Chinese Whispers, the new exhibition at the Fine Art Society Gallery in Bond Street by artists Rob and Nick Carter, is a series of playful takes on a number of familiar works by Andy Warhol. At the show’s opening night, Nick Carter told me they had selected the Warhol images and then sent them off to a number of different factories in China, where normally the lines of artists are involved in mass-producing perfect copies of world-famous paintings. They were given instructions for each to make a facsimile ink drawing of a Warhol, and then pass it on to the next factory artist. The Carters added the requirement that each copy artist should make one tiny, subtle alteration to the drawing they’ve received, before they pass it along the chain to the next one….so it’s literally played out as it is in the children’s game, where the end result is starkly different from the original concept. The thirty completed drawings in each of the series in this exhibition are shown in sequence placed in a single, large frame.
The “Playboy Bunny” is a selection from 30 drawings of the instantly recognisable trademark Playboy logo. Warhol’s New York studio was called The Factory, where the former advertising designer, and his assistants, produced his tongue-in-cheek perception of the banal images of what were the mass consumer brands in America in the 1950s – the Carters here apply a dash of British irony to the mix by sending Warhol’s work to be interpreted by copy artists in mass production factories. When the thirtieth version has emerged from a Chinese factory, the image is so greatly changed from the original that the Bunny ears resemble those artfully-shaped napkins placed on tables at a top restaurant. The most ambitious of the series involves 50 ink drawings taken from Warhol’s version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. At first recognisable and representational, when you get forty-nine versions on you are looking at what is like an abstract version of the original.
I think the work of this creative duo is worth collecting. I should have bought one from Postcards from Vegas, their show I saw at the same gallery in 2011. One that stood out for me in particular was a blown-up reproduction of an old postcard of Neuschwanstein, mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s massive castle, which “Uncle Walt” Disney used in his first Disneyland as the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, with its pointy turrets and snow-capped mountain peaks. In their work, Rob and Nick Carter juxtaposed the Alpine sentimentality of Disney’s castle with the functioning neon sign that they attached to it, adapted from an old American one with the message: “Pioneer Pawn, 24 Hours.”
There is also the Carters’ digital rendering of Sleeping Venus, the beautiful, erotic nude painted by the Venetian artist Giorgione in 1510. They’ve made real-time video footage of a model called Ivory Flame – a name Andy Warhol would’ve liked – asleep, and blended it with computer-generated animation, so we are presented with Venus who sleeps on while the Venetian landscape around her transforms from day to night. Very slowly, over two and a half hours, she breathes, occasionally shifts her position, a foot twitches or a hand stirs. You cannot own the real Giorgione, but you could buy a contemporary digital version….
Rob and Nick Carter’s Chinese Whispers exhibition runs until 29th January at:
The Fine Art Society Gallery
148 New Bond Street
London W18 2JT