Andy Warhol began as a commercial illustrator, and a very successful one, doing jobs like shoe ads for I. Miller in a stylish blotty line that derived from Ben Shahn. He first exhibited in an art gallery in 1962, when the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles showed his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans, 1961-62. From then on, most of Warhol's best work was done over a span of about six years, finishing in 1968, when he was shot. And it all flowed from one central insight: that in a culture glutted with information, where most people experience most things at second or third hand through TV and print, through images that become banal and disassociated by repeated again and again and again, there is role for affectless art. You no longer need to be hot and full of feeling. You can be supercool, like a slightly frosted mirror. Not that Warhol worked this out; he didn't have to. He felt it and embodied it. He was a conduit for a sort of collective American state of mind in which celebrity - the famous image of a person, the famous brand name - had completely replaced both sacredness and solidity.
Earlier artists, like
had painted the same motif in series in order to display minute discriminations
of perception, the shift of light and color form hour to hour on a haystack, and
how these could be recorded by the subtlety of eye and hand. Warhol's thirty-two
soup cans are about nothing of the kind. They are about sameness (though with
different labels): same brand, same size, same paint surface, same fame as
product. They mimic the condition of mass advertising, out of which his
sensibility had grown. They are much more deadpan than the object which may have
partly inspired them, Jasper Johns's pair of bronze Ballantine ale cans. This
affectlessness, this fascinated and yet indifferent take on the object, became
the key to Warhol's work; it is there in the repetition of stars' faces (Liz,
Jackie, Marilyn, Marlon, and the rest), and as a record of the condition of
being an uninvolved spectator it speaks eloquently about the condition of image
overload in a media saturated culture. Warhol extended it by using silk screen,
and not bothering to clean up the imperfections of the print: those slips of the
screen, uneven inkings of the roller, and general graininess. What they
suggested was not the humanizing touch of the hand but the pervasiveness of
routine error and of entropy..."
- From "American Visions", by Robert Hughes
By Wayne Koestenbaum
Andy Warhol, ultimate icon of pop, made painting an orgy and pornography an art form. But you'll never guess what he did between the sheets.
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By Jonathon Keats
Sept. 28, 2001 | The public grade school in my neighborhood, like so many around the country, is a preposterous edifice of neoclassical posturing, with a miscellany of famous names inscribed across its facade. Neither arbitrary nor encyclopedic, the list seems to me the lasting trace of a spectacularly capricious selection process. Homer and Galileo and Comte. Pericles and Shakespeare. Pasteur and Moses and Wagner. About the only thing the names have in common is that each overshadows the accomplishments of the man it marks. They are names we know before we know why we know them, and better than we'll ever know the people for whom they once stood: Galileo and Homer are our cultural icons on account of their obliging anonymity, our idols because they embody whatever we desire.
Andy Warhol also had that. He made himself a name, and vanished in our midst. That was his art. Pity anybody who undertakes his biography: Whatever one claims is questionable, and to catch him whole is less feasible, even, than dismissing him out of hand.
Wayne Koestenbaum, English professor and cultural commentator, has made an arresting attempt. His new book -- part of the Penguin Lives series profiling such edifice icons as the Buddha, Mozart and Joan of Arc -- is an important study in ambivalent sexual identity. Whether "Andy Warhol" truly depicts Andy Warhol is irrelevant, a point with which I have to assume Koestenbaum would agree: Over the decade I've been entranced by Warhol, greatest artist of the late 20th century, and I've read only perhaps half the sources in Koestenbaum's eight-page bibliography, yet even I can appreciate the skill with which he's navigated contradictory accounts to find for his biography a set of facts convenient to his own vision of male sexuality.
|The great glory of Warhol is that,
even more than with Moses or Mozart, you can believe anything, and find a
wealth of material to complicate your theory into a self-sustaining object
of study. He is a blank-check metaphor to be spent time and again. The only
trouble comes if you try to cash in, mistake hypothetical for history. As
Koestenbaum vividly illustrates in his compellingly irrelevant account, even
the best and brightest writers are susceptible to that slip into the Warhol
Koestenbaum's discourse on gay sex in the '60s through the '80s stars Andy Warhol as ugly duckling, and certainly there's ample physical evidence to support such casting: Before the age of 30, Warhol wore a wig and had been to a surgeon to sand down his bulbous red nose. Combine that with the neurological damage done by chorea while he was still a child -- he was hypersensitive to touch for the rest of his life -- and the deep divide between his public fame and his intense privacy, and you have all it takes to make up a fascinating sexual profile, especially against a backdrop as free of inhibition as the studio Warhol called his "Factory," in a world as repressed as America before Stonewall.
