Disappointing Attendance Figures Raise Possibility of a Warhol Flop

By DEBORAH BELGUM

Staff Reporter

The Andy Warhol retrospective, which opened this past weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art, is shaping up to be a commercial disappointment.

Local officials have pumped more than $1 million into promoting what is supposed to be the art event of the year. But from early indications, they have failed to induce art aficionados to travel from around the country to see the downtown exhibit, which showcases the deceased artist's works from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Attracting these out-of-towners is a must if the Warhol exhibit is to bring into the city amount of money originally projected.

"We go to see Andy Warhol twice a year at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. We love his stuff. But we have it much closer to home. We don't need to go to L.A.," said Batia Plotch, director of tours for the 92nd St. Y, a New York cultural center that each year organizes several cultural outings and tours.

In Pittsburgh, the Warhol collection includes more than 900 paintings and 1,500 drawings that are rotated throughout the seven-story structure. The MOCA exhibit includes more than 250 paintings, drawings and sculptures by the late artist, culled from private collections in Europe and the U.S., along with the Pittsburgh museum and others.

When the exhibit was first announced, economists estimated that it could bring $130 million to Los Angeles. But that figure was more of a guess, conjured by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and based on what the overwhelmingly successful Vincent Van Gogh exhibition in 1999, said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the EDC. "It's a very rough estimate," he said.

The Van Gogh exhibit, which contributed $122 million to the economy, was in town longer, but it went to the National Gallery in Washington as well. The Warhol exhibit is appearing only in Los Angeles. "We figured there would be more interest in it," Kyser said.

Tall order

It appears, however, that there actually is less. Judging from advance sales, Warhol doesn't pack the same drawing power as the blockbuster Van Gogh display, which attracted 821,000 visitors during a five-month period at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

LACMA, for example, already had sold 216,000 advance tickets more than one week before the Van Gogh exhibit opened. MOCA officials declined to provide advance ticket sales, but said that new memberships are up by 1,130, or about 10 percent, since April 1. LACMA memberships climbed by 12,000 in the months before the Van Gogh exhibit opened.

Recent Warhol tours also point to a likelihood of a lower turnout. An exhibit in Berlin last fall attracted only 200,000 visitors, about the same as recent London exhibit.

"We would run for an exhibit like (Van Gogh) anywhere," said Plotch, the New Yorker. "Warhol is one of our boys. We see him here. Why should we go?"

Dauntless, the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau is spending nearly $1 million on advertisements and publicity tours, aimed at getting tourists to come to L.A. for what is supposed to be the art event of the year.

Ads are appearing in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Travel Holiday and Travel & Leisure magazines. Early this month, high-level bureau officials trekked to San Francisco and New York to hype the exhibition to travel writers, art writers and travel planners.

At a luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, several travel writers showed up, though only one travel planner. That was Diana Saint James, a group-travel consultant at Dimensions in Travel, which specializes in museum tour groups.

"We have been disappointed," she said. "I mailed out our newsletter to people we took to the Getty Center, but we didn't get much interest at all. Unfortunately, I think people who travel to museums are seniors, and Warhol just doesn't reach them like the Van Gogh exhibit."

Richard Dyner, president of Dynamic Tours Inc. in New York, attended a luncheon hosted recently by the L.A. convention bureau. He was looking to bring 75 tours filled with European travelers to Los Angeles this summer. But the union-sponsored tours have been canceled.

"I might have some tours materializing this fall, but by that time the exhibition will be gone," he said, noting that the lead time to organize a cultural tour is anywhere between six months to two years.

Hotel bookings slow

The 10 "partner hotels" offering Warhol packages and which ponied $20,000 each to receive discounted VIP tickets allowing visitors to go to the front of the line have seen spotty interest so far.

"We have had quite a number of calls. So far we have booked about a dozen packages," said Peter O'Colmain, regional vice president and general manager of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. O'Colmain said packages for the Van Gogh exhibit also started out slow, but increased as art reviews and newspaper articles about the exhibit increased.

At the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena, visitors have booked 85 room nights using a Warhol package that costs at least $295 for an overnight stay, tickets and retrospective catalogue, hotel spokeswoman Deanne French said.

But some hotels aren't getting much Warhol business at all.

"It's not as strong as we would like so far," said Jim Pedone, director of sales and marketing at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. "But once it is up and running, we really believe it will gain momentum."

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