Between 1964 and 1966, Andy Warhol produced around 600 video works that form part of his Screen Tests series. Inspired partly by mug shots and produced from The Factory (Warhol’s office-slash-party-slash-studio space) Warhol would ask the celebrities, artists and personalities who passed by to sit still, shoulders upwards, for the camera. The irony was of course that moving images could never be still: part of Warhol’s portraiture practice, the videos capture the various reactions of the sitters—which err from confidence and poise, to discomfort and restlessness. 

The resulting Screen Tests are a who’s-who of 1960s culture—with a list full of so many notable names that it is impossible to lift notable examples meaningfully (we’ll try: Susan Sontag, Yoko Ono, Nico, Allen Ginsberg and Jonas Mekas). Yet whilst 472 of the Tests survive, it is very difficult for the average person to watch them other than via truncated clips on YouTube, which totally miss the point. 

“They’re not as well known as they should be,” says Patrick Moore, The Andy Warhol Museum Director, who has curated a show of 8 restored screen tests at Christie’s Los Angeles. Some of the names, such as Dennis Hopper have been selected to reflect Los Angeles’ intrinsic relationship to the movie world (screen tests are themselves of course a reference to the casting process). “This being Christies,” adds Moore, names such as Salvador Dalì, Niki de Saint Phale and the collector Jane Holzer have also been curated for their proximity to the art world. 

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Other figures include Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick as well as musicians Lou Reed (Coke bottle in hand) and Bob Dylan. The effect is a reminder of the richness of the culture contemporaneous to Warhol that he feverishly documented. “The 1960s were a moment of such experimentation and promise, and these people, these faces, are kind of nostalgic for a great moment in American history,” says Moore. “I challenge anyone who doesn’t still want to look like Dennis Hopper…. And I mean, Lou Reed is just the epitome of cool forever,” he adds. Also featured is Donyale Luna an African American model, the first Black women to appear on the cover of many major magazines, testament to the diversity of subjects and muses Warhol had. “There was a true mix of people: gay, straight, rich, poor, but also in terms of race,” says Moore. 

Whilst the works would have originally been displayed in a movie theatre, for this exhibition Christies have approached the Tests differently, blowing them up floor-to-ceiling, projecting one on each wall of the gallery space. Whilst these versions have been restored (this exhibition is part of an ongoing conservation project of the Tests), the original aura of the works remains. “Warhol intended the films to be rough. So we blew the dust off them, but we haven’t gone through and fixed scratches,” explains Moore. The 4-minute films—which remain silent—are played at sound speed, a deceleration which adds to the sense we are really seeing these famous figures. Yet the videos only ever last as long as the film roll they were shot on. “That’s perhaps the most beautiful part of them,” says Moore. “Because you have the flare of light at the end, and then the person disappears.” 

‘Andy Warhol Screen Tests’ is on at Christie’s LA until 14th March.
www.christies.com