Naturally, every kink only adds interest. As Koestenbaum's inquiry falls into the throes of sex, he finds that, "For Warhol, everything is sexual. Stillness is sexual. Looking and being looked at are sexual. Time is sexual: that is why it must be stopped. Warhol's art was the sexualized body his actual body largely refused to be."
Warhol seems to have been amenable to people thinking of him like that. Speaking to one of his '60s superstars about some of the comic book characters who were the subject of his first pop paintings, he claimed that they'd been his sex idols as a child: "My mother caught me one day playing with myself and looking at a Popeye cartoon," he confessed.
If we take him at his word, never advisable in his case, that makes those innocuous images consistent with the sexually explicit scenarios characteristic of his films (aptly titled "Blow Job" for example, or "Taylor Mead's Ass") and the paintings made late in his life by ejaculating onto canvas.
Look for erotic charge in Warhol's art, and you probably won't be disappointed. In his movies alone, there's enough variety to satisfy just about every taste. My hopelessly heterosexual appetite inclines me toward debutante manqué Edie Sedgwick, whom Koestenbaum perfectly describes as "hypnotized by her own gestural carnival," but there's also ample footage of Gerard Malanga, depicted by Koestenbaum as "a beat Beau Brummel," and even of the Puerto Rican post office worker turned drag queen Maria Montez.
Warhol also made silk-screens of subjects perhaps more physically enticing than those early pictures of Popeye. That Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley were sex idols clear across American culture goes without saying, and his images of each capture them at the prime of their glamour. The series he titled "Torsos" is more explicit, silk-screens made from Warhol's Polaroids of male and female genitalia, and pictures like "Silver Car Crash" may just qualify as pornography within the J.G. Ballard set. But Koestenbaum is after something more, something different. Perhaps taking his cue from Warhol, who liked to call sex abstract, he gives the following sexual exegesis on Andy's notorious Campbell's Soup silk-screens:
"Displacement and other metaphoric processes contributed to his choice of Campbell soup as subject, and connected the image to his erotic hungers. Indeed, cans, in Warhol's work, continue the task of [his earlier] 'cock drawings,' for cans allude to the sexual body, and to limbs iconically isolated from the whole: as a ... penis (in his 'cock drawings') is featured in relative isolation from face and torso, so the can is alienated from the act of eating that it nonetheless announces as a purchasable possibility. The can's most arresting word -- the eye ignores it for the first hundred times -- is condensed: 'Campbell's Condensed.' Condensation is a property of dreams and the unconscious; the soup-can fetish condenses Andy's unspeakable interior procedures, and gives them a shopwindow's attractiveness."
Even ignoring the obvious implausibility of Koestenbaum's claim, we must consider the more tenuous assumption from which it arises: Rather than taking Warhol's life and art as two faces of an interesting fiction, he imagines that we can understand Andy's life by deciphering his art, as if Warhol were an Enigma Machine systematically encoding some known quantity. Certainly those soup cans are loaded with metaphoric potential. So are Warhol's films, and the stories swarming his life. Yet Koestenbaum, like so many of Warhol's would-be biographers, confuses metaphor for fact, a mistake as great as assuming that an accurate nautical map spread smooth on a table proves that the world is flat.
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Echoing the estimable art critic Arthur Danto, Koestenbaum says that Warhol was a philosopher. "He used his art to think through problems of space, time, and embodiment, and the center of his metaphysical investigations was the aroused or indifferent body ..." I must disagree: Andy Warhol wasn't a philosopher. He was, and remains, a philosophy.
What I mean is that he interests us not as a commentator but as the object of ever inconclusive commentary, not as an investigator but as the scene of a perfect crime. This may seem odd, as he's popularly perceived as a voyeur, the man who routinely asked strangers to drop their pants, never went anywhere without a tape recorder (an accessory he suggestively called his wife). But all that was part of his act, facets of the life that was his art. While I don't doubt that Warhol knew what he was up to with his naïveté, by now I also know better than to quibble: Dismiss Andy's act and you've missed his art, but indulge his naïveté by emulating it, and you start truly to appreciate his work.
Koestenbaum wants to believe that Warhol explored the problems of philosophy as if his Factory were his laboratory, as if each artwork were an experiment with which he came to metaphysical conclusions presented for our edification, concealed in an iconography of Leonardo-like sophistication. What he actually did was less complicated but more difficult: In his life, he embodied ideas worthy of laboratory study.
