This Saturday, Andy Warhol’s Kitchen (1965) will kick off our MoMA American Indies film series and screen as part of our Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913>>2013 Opening Party, Culture Shock: Inspired Pop-Ups. A classic of the Warhol / New York / Factory Scene / Experimental genre, Kitchen documents a group of Warhol stars whose vague attempts to follow a script completely unravel once a stoned Edie Sedgwick burns herself on the stove. If you’re anything short of a Warhol film enthusiast, at some point during Kitchen you may be asking yourself: What are these strange, langorous bodies doing in this kitchen and why are they listing the appliances that surround them and, above all, why should I care?
These are reasonable questions.
In fact, questions which so unabashedly acknowledge the difficulty of this type of film often lead to a more honest engagement with it. At least for this veiwer (cinematic and pesonal biases here on display), there is something insurmountably alien in watching a frail Edie Sedgwick smoke cigarettes and sneeze around fluorescently lit linoleum for 67 minutes. For me, asking the most basic questions of this kind of film (What do these people think they’re doing and what am I doing here watching them?) help steer my unavoidable alienation away from downright boredom and toward honest investigation.
With this most earnest posture toward Kitchen, the film becomes an invaluable historical document–not because it records the organic happenings of a bunch of people in a 1964 kitchen, but because it testifies to a distinct historically bound and culturally produced moment when making this movie seemed like a radically good idea to a certain group of people. Kitchen, like so many other of Warhol’s films, evokes a precise time and place when Warhol and his cadre of characters made a certain amount of sense in the rapidly unfolding cultural schema. They were uniquely modern constructions, icons-in-the-making in fact, and they were running wild through American culture and creating art history in the process.
So let’s lean into their absurdity and see them in their “natural habitat”–a kitchen, sure, but also a distinct modern moment in artistic and cultural history. To get in the right headspace for Saturday, check out these clips:
Image credit:Andy Warhol, Kitchen, 1965, 16mm film, black and white, sound, 66 minutes, ©2012 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved.