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Hirshhorn Presents “Directions: Empire(3)”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hirshhorn Presents “Directions: Empire3”

Empire State Building-Based Works by Andy Warhol, Douglas Gordon, and Wolfgang Staehle Exhibited Together for the First Time

The Hirshhorn will present “Directions: Empire3,” an exhibition that examines the ongoing influence of Andy Warhol’s groundbreaking film “Empire” (1964), from Nov. 10 until Feb. 26, 2012. The original work by Warhol (American, b. Pittsburgh, 1928; d. New York, 1987) will be displayed alongside “Bootleg (Empire)” (1997), an unauthorized videotaping of an “Empire” screening by Douglas Gordon (Scottish, b. Glasgow, 1966), and “Empire 24/7” (1999–2004), a record of a live stream of still images of the Empire State Building by Web-art pioneer Wolfgang Staehle (German, b. Stuttgart, 1950).

Warhol’s “Empire” is a watershed in the history of the moving image. On July 25, 1964, from 8 p.m. until almost 3 a.m., the artist positioned himself some 40 floors up inside the Time-Life Building and trained his lens on the Empire State Building, the towering art deco landmark that had been dedicated by President Herbert Hoover May 1, 1931. Although initial plans called for intermittent changes in the camera’s position and point of view, Warhol made the on-the-spot decision to leave the camera stationary, pausing filming only to change reels. The only “incident” in the film would be the changing light, and the only “star,” the Empire State Building itself.

When Warhol debuted “Empire” at Jonas Mekas’ Film-Makers’ Cinematheque in New York City in March 1965, he projected the film, originally shot at 24 frames per second, at a much slower 16 frames per second, stretching the running time by 50 percent. Now more than eight hours long, the silent, black-and-white film taxed the patience of even the ardent cinephiles at the Cinematheque, who became an angry mob demanding refunds.

In the years since this legendary riot, Warhol’s silent films have become infamous for distending and “eroticizing” cinematic time—and have had a lasting influence. When Warhol aficionado Gordon saw a screening of “Empire” in Berlin in 1997, he recorded it, unsure that he would be able to see the film again. Eventually released as an homage to Warhol, “Bootleg (Empire)” reveals its genesis as an illicit copy, the shakiness of Gordon’s handheld camerawork standing in stark contrast to the tripod-mounted steadiness of the original. The intrusion of other viewers into Gordon’s frame reinforces the fact that his video is more a document of a public showing of Warhol’s work than a substitute for it.

Staehle’s full-color “Empire 24/7” is a product of the information age. Streaming over extended periods of time, his images are subject not only to day and night but to the whims of weather. At times the building stands stolidly in full sun. At times it glows in the twilight. At times it dissolves into mist. At the same time that Staehle monumentalizes what then was the cornerstone and emblem of the brash and controversial Leona Helmsley’s real estate empire, he evokes the fugitive nature of vision and light, much as Claude Monet did in his series of paintings depicting the shifting moods of the façade of Rouen Cathedral—itself onetime owner of the title of tallest building in the world.

For this exhibition, the Hirshhorn will continuously screen the following portions of the three works: an excerpt of Warhol’s “Empire,” roughly 40 minutes in length; the two-hour entirety of Gordon’s “Bootleg (Empire)”; and three hours of selections of Staehle’s “Empire 24/7,” from an archive spanning several years.

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