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Creative Twins: Cocteau and Warhol

The Arts of Jean Cocteau opens November 5, 2000

The opening gala on the evening of November 4 at The Warhol kicks-off a three-month exhibition of works by the unconventional, groundbreaking French poet, novelist, playwright, painter, designer, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). Like Warhol, Cocteau was a pioneering multi-media artist and a great promoter of other artists. He was wholly interested in creativity and, as Warhol did later, he encouraged the burgeoning young talents he encountered throughout his career. Cocteau was also interested in eradicating the lines that separated different disciplines of art, working at times with Pablo Picasso, Ballet Russes “impresario” Sergei Diaghilev, and composers Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky.His talents as a crossover artist confounded the critics of his day.

“If Warhol had an early 20th Century role model, it would have been Cocteau,” avers Museum Director Thomas Sokolowski. “Both in breadth of stylistic influence and flamboyance of personal lifestyle, these two artists indelibly touched the wide circles of intellectuals, dilettantes and social butterflies with which they surrounded themselves.”

“Cocteau and Warhol’s work share an…ironic detachment,” observes Phil Watts, Associate Professor of the French Department at the University of Pittsburgh. “There’s also a common sensibility in their works, a common aestheticization of the body, of the male body…. I know that Jean Marais was one of Cocteau’s favorite stars, and he may have had the same function in Cocteau’s films as some of the Factory stars had for Andy Warhol’s films. 

“Cocteau was a galvanizer of talent, a catalyst in the art world” continues Watts, confirming further uncanny similarities between the French surrealist and pop’s largest icon. “He’s someone who discovered new talent, who encouraged new talent. He’s one of the people who discovered the writer Raymond Radiguet , and who helped to publish Jean Genet, who had started writing his novels in prison. Cocteau was sort of a prominent figure in a the gay world,” notes Watts, “and he brought a lot of underground gay writers to the attention of the public. 

The exhibit contains more than 200 works spanning Cocteau’s varied career, as well as manuscripts, books, photographs, and decorative arts.Eleven of Cocteau’s highly influential films will be screened during the Museum’s Good Fridays programs throughout the exhibit.

In a joint collaboration, The Warhol and the Pittsburgh Symphony will present performances by the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Project at The Warhol. One program will be The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Project’s production ofPoulenc’s one-act opera “La Voix Humaine,” based on text written by Cocteau.The Pittsburgh operatic first will be presented November 13 and 14. In another collaboration, Quantum Theatre will perform the play November 9 through 21.The opera will follow the Quantum Theatre performance on November 13 and 14.

[Sponsor Acknowledgement]

Special thanks to USAirways, the Carrier of Choice for The Arts of Jean Cocteau exhibition.The exhibition was made possible in part by agnes b., The Cultural Services of the Embassy of France, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency.

Assistance with The Arts of Jean Cocteau was also provided by the Pittsburgh Chapter of The French-American Chamber of Commerce and Alliance Française de Pittsburgh.

Off the Wallwith Warhol

The Warhol has opened its doors to things new and exciting in the world of multi-discipline art forms, and its new “Off the Wall” series (in collaboration with the Three Rivers Arts Festival and New York’s Performance Space (P.S.) 122--the country’s preeminent performance art venue) sets new standards for such ventures. 

“Offthe Wall” audiences have the rare opportunity to catch performances by seasoned artists, as well as newcomers to the field of performance art. Each of the six remaining performances (part of a series of eight that opened in September) is unique, and each pushes the envelope of expectations about performance art.“It’s a mix,” says Mark Russell, executive/artistic director of P.S. 122, of the series. “It’s a great snapshot of what is the strongest work happening in experimental performance at the moment…these are people with sort of the most buzz about them.”

Universes (November 25)This group of young spoken-word artists hails from the Bronx, N.Y., and their performance will be an exclusive Pittsburgh preview of a piece they are organizing for presentation at the New York Theatre Workshop--the launching pad for such commercially significant works as Rent and Dirty Blonde,Russell notes, “The show is kind of about how language mutates from street games on up into very heightened poetry.”

Bill “Crutch” Shannon (December 16)Choreographer, videographer, dancer, street performer, (and Pittsburgh native), Shannon has been touring the world of late and this past summer opened the Central Park Summerstage Music and Dance series.He combines his enthusiasm for breakdancing and skateboarding with different dance movement styles, and disability-based crutch techniques. “He’s quite amazing,” confirms Russell. “He started out as a visual artist and then became a breakdance artist; now he’s combining both of them [in his performances].”

Claude Wampler (January 27, 2001)Butoh dancer, trained opera vocalist, and and acclaimed visual artist, Wamplerincorporates elements from each of these disciplines into her performances.Her “Off the Wall” performance will be designed for and exclusively performed as part of the series. “She’s a really amazing, multi-threat artist,” enthuses Russell.

Karen Finley (February 17 and 18)Perhaps the best-known (and infamous) performer on the roster, Finley always has a few surprises up her sleeve. Her performances have left audiences agape and politicians embroiled in heated “what-constitutes-art?”-debates for years. Her “Off the Wall” performance “may involve a lot of honey, nudity, and a surfeit of strong language.”

Will Power (March 10)brings “The Gathering,” his reknowned solo show, to “Off the Wall”.In it, he uses his body to conjure up entire jazz orchestras and basketball teams as he provides his own views of black men in America. 

John Kelly and David Del Tredici (May 18)Vocalist and experimental theater artist, Kelly is one of the top composers of our time. He and Pulitzer Prize winner Del Tredici will provide “Off the Wall” audiences with an exclusive preview performance of their new song cycle based on Kelly’s poems, with Kelly’s singing and Del Tredici’s music providing live accompaniment.

“These are people that who have something to say to the nation, to the world," says Russell."They’re not just doing this for themselves; they’re doing this for an audience…and it’s very approachable material.Their work is in a different category than that of a performance artist who is a really strange person doing this for ten of his best friends in a loft in New York.This is not that kind of work.”

“A lot of the arts resources of the country are located in museums, and it’s thrilling that Thomas [Sokolowski] is opening up the resources of the museum, and the museum itself, to something as tough to put on as performance art.I think it’s entirely in line with what Andy Warhol would have wanted, and in his spirit.I hope that what we do here can help open up other museums to take a chance on live performance a little more. It’s been muscled-out of this area for a long time.”


This series is supported by a generous grant from The Heinz Endowments.

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