Art icon Warhol pops in to give Gold Coast its own 15 minutes of fame

It’s no accident the first international show by Gold Coast art institution HOTA features the masters of the Pop Art movement.

Feb 17, 2023, updated Feb 17, 2023
People look at art by Andy Warhol during the world premiere exhibition, Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York at HOTA, Gold Coast, Thursday, February 16, 2023. (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)

People look at art by Andy Warhol during the world premiere exhibition, Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York at HOTA, Gold Coast, Thursday, February 16, 2023. (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)

“We’re a postmodern pop city and we’re quite proud of it,” gallery director Tracy Cooper-Lavery told AAP.

“The Gold Coast is a very bright, can-do, slightly camp place.”

Works by artists including Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring are on show at HOTA from Saturday alongside more contemporary artworks by Damien Hirst, KAWS and Jeff Koons.

That list of luminaries would be the boast of any major capital city gallery, and it’s a statement of intent from HOTA.

“These international projects we’re doing, we want to be in that same league as those national and state institutions,” Cooper-Lavery said.

The $60.5 million Home of The Arts gallery opened to the public in May 2021 and is Australia’s largest public gallery outside a capital city.

The exhibition has been drawn entirely from the private collection of one of the world’s most prominent art collectors, Jose Mugrabi.

And here’s the part that feels a little bit New York, a little bit Gold Coast and perfectly Pop Art.

When Cooper-Lavery approached the billionaire art collector family in 2016 to borrow some of their most valuable pieces, she didn’t even have a building to show them in – the HOTA gallery was not even a hole in the ground.

Cooper-Lavery mentioned the Gold Coast’s beaches and theme parks, then promised its new cultural precinct would change everything.

Incredibly, it worked.

“It’s a very chutzpah-y don’t-ask-don’t-get kind of approach which feels uniquely Gold Coast,” curator Bradley Vincent told AAP.

As Andy Warhol said, art is anything you can get away with.

The Mugrabi family owns one of the largest private collections of Warhols in the world and of the 54 works on loan to HOTA for the world exclusive show, almost half are by the pop art pioneer.

Many are iconic and some – almost surprisingly – are deeply moving.

There’s Sixteen Jackies from 1964, a silk screen that appropriates images of Jackie Kennedy from before and after the assassination of John F Kennedy.

Another is Untitled (Football Helmet) 1981-84 by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Made from a painted helmet with Basquiat’s hair stuck to it, the artist lent the piece to Warhol with instructions to wear it if he wanted to understand how it felt to be observed as a black man in the US.

Fans of KAWS will be pleased the show features several of his works too, including the 2.8-metre tall sculpture What Party.

Un-crating some of the art was jaw-dropping for the curators, according to Vincent, with audible gasps when they unwrapped some of the most iconic images in the world – in real life.

“Nothing prepares you for how impactful they are in person,” he said.

The exhibition traces the through line – probably with a spray can – from the emergence of Pop Art in the 1960s through to artists working in its tradition today.

So what does Pop have to say in the age of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

The show opens with a pair of works by artistic appropriator Richard Prince first seen on Instagram, while other standout contemporary works are Mickalene Thomas’s gloriously garish pictures in paint, rhinestones and glitter.

“This exhibition is a real adventure, a free-spirited ride, and I think people will come away really inspired by what Pop Art can be,” Vincent said.

Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame?

It’s more than likely he never came up with that idea in the first place.

But in the world of Pop Art – where we live now – it hardly matters.

Pop Masters: Art from the Mugrabi Collection, New York is on at HOTA from Saturday until June 4.

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