Masterpiece Smackdown: Warhol's 'Empire' vs. Marclay's 'Clock'
Last weekend, I spent seven-plus hours watching all of Warhol’s great “Empire”, which consists of unedited footage of the Empire State Building that he shot in 1964. My account of the screening appeared in print in today’s New York Times, while all 5,500 words of the minute-by-minute notes that I took at the screening are up at my new Warholiana.com Web site. But for all that looking and thinking and writing, I missed something obvious, pointed out to me over drinks last night by Tom DeKay, former art editor at the Times and now editor-in-chief of ArtInfo.com: The obvious counterpoint to Warhol’s meditation on passing time is Christian Marclay’s superb “Clock”, from 2010, which cuts together 24 hours’ worth of Hollywood images of clocks and watches and all things temporal, so that the collage of times seen on-screen match the real times on a viewer’s watch. The two pieces are analogues, yes, but also importantly and surprisingly different: In Warhol, nothing happens, and that’s its greatest virtue – it teaches cinematic patience; Marclay’s “Clock” gives us a constant stream of event, more like the insane flicker of an Olympic chronometer than the pace of a clockless day at the shore. It perfectly suits our current attention spans. I adore Marclay’s “Clock”, and have spent many hours entranced by it; it is irresistible and ceaselessly compelling. But I guess I believe the Warhol is the more challenging, complex, surprising piece. It overcomes our doubts, rather than confirming our pleasures.
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