixed media, 1985.

Andy Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture

Attending “a big Area party” with Jean-Michel Basquiat on Wednesday, May 8th, 1985, Andy Warhol writes in his diary that “my display window had my Invisible Sculpture in it”.5Warhol, Andy. The Andy Warhol Diaries. Edited by Pat Hackett, Warner Books, 1989, p. 648. Present for the unveiling of this installation piece, Paige Powell recalls that “Andy just stood there in the window alone for 30 minutes while people looked at him behind the glass, or stood around talking and ignoring him”.6Powell, Paige. “Intimate Snapshots of Madonna, Warhol and More.” T Magazine, 2 Nov. 2015, nytimes.com/slideshow/2015/11/02/t-magazine/intimate-snapshots-of-madonna-warhol-and-more/s/02tmag-paige-slide-HQ4K.html. Accessed 4 Jan. 2018. While several commentators have likened this display to Yves Klein‘s 1958 exhibition La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée: Le Vide (trans. The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility: The Void), wherein a nearly empty and completely white gallery space was presented by the artist, Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture could be seen as a self-reflective, jestful undertaking by the celebrity artist. Were viewers there to see Andy Warhol or his work? And, once he wasn’t present anymore, would they have appreciated emptiness the same if it didn’t bear his name? Warhol’s painting assistant from 1972 to 1983, Ronnie Cutrone, remembers that “Andy wanted to make the Invisible Sculpture” during that time, perhaps inspired by having “watched The Invisible Man one night on television”, and they had even built a precursor to this version around then.7O’ Connor, John, and Benjamin Liu. Unseen Warhol. Rizzoli, 1996, p. 66. But it was the Area nightclub rendition of the Invisible Sculpture that would become remembered, recreations of the scene having been attempted in 2012 for the Invisible: Art About the Unseen 1957-2012 exhibit at London’s Hayward Gallery and then again in 2013 at the 30th anniversary party for Area at New York City’s The Hole gallery. But when a conceptional work like this is recreated, it becomes a bit dubious. How can these be truly accurate without the presence of Warhol and the questions his accompaniment to the display raised?

Adding Andy Warhol back into the Invisible Sculpture

Thirteen months after a partnership between The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and art toy producer Kidrobot was announced in April of 2016, the latter revisited the Invisible Sculpture as a limited edition diorama. Housed within a clean, white cabinet presentation, the dual doors on the roughly 9-inch tall piece would swing open to reveal an empty pedestal and a recreation of the original’s accompanying label. Optionally illuminated by three top-mounted display lights, this striking miniature model harkens back perfectly to the scene set at Area in 1985. But how does it really differ from previous attempts to reproduce Warhol’s concept? The answer is that this 500 piece edition includes a translucent cut-out of Andy Warhol’s contour, emblazoned across the chest with a facsimile of the artist’s signature. With Warhol, by proxy, once again able to be part of the Invisible Sculpture‘s display, Kidrobot’s rendition further’s the jest through an instruction booklet detailing the care and handling of the Invisible Sculpture adorning the plinth. And this recreation may be truer to Warhol’s concept than even his original installation was. After all, Warhol’s painting assistant Ronnie Cutrone had noted that he believed a film had inspired the initial work, and that’s exactly what the included effigy depicts the artist as: The Invisible Man.

Click here to acquire Andy Warhol’s Invisible Sculpture from Kidrobot.

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References   [ + ]

1. Hales, Dianne. Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered. Simon & Schuster, 2014, p. 244.
2. Sassoon, Donald. “Mona Lisa: the Best-Known Girl in the Whole Wide World”. History Workshop Journal, no. 51, 2001, p. 1.
3. Photographic evidence of these occurrences are detailed within: Goode, Eric and Jennifer Goode. Area: 1983-1987. Harry N. Abrams, 2013.
4, 6. Powell, Paige. “Intimate Snapshots of Madonna, Warhol and More.” T Magazine, 2 Nov. 2015, nytimes.com/slideshow/2015/11/02/t-magazine/intimate-snapshots-of-madonna-warhol-and-more/s/02tmag-paige-slide-HQ4K.html. Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.
5. Warhol, Andy. The Andy Warhol Diaries. Edited by Pat Hackett, Warner Books, 1989, p. 648.
7. O’ Connor, John, and Benjamin Liu. Unseen Warhol. Rizzoli, 1996, p. 66.

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