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Phoenix Art Museum presents first-ever virtual reality exhibition
Travis Hutchison, Kenny Scharf: Cosmic Cavern (detail), 2017. 360° stereoscopic mp4. Courtesy of the artist.

PHOENIX, AZ.- For the first time ever at Phoenix Art Museum, guests will have the opportunity to experience photography and video in a whole new dimension. From August 11 through September 30, 2018 in the Kelly Ellman Fashion Design Gallery, Moonage Virtual Reality takes guests on a simulated journey through the fashion and culture of Pop Art, rock and roll, and the East Village Art Scene in New York City thanks to three virtual reality films by filmmaker Travis Hutchison. Offering an out-of-this-world perspective, the suite of films celebrates the music, fashion, and style of three legendary figures who helped define popular culture in the late 1960s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s: Andy Warhol (1928-1987), David Bowie (1947-2016), and Kenny Scharf (b. 1958). Guests will be able to explore the simulated environments of Moonage Virtual Reality by using ordinary smartphones and virtual reality headsets provided by the Museum. The exhibition will be accompanied by select works from the Museum’s fashion collection, each drawn from the eras represented in Hutchison’s videos.

“Phoenix Art Museum looks forward to featuring virtual reality films in our galleries for the first time,” said Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “These dynamic, innovative works will engage and inspire guests of all ages, and we look forward to sharing them with our community.”

Using special 360-degree computer programs, filmmaker Travis Hutchison layered photographs and videos in an infinite stereoscopic universe to create the exhibition’s three virtual reality films. In Billy Name’s The Warhol Silver Factory, Museum guests explore Andy Warhol’s studio known as The Factory, through the visually stunning images by famed Warhol photographer Billy Name, who lived at The Factory and was responsible for “silverizing” every surface. Name’s images of Warhol’s filmmaking, silk screening and superstars Edie Sedgwick, Brigid Berlin, Gerard Malanga, Lou Reed and Nico are experienced here in high definition black and white.

Mick Rock’s Ziggy Stardust is a colorful dreamlike, kaleidoscopic experience of David Bowie’s legendary 1972 Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars tour, featuring the iconic photographs and videos by Bowie’s personal photographer Mick Rock. Bowie was enthralled by Lou Reed’s song writing and the first Velvet Underground album that came out of the Warhol Factory when Bowie was creating his alien stage persona. Just as Billy Name had been Warhol’s personal photographer, Mick Rock was always on hand to capture the quintessential shots of the outrageous stage performances, colorful makeup and extraordinary costumes of the Starman’s two-year existence.

In Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern, guests are transported to an immersive Day-glo, Pop-Surrealist art installation by visual artist Kenny Scharf filmed in 360 degrees. It’s an ‘80’s dance art party, turned psychedelic virtual reality experience. The very first version of the Cosmic Cavern was in 1981 in the closet of the small New York apartment Scharf shared with artist Keith Haring in the East Village.

Although each film in Moonage Virtual Reality offers a separate—but equally dazzling—experience, Hutchison said he made all three with a unifying idea in mind. “What each of these artists instilled in me is the idea of living your art,” he said. “They were so innovative and in the moment of everything they did, each creating such a strong visual universe all their own, that when I thought about working in virtual reality, these were the worlds I wanted to explore in 360 degrees.”

Space is also a common theme across the virtual reality films and was a central topic among all three artists’ work from the eras explored by Hutchison, specifically The Warhol Silver ‘60s, Bowie’s Starman of the ‘70s, and Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern in the early ‘80s. In his book “Popism: The Warhol Sixties,” Andy Warhol wrote about Billy Name, “Why he loved silver so much I don’t know, but it was great. It was the future, the space age, and also it was the past, the silver screen and old Hollywood. Maybe more than anything, silver was narcissism - mirrors were backed with silver.”

“Hutchison’s work brings the aesthetic of Pop Art and rock-and-roll music to life through immersive virtual reality experiences,” said Dennita Sewell, the Museum’s Jacquie Dorrance Curator of Fashion Design. “These multimedia collages, melding iconic photographs with stereoscopic sound, represent the cutting edge of art- and fashion-inspired film, and provide a novel experience for lifetime Museum-goers and new guests alike.”

Moonage Virtual Reality offers the Phoenix community a singular opportunity to immerse themselves in the art and fashion of Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and Kenny Scharf. But more than that, the mind-bending exhibition exposes Museum guests to the versatility of virtual reality as a new form of storytelling and asks them to consider what the transportive technology means for the future of art—beyond the white walls of a museum.

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