Collaborations, Continued

The current exhibition Andy Warhol: The Last Decade features some remarkable paintings that Warhol made with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente in the 1980s. With the earliest of these, one artist would begin a canvas and then it was circulated to the other two, who each made their own contributions and revisions. Origin of Cotton, for instance, features a yellow flower from Warhol, faces by Clemente, and white designs added by Basquiat:

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Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988), and Francesco Clemente (Italian, born 1952). Origin of Cotton, 1984. Mixed media on canvas, 50 ½ x 71 in. (128 x 180.5 cm). Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © 2010 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, NY

Keith Haring has a great quote about the Collaborations: “It was a physical conversation happening in paint instead of words. The sense of humor, the snide remarks, the profound realizations, the simple chitchat all happened with paint and brushes.” We wanted to see if we could facilitate an exchange like that among visitors to the exhibition, and the result was Collaborations, Continued.

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Since a blank slate can be intimidating, our designers helped me get six large pads of paper printed with a base color and various icons (all Photoshopped to look a little like a screenprint) to serve as a starting points. These are set up down in the galleries with some writing implements, stencils, a book on the Collaborations, and the Haring quote. The basic idea was that visitors could stop by and add what they wanted, responding to the starting image and to each other. Once a poster filled up, we would take it down and archive it, and a new one would begin.

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The only problem: for the first two weeks, every visitor seemed to want to start their own new poster. Then we tried putting up some tiny signs reminding people to add to what was already there, and good things happened. (We did also have an intrepid young visitor who braided together all the strings holding our crayons; but to be honest, I was kind of impressed with the effort.) Summer intern Julie McMahon took these great photographs showing all the different ways each basic image—a plane, a toaster, a telephone—has been transformed so far:

Have you ever tried something like this? What worked and what didn’t?