Towards the end of the 1960s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) launched an ambitious project: to combine the creative efforts of the most prominent American artists with the most technologically advanced companies, thus providing the artists with expressive means that were previously unimaginable.
Within this program, called “A&T – Art and Technology,” Andy Warhol was invited to collaborate with Cowle’s Communication, a company in Los Angeles that, during those years, was developing, still in its embryonic stage, holographic techniques for 3D photography. Starting from 1968 and for the following two years, Warhol and Cowle’s Communication worked on an unprecedented sensory installation: the “Rain Machine“.
Warhol’s project involved a panel of approximately 3 by 5 meters, consisting of a sequence of 3D images. In front of this panel, a series of hydraulic pumps, tubes, and sprayers were used to create constant rain. The visual effect (artificial rain in the foreground and the sequence of 3D images in the background) was staggering. The observer, standing in front of the installation, had the perception of being completely immersed in real rain, and the 3D images in the background, visible through the artificial water wall, appeared suspended and unreal.
The panel of 3D images was composed of 160 prints depicting a green meadow and 4 yellow daisies. Warhol was responsible for the conceptualization and photographic composition of the prints, while Cowle’s Communication transformed those images into three-dimensional images.
The effect of that installation was so revolutionary that the Los Angeles County Museum, the sponsor of the initiative, decided to propose Warhol’s Rain Machine at the 1970 Osaka Expo, dedicated precisely to the relationship between Art and Technology.
During the installation phase of the work, there were many logistical problems to address: its large dimensions, the complex hydraulic apparatus, and the risk of damaging the works of other artists presented in the USA pavilion. To the extent that the organizers considered the possibility of not installing the Rain Machine.
It was only the intervention of the artists and art critics present at Osaka 1970 that ensured Warhol’s Rain Machine could be completed. They threatened to remove all their works from the Expo pavilions if that machine was not installed and presented.
Thus, Andy Warhol’s Rain Machine made its appearance in Osaka, generating reactions of astonishment and enthusiasm among the visitors.
The tendency to imitate real life in all its manifestations is at the core of the innovative and creative approach inherent in Art. Andy Warhol fully embraced this paradigm, and his way of making art placed him decades ahead of his time. With this installation, Warhol gave visitors the opportunity to experience a sensory journey never before encountered: a sensational anticipation of virtual reality that would only begin to be part of everyday life 40 years later, at the beginning of the new millennium,.
Unfortunately, only photographic evidence and little else remain of the Rain Machine presented in Osaka. Once the Expo concluded, the installation was dismantled and destroyed. Not even the panel with the 3D images remained intact: almost all the prints were irreparably damaged after being subjected to six months of incessant water action (“no one thought to protect the panels with a layer of plexiglass,” commented Andy Warhol a few years later).
Only a small part of the panel (about sixty prints) was saved. It was brought back to the United States and subsequently donated to the College Museum of Art in Middlebury, Vermont, where it is still located today. The few surviving 3D prints, depicting the 4 daisies, were probably returned to Warhol and the members of the Cowle’s Communication team.
The one presented here is one of those surviving prints. Despite being just a fragment of Warhol’s Rain Machine, this work represents a crucial historical testimony in the career of the Master of Pop Art. A very rare testimony, made even more precious by the authentication and archiving by the Andy Warhol Foundation.
An example of this three-dimensional print is included in third volume of the Catalog Raisonné of Andy Warhol’s work, registered under the number 2111.