Instead of Andy
If you want to see the best and worst aspects of that funny old artform they call painting, then tootle over to the Auckland War Memorial Museum this month. Up on floor three a series of fantastically expensive BMWs painted by Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and other scions of the pop and minimalist art movements are on display. Now, I have nothing against the display of expensive vehicles at our beloved museum, but to me - and, I suspect, to many of you, dear readers - the BMW has always had about as much aesthetic appeal as one of Michael Fay's ties.
Some years ago I had an acquaintance who announced her intention of buying a BMW; I told her that she must be determined to shrink her world drastically, because even though the BMW is an honoured status symbol in a few enclaves of privilege in Auckland and Wellington, it tends to attract stones, keying, and the odd well-placed kick everywhere else. Try parking one outside the Papakura Tavern or the Opononi Hotel on a Friday night - on any night, for that matter. My interlocutor protested that she was far from wealthy, and the car was an old model available third hand for a modest sum. It didn't matter, though: it's the symbolism, not the price tag, that brings BMW owners to grief. If you park a Ford Mustang outside the Opononi Hotel you'll get people competing to buy you a drink and yarn about the inner workings of its engine.
It's appropriate that Warhol and Stella painted BMWs, and not Ford Mustangs or Ford Escorts or white Valiants, because both artists recoiled from an early promise into the sort of sterile, stylish coolness that the art markets love all too well. (It's lucky that Frank O'Hara died before he saw the boldness and humanity of his beloved Abstract Expressionism completely usurped by Warhol's advertisements and Stella's ripoffs of Mondrian and Malevich.)
And no, in case you're wondering, I haven't actually been up and seen the BMW paintings for myself. Who needs empirical evidence for or against their prejudices? I have, however, fed my eyes on the exhibition of paintings by intellectually handicapped artists on the ground floor of the museum. What is remarkable about these paintings, which range from naive to sophisticated figurative studies to wild exercises in abstraction, is the almost impetuous boldness of their colours and brushstrokes. The observer has the feeling that they were created quickly, that they include just about as much as is necessary and, most importantly, that they needed to be painted. How many Warhol canvases can you say that about?