At the beginning of this month, the LA Times published an article about the Museum of Contemporary Art with the headline "MOCA Feels a Squeeze." In spite of the success of the current "Andy Warhol Restrospective", MOCA, like many American museums these days, is going through difficult financial times. Unfortunately, MOCA has to deal with an additional problem as one of its trustees, Dallas Price, who pledged 0 million to the Museum in early 2000, announced that she will be unable to continue to make annual payments until her company recovers from recent losses.
For MOCA, with its modest annual operating budget of 5 million, this is a significant setback. Therefore, it is encouraging to see enthusiastic crowds roaming the Museum's galleries to rub shoulders with the likes of Mao, Liz and Marilyn. If not every image by Andy delivers the same punch as it did a quarter of a century ago, many still get under your skin. Car crashes, electric chairs, suicide jumping - all that and more still delivers a jolt. But what lingers in memory, transforming an initial shock into a lasting pleasure, is Warhol's incomparable sense of color and the gritty texture of his silkscreen printing on canvas.
The one thing missing from this Warholian enterprise is SEX - the mother's milk of Andy's art. While sex permeates every fiber of our social life, selling everything under the moon, American museums continue to treat sex as a potato too hot for public consumption.
A headline in last Sunday's New York Times says it all: "Everything About Warhol But the Sex." Praising the MOCA exhibition for its scope and installation, the author has a bone to pick with this exhibition which was organized in Germany and traveled to the new Tate gallery in London before coming to L.A., its only American stop. Sex, and particularly gay sex, was one of Warhol's art's major subjects. Can the retrospective of Warhol, one of the most influential American artists, be true to him and to our understanding of his art by pussyfooting around this subject? Doing so is paramount to having, to quote the NY Times, "a Picasso show without breasts and people of both sexes joyously in flagrante."
American museums, with their recently acquired role as a symbol of community pride and inspiration, are often compared to cathedrals. And sure enough, both institutions shy away from the subject of sex. But the dirty secret is that sex sells and American museums lost their innocence a long time ago by embracing commerce wholeheartedly. About a third of the Metropolitan Museum's annual budget is earned through its catalogue sales and the dozens of shops spread throughout the country.
The Andy Warhol Retrospective undoubtedly would be a runaway blockbuster success if all of Andy's art and life were on display, not just the edited part of it. Lines of people would circle around the Museum and sales of amusing chachkas would go through the roof. Yeah yeah, dreams come true-
Meanwhile, last season's sensational show of Picasso's erotic art in Paris traveled to Canada, creating a stir among our phlegmatic neighbors to the north. But don't wait for "Picasso Erotique" to come south of the border. None of the American museums have the guts, or should I say balls, to bring this show in.