Day 8: Finally, a patch of sunlight, and Warhol

So it’s been cold and rainy for the last week. Finally, today I see sunshine breaking through the clouds. And I remember another thing about London that I love, the cool blue of the sky that’s a reflection of this northern latitude. I love seeing a shade of blue I don’t normally get the chance to see!

So . . . to this afternoon’s play at the Young Vic, The Collaboration, about the work between Andy Warhol and Jean Basquiat in the 1980s that ultimately produced a painting that sold for $98 million.

I give you that factoid to make their work together seem more important. Because money matters, and only money is the gauge of the value of art, according to Andy Warhol.

So, I don’t like the play. I wanted to like it, I had high hopes, and pre-show bought what has become the official drink of the 2022 London Lindalympics, the Prosecco. It came with a raspberry in it, which I thought was a nice touch, and perhaps an omen of good things to come.

Alas. Why didn’t I like it? Overacting, trite observations about life and art, and stereotypical portrayal of the two main characters based on their age and race. They were suspiciously generic, like the writer just imagined how Warhol and Basquiat might be, based on the fact that one was an older white privileged Manhattanite, and the other was a young Brooklyn-born black man with Puerto Rican parents. The characters had no arc, they were the same in the first few minutes of the show as they were at the closing curtain (which they didn’t have, the stage just went dark). The final moments of the play are a voiceover that I assume is the recording of the auction at which their work sold for 98 million.

Warhol’s believing that money is the only gauge of the value of art is not something I inferred, Warhol just comes out and says it. This is an example of the trite observations. Why does he believe that? He complains about feeling dead and not wanting to paint anymore, he whines about that pretty much the entire two hours, and has to be pretty-pleased into picking up a brush by the younger black man, which is a power imbalance that just looks ugly on stage. We’re also supposed to believe that Basquiat (who was the more ascendant artist at the time, according to the play) would tolerate Warhol continuing to film him after he told Warhol at least eight times to stop filming him, and would develop something of an affection for the older artist despite Warhol’s persistently violating his boundaries. That doesn’t make sense; and it’s fine to portray that, you just have to also give some backstory that makes that generally implausible thing believable in this specific circumstance. Didn’t happen.

Andy’s expressed point of view was that art was so dead and so intrinsically meaningless that you could only know the value of something by how much was paid to acquire it. And I guess the subtext was “being famous is a bitch and leaves you feeling hollow and empty inside,” which I’ve always thought is just a lie that famous people try to sell you so you’ll feel sorry for them and won’t try to take their money and fame for yourself. But I’m not famous, and I feel very alive inside, so maybe that proves his point in an inverse way. 😂

To me, the real goal of art is to make you feel more alive, not less. For the artist to have an experience, and to be able to communicate it to you so accurately and precisely that it becomes your experience as well. You’re getting to live their life as well as yours. That’s art.

They announced this week that the show is headed to Broadway, so you’ll have a chance to see for yourself what you think about it. 😊

This is Day 8 of my trip to London — read the other days in this series here on my page!

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Linda Falcão

Linda Falcão

EEOC Settlement judge; Member, Harvard alum Pandemic Response Team; US Presidential Scholar; Former appellate law clerk; Rabble-rouser