ANDY WARHOL: POP ART - Behind the Scenes
How 128 original works and memorabilia made it from Milan to Bangkok
ANDY WARHOL: Pop Art opened to socially distanced media and dignitaries on August 11, three months later than planned. Originally scheduled to open May 1, and then July 2, the international exhibition of original works and memorabilia is a lesson on how to adapt to a world that is constantly changing the rules in the face of a global pandemic.
Two years earlier, River City’s Managing Director, Linda Cheng visited Taipei as she was in Taiwan finalizing details of River City’s first major exhibition, Up the River During Qingming, a multimedia exhibition of bringing ancient Chinese art to life to be loaned from the National Palace Museum of Taipei. At the time, Andy Warhol: Pop Art exhibition was being advertised as a major upcoming exhibition, so Ms. Cheng tried to contact Andy Warhol collector but to no avail. Upon hearing Ms. Cheng’s strong wish to present Andy Warhol in Bangkok the National Palace Museum executives kindly introduced her to the collector’s representative. Within a month plans to bringing Andy Warhol to Thailand were underway.
Never before has an exhibition of the scale and importance of ANDY WARHOL: POP ART been presented in Thailand. The complexity of staging an exhibition during a global pandemic and lockdowns proved to be a test of determination and endurance for all those involved in the project.
Mr. Toby Lu is Sales & Exhibitions Manager of River City Bangkok. In this article, Toby takes us behind the scenes – from the design of the exhibition, building to walls for the artwork, ensuring the temperature and humidity of the rooms, logistics, sourcing merchandise, and unpacking the shipping crates and hanging the works, through to the official opening with Mr. Yuthachai Charanachitta, Italthai Group CEO and HE Mr. Michael George DeSombre, US Ambassador to Thailand.
Tickets Go On Sale
River City started selling early bird tickets in March when the exhibition was scheduled to open May 1. To introduce people to Warhol, the promotions department, led by Tarinee Paoriskutta (Cherry) started collecting stories and photographs about the life and works of the American pop-art icon of the 20th century. With Thailand going into lockdown, the social media posts proved really popular with people trapped at home, encouraging Toby and Cherry and their teams to push ahead with confidence.
Presenting the works of an internationally recognized artist is a serious business, only taken on by some of the most respected galleries and museums in the World. Warhol’s work has been presented in New York, London, Barcelona, Tokyo, Singapore, Taipei and Sydney to name but a few. The need to be ‘world-class’ was not lost on the management at River City and its owners, Italthai and Mandarin Oriental Group. Toby and his team worked on the designs for the exhibition with a local supplier and
the Italian collector’s representative: layout of the gallery, colours of the walls, placement of the artwork and information panels, and most importantly, the journey for the visitor.
Journey of Discovery
Like the very best books and films, exhibitions need to take the visitor on a journey of discovery. The narrative of the exhibition needs to be engaging and educational. Toby explains, “We work with very best exhibition scenographers or ‘story-teller’s. The thought that goes into how the exhibition looks and what information is presented means the difference for the visitor between “what?” and “wow!”. WARHOL is presented in four chapters. The first chapter is about the man himself: Self-Portraits of Andy Warhol. The second part of the exhibition looks at Warhol’s portrayal of fame: Celebrity Portraits. The third chapter focuses on Warhol’s Interview Magazine and Record Album Covers. The exhibition concludes with Andy Warhol’s Silk Screen Printing, Sculptures, and other items. Toby says: “We knew we got it right when the message came through from Italy – “Mr. Rosini is VERY happy.”
Handle With Care
It is mandatory that the gallery is kept at a precise temperature and level of humidity to ensure safety of the artwork. A daily report has to be sent to the collector throughout the entire 3 months of the exhibit. For the shipment to leave Milan, first the collector needs to see one month of the gallery’s daily climate records. Even the slightest change in temperature would harm an original work and with Warhol’s work being so valuable (‘Turquoise Marilyn’ sold in 2007 for 80 million dollars. ‘Eight Elvises’ was bought for 100 million dollars in 2008) so no mistake is allowed.
From Milan to Bangkok
After two postponements, the collection finally departed Italy mid-July. At the time international flights were totally uncertain. As is often the case, initial bad luck due to COVID19 turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Delays meant that we could work with one of the world’s leading artwork logistics firms. They were able to solve all the obstacles put in our way during this very difficult period. The arrival of the collection in Bangkok was top secret. Mr. Lu explained, “The transportation route from the airport to River City was strictly confidential. I felt like I was playing a part in a Hollywood movie, a convoy of cars and trucks moving the precious cargo through the city with military precision.”
The final approval for the placement of artworks comes from the collector. Under normal circumstances, the collector or his representative would be in the gallery to oversee the installation. He ensures the precise location and suitability of every hook, that all staff is wearing white gloves, and that every piece of art is hung with extreme care. With COVID19 travel restrictions in place, it was not possible for the collector to come to Bangkok. Toby explains, “We were so lucky that Mr. Rosini met Prof. Amarit Chusuwan, a well-respected senior artist and the former Dean of Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts, at Venice Biennale years before. Then Prof. Amarit was commissioned to help us supervise installation and let us experience some new vision.”
Opening Day… at last
After days of rehearsing the meticulous proceedings with officials from the US Embassy - who would speak when, marking every location for official photographs - August 11 had arrived. Still with the thrill of the day recognizable in his voice, Toby tells us: “This is the first but not the last. We have many more exhibitions to present ahead of us.”. ANDY WARHOL has raised the bar on what River City Bangkok can achieve. WARHOL has proven the company is able to deliver an exhibition of a museum quality. The team at River City has learnt a lot from the experience and is ready to take on the next international exhibition.
Come and see for Yourself
Toby recalls: “In the face of the pandemic the two postponements were unavoidable. Finally seeing the works ‘in the flesh’ was thrilling. It made it all worthwhile. “
“We are SO proud of what we have achieved with ANDY WARHOL: POP ART. We hope all Thais are pleased as well. Our aim is to make great art accessible to everyone living in Thailand. We hope people from Bangkok and around the country will visit River City to enjoy and learn from this exhibition. It’s very Instagram-able and great for selfies.” Toby concludes.
ANDY WARHOL: POP ART is showing at RCB Galleria, 2nd floor, River City Bangkok from August 12
until November 24 2020. Tickets are available at https://www.ticketmelon.com/rivercitybangkok/andywarhol or RCB Gallery Shop on the 1st floor.
Tickets are 400 baht per adult, and 300 baht for students and seniors (ID required). Group tickets can be purchased via email@example.com. There is also a book about the exhibition available for 500 baht, as well as souvenirs, at RCB Gallery Shop on the second floor. To get the most out of your exhibition experience, may we suggest that you use our FREE AUDIO GUIDE available in English and Thai. We recommend that you bring your set of earphones to have a more comfortable experience of the exhibition.