Review: In “Chasing Andy Warhol”, street theater goes pop

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It’s so easy. A Breton shirt, a silver wig, sunglasses with acetate frames – and there, suddenly, it’s Andy Warhol. There on a Citi bike and there again on roller skates. Playing chess, striking a ballet pose, sneaking through the drizzle. In “Chasing Andy Warhol,” a botched work of street performance by the Bated Breath Theater Company, the pop artist, who died in 1987, repopulated parts of Manhattan’s East Village.

Bated Breath’s previous show, “Voyeur: The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec,” a sleazy tribute to French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, made its wandering way through the West Village during the first winter of the pandemic, earning mostly favorable reviews. So perhaps blame pandemic fatigue, damp spring weather, or Warhol’s distinct ability – in life, in art – to evade attempts to corner him, but the antics of “Chasing Andy Warhol” register as mostly empty space, blank canvases that offer little insight into the man or his work.

Created and directed by Mara Lieberman, the show, which lasts barely an hour, begins at Astor Place. A tour guide in jeans (Fé Torres during the performance I attended) straps into a daffodil yellow airplane seat. From behind his seat emerges Andy Warhol (Kyle Starling, one of many Warhols). Warhol then leads the guide – and ticketed spectators – through the streets, through the squares, to the window of a gymnasium. Throughout, Torres offers snippets of biography, which are almost entirely obscure if you’re unfamiliar with Warhol’s story (“Was that Charles? Was that before you went to Hawaii? I thought you didn’t fall in love until later.”) and unenlightening if you are.

The text would matter less if the visuals were more dynamic. But, despite a few witty touches, such as the framing of the Empire State Building, in homage to Warhol’s feature film “Empire”, the staging and design seem chaotic and the choreography, by Rachel Leigh Dolan, rarely inspired . The mood is cheerful, loose and ostensibly amateurish, as in a scene where the actress playing Edie Sedgwick falls on the sidewalk. Edie has just died of an overdose; the actress is still breathing very clearly.

Just a moment later, an older man passing by noticed the commotion. “I knew Andy,” he said, looking puzzled. “I’m serious.” Then he walked.

“Chasing Andy Warhol” joins recent works, like Van Gogh’s immersive exhibitions, which reinvent modern art into a contemporary experience. It is the cold magnetization of genius, which Warhol, who had a taste and a talent for publicity, would perhaps have appreciated. There’s a reason Warhol’s work is back in vogue again (although, arguably, it never fell out of fashion) at a time when the categories of art, entertainment and business feel particularly confused. The show could be in conversation with these ideas. Above all, he seems in conversation with himself.

Almost everyone is familiar with Warhol’s adage, which now reads much more like a prophecy, that “in the future everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” While watching “Chasing Andy Warhol”, I was reminded of another axiom, from Warhol’s friend, Marshall McLuhan: “Art is anything you can get away with”.

In pursuit of Andy Warhol
Through June 12 at Bated Breath Theater Company, Manhattan; batedbreaththeatre.org. Duration of the route: 1 hour.

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