Prior to arriving in Amsterdam on the 27th August I knew that I wanted to get out and do something in the city that day and after doing some research and seeing that the Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum Amsterdamhad a double exhibition on I couldn’t resist going there, especially when the museum was showing two hugely successful artists of the 20th and 21st century, one arguably inspiring the other — the New York pop art pioneer Andy Warhol and the illusive and satirical street artist Banksy.
Having landed in the city on the Saturday morning, I got to my accommodation where I quickly dropped off my bags and made my way to the Museumplein, trawling through the apparent festival that was taking place that weekend I found the Moco Museum and after paying the small student ticket price of €10 I was in. The museum space was split into 2 parts — Banksy on the ground floor and Warhol in the basement — of what looked to be an old renaissance house. Artwork was everywhere — inside cabinets, alongside staircases, inside conservatories and on the walls inside individual bedroom sizes rooms. The museum itself was a piece of art, a beautiful and unconventional art space with real hints of luxury and history scattered throughout.
Down in the basement were portraits in Warhol’s distinctive style. Vibrant layers of paint and ink produced using the efficient silk-screen stencil process and using the faces of celebrities from his era such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to name a few. Warhol used these saturated colours and by being able to mass-produce his artwork — through silk-screen printing — he was able to make his own comment on the American consumerism and repetition in society that existed at the time. Also by using this process he was helping to make silk-screen printing a recognized art form as before this, it was seen as mechanical process using machines and not an artist’s hand.
To compliment these vibrant and lively portraits, the walls on which they were hung were also painted using bright colours, picking out certain hues and sometimes even shapes from each image. My personal favourite in this section was the image of ‘Mao 93’ as it’s much more different from the rest of the likes of ‘Marilyn’ & ‘Liz’, it has a more painted feel to it with more visible brush strokes and also subtler colour but even with these factors it still has a strong visual impact and the messages behind it aren’t lost.
Moving upstairs and into the Banksy exhibition there was a quick hint as to how these two artists were linked and why they had been chosen to be featured at the same time in the museum space. One of Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can images was hung next to Banksy’s image of a ‘Tesco value’ can of soup. Making the clear observation that Banksy’s work follows similar themes of political and social implications playing with consumerist ideals as well as the notion of reproduction and repetition.
Banksy for those who do not know is an illusive graffiti/street artist from the UK whose identity is not entirely known for his own safety. The Banksy pieces on show here I had seen before either online or in books so they were nothing new to me but what was great was to be able see them in their physical form especially some of the stencil works on concrete that had been cut out of the walls on which they were originally sprayed on — a controversial action or not, it was great to see. Again the similarities were apparent with Warhol where he used stencils for his silk-screen prints, Banksy has used stencils to spray-paint his works onto public buildings; allowing for mass reproduction and also for Banksy to be able to work fast and efficiently, as these are illegal pieces of graffiti after all.
Along with the well-known stencil pieces were more elaborate and detailed sculptures and paintings that look great on the surface but once you look into them and read more about them you realise they have a lot deeper underlying meanings that Banksy has cleverly interwoven into the piece of work, exploring some provocative, dark and satirical subjects. Some of his humorous quotes also complimented the works, quotes like:
“A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.”
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
The highlight for me was the surroundings in which the work was being shown. It was strange but really interesting to see what is illegal graffiti being exhibited in such an ornate building. Graffiti that was hung in gilded frames, alongside marble fireplaces and surrounded by decorative glass cabinets all of this was viewable at your desire whilst sitting on plush velvet couches. The irony of it all was as strong as some of the messages inside the imagery on the walls.
Along with these exhibitions was the small gift-shop where you can buy everything and anything that your heart desires with a Banksy print on. There’s something for everyone here from mugs to aprons and t-shirts to umbrellas. I wasn’t sure if the consumerist comments and ideals of the artist’s work were lost in this shop but people love him and there is a market for this stuff. Also in the museum space was a screening room where Banksy related films were being shown such as his 2010 film, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ and his 31 day New York residency project short film from 2013. Both are great films for those with interests in the artist.
It was great to start off my experience in Amsterdam by visiting this place as it really set the tone for what the city is like with its numerous galleries, museums and exhibition spaces and also how the city is able to put on exhibitions by some of the world’s most internationally renowned artists — illusive or not.
The Andy Warhol section of the exhibition is on display until October 15th 2016 and the Banksy section is on display until 31st December 2016 but these surely have to be viewed at the same time to get the full visual experience of these overlapping artists.