September 5, 2016

Warhol @ The Menil Collection, Houston, TX

Andy Warhol's Sunset
The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas

Through January 8, 2017

Andy Warhol
Film still from Andy Warhol, Sunset, 1967.
16mm film, color, sound, 33 minutes.
© 2016 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.
Film still courtesy The Andy Warhol Museum

The Menil Collection presents Sunset – a film by Andy Warhol commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil in the mid-1960s for a proposed ecumenical chapel at the 1968 San Antonio World’s Fair. The presentation of the film, organized by Curator Michelle White, includes a daily screening in the museum’s east temporary gallery at 6pm every evening the museum is open.

The de Menils asked Andy Warhol to create a work of spiritual significance to be displayed in a contemplative space, a concept similar to what they were establishing for the Rothko Chapel in Houston. In response, Warhol shot a sunset over the Pacific Ocean in California. Recorded on 16mm film, the real-time footage is a slow and colorful shift of atmospheric light at dusk over the course of thirty-three minutes as the sun sinks into the horizon. It is overlaid with the deep voice of singer Nico—then working with the Velvet Underground—reading poetry off screen.

Curator Michelle White said, “In the film, there is such a subtle and poetic shift of saturated colors. The variations of hues operate much like an abstract painting and the film has been compared to the work of Mark Rothko. Meditating on temporal and everyday phenomena, the real-time footage provides such a wonderful opportunity to slow down and experience the magic of the day’s end.”

The World’s Fair chapel project was never realized, and the film remained virtually unknown until it premiered in 2000 as part of The Andy Warhol Film Project, begun in the 1980s to research, catalogue, and preserve the artist’s massive and relatively unknown body of work.

In the 1960s, the de Menils formed a deep, personal relationship with Warhol as both an artist and filmmaker. Over their lifetimes, the de Menils collected a number of important works by Warhol. In addition to the film project, the de Menils repeatedly invited him to the University of St. Thomas and later to Rice University. One result of their relationship was the influential exhibition Raid the Icebox 1 for which the de Menils asked Warhol to choose items from storage at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) museum. The exhibition, presented at both RISD and Rice University, is considered to be one of the first shows featuring “museum intervention” by an artist.

Director of the Menil Collection Rebecca Rabinow said, “Sunset is an engaging yet little known example of the de Menils’ interest in the spiritual impact of contemporary art. By commissioning Warhol, an artist better known for his acerbic and dry approach to the world, the de Menils once again proved their acumen as visionary benefactors.”

On select Wednesdays throughout the run of the film, the Menil will host After Sunset Sessions – a series of short programs that respond to Warhol’s work. These presentations includes a music set inspired by the Velvet Underground, films from the Menil Archives, a meditation, and a poetry reading. The Menil encourages filmgoers to share photos of sunsets on Instagram and Twitter using #menilsunset.

This exhibition is generously supported by Pelican Builders; Janet and Paul Hobby; Anne and David Kirkland; Harry and Karen Pinson; Susanne and William E. Pritchard III; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; Michael Zilkha; and the City of Houston.