The Heydar Aliyev Centre & Warhol

I have driven down this road many times before, but each time I do is less like the last. There’s always an element of ‘SURPRISE!’ with party guests streaming out from behind the curtains. Only now the guests are new architectural marvels and the party is, well, the city itself; for we are in Baku, a place undergoing an architectural and cultural Renaissance.

The Khrushchev era homes and beaux-arts masonry are splendid in their solemn immortality; a quality that comes from their part in sculpting the romantic, contradictory essence of this city.

Today they seem paradoxically old and young, such youth the result of devoted restoration to their historic splendour. However, despite this painstaking surgery their age is still striking alongside the shiny brilliance of Baku’s new high-rises, museums and monuments.

The Heydar Aliyev Centre is one such marvel and a masterpiece of architectural accomplishment. Named in honour of the late Heydar Aliyev, who gave Azeris back their sense of national heritage and rebuilt a country crumbling in the ruins of Communism, the centre is a forum for Baku’s diverse cultural landscape.

Designed by Iraqi-British Zaha Hadid, the building is symbolic landmark of ambitious engineering.  I am mesmerised by the structure. A monolithic wave of pristine alabaster, curves and folds mysteriously in the light of the waning sun. The building demands your attention, but once it has it, it becomes peculiarly chameleonic with the surrounding environment.  At night it is a luminous moon of warm golden light, which gradually dissolves into a glittering mirage melting seamlessly into the white early morning sky.

Opened on 10 May 2012 the Centre will host some of Baku’s most exciting events. Among them is the eagerly anticipated Andy Warhol exhibition, entitled “Life, death and beautiful”. The exhibition opens on 21 June and will run until September showcasing some of the most iconic pieces produced by the legendary American artist and father of pop art.

Andy Warhol’s influence on modern art is irrefutable, but this influence has seismically extended far beyond artist studios and kitsch post card reproductions. No other artist of the 20th century has had such an enduring effect on popular culture. Whilst critics deride his work as superficial it is arguably here that his genius lies. Warhol was the greatest commercial artist of our time and his relationship with society was deeply symbiotic. He was fed by popular culture, on which he turned a mirror, giving it a reflection of itself at its most elemental materialism.  His images of dollar bills, Campbell’s soup and coca cola bottles, his portraits of Elvis, Marilyn and Brando have become cultural signposts as celebrated as the subjects they portray.

Whatever one’s artistic inclinations, the retrospective of Warhol’s work marks one of the most exciting for Baku with its voracious appetite for the arts. As I think about what Warhol represents- the transformation of ordinary objects, finding art in life, constant evolution; I can’t help but feel that the exposition is amongst the most auspicious beginnings one could imagine for the Heydar Aliyev Centre and its mission to bring culture to all.

– By Hanushka Ibrahimova