We're told that Warhol once had another man in powdered hair impersonate him on a college lecture tour, and also that he wished he could be replaced by a robot. We're told that he had his mother sign his name to his drawings, that he had studio assistants pull his silk-screens, and acquaintances inseminate his ejaculation paintings. We're told that he routinely asked people what he should paint, and some of his best subjects, including soup cans, were suggested by others. We're told that he may have authorized Malanga, that beat Beau Brummel, to run off fraudulent Warhols in Europe. We're told that Andy authored his only novel by first pursuing his speed-freak groupies with a tape recorder for 24 hours and then insisting that his publisher print the typescript, an erratic document produced in Factory off-hours by various nameless studio squatters, without any copy-editing whatsoever.
Elsewhere we're told that same story, except that Warhol hired a professional typing service to make the transcript. I prefer the first version, not because it comes from a more credible source but because it involves more accomplices, another chancy element along the ever-unaccountable Warhol assembly line.
Chancier and chancier. I can choose the story I find more suitable, the one that opens more questions, because the Factory systematically overwrote any attempt at one official story. So we're told not only that Warhol hired an impersonator on the college lecture circuit but also that he expected anybody who answered the Factory telephone to be Andy on his behalf. That was especially important when Warhol was called by interviewers: Even the lies they were told weren't Andy's own. Astoundingly, he seems to have accelerated history: It's taken centuries for us to become as unsure about Shakespeare as we are of Warhol. He could become an icon in his own lifetime because even as we saw him with our own eyes, at a flea market, say, or at a party with Bianca Jagger and Halston, we couldn't even begin to agree with one another who he really was, couldn't be sure that anybody, even he, knew the truth.
I should confess that, like Koestenbaum, I never met Warhol. He died in 1987, which was my freshman year in high school. My serious interest didn't begin until college, brought on by conversations that wouldn't end, contradictions that couldn't be resolved. Once I started to see, there was no natural place to stop.
There is too much Warhol. He boasted that in a single year he could produce as many paintings as Picasso did in a lifetime. He shot so much footage that some of his films still haven't been screened, and others, such as his masterly eight-hour image of an absolutely stationary Empire State Building, challenge the attention span of even the most ardent fan. (Another Warhol story, absolutely unverified, tells of the time a few film students kidnapped Andy, chained him to a seat in an abandoned theater, and started "Empire" on the projector. By the time they returned to run the second reel, he'd escaped, vanished without a trace.)
Too, too much. Beyond what we ordinarily call Andy's art, there are multiple ghostwritten books, all those cookie jars that cluttered his house. There are his time capsules, boxes filled with each month's junk, now housed en masse at the colossal Andy Warhol Museum. Koestenbaum starts to catalog one, in which he finds: "porn, fashion magazines, Natalie Wood publicity photos, a newspaper with a picture of John F. Kennedy Jr., a copy of Kenneth Anger's 'Hollywood Babylon,' invitations from Warhol's 1957 Golden Pictures show at the Bodley Gallery, bills, issues of Life and The New Yorker, a piece of blank canvas, a letter from Gerard Malanga ..."
I can think of only one case of a collection that comes close in scope: The dymaxion (a word he coined made from "dynamic" and "maximum") remains of R. Buckminster Fuller now occupy some 1,500 linear feet of shelf space in a controlled-climate storage facility near Stanford University. Still, the Fuller files are the product of an opposite inclination. Bucky, who called himself Guineapig B, preserved every lecture, letter, sketch and dry cleaning receipt in perfect chronological order, indexed as meticulously as Diderot's Encyclopédie, to provide history with a single perfect record of a life lived across the 20th century.
In life he attempted to be exemplary, a renaissance everyman, that he might leave a paper trail as universal as it was comprehensive. Of course his project failed: The volume of information precluded comprehension. The range of thought blew the mind. Bucky Fuller became a cultural icon as the amount we knew about him was overwhelmed by the amount we knew we'd never know.
With Warhol, we don't even have the pretense of comprehension. No Guineapig B, he sometimes called himself Andy Paperbag. The name evokes not experience, but accumulation. As an icon, he out-Buckminstered Fuller in half the lifetime. The boxes just piled up. The parties with Bianca Jagger and Halston bloated his oral diaries. The flea market finds filled his townhouse to warehouse capacity. Ever afraid of death, Warhol buried himself ahead of his years, preserved a little like Pompeii, and now we have all the ambiguity of excavation, the wear of history, intangible antiquity.
We cannot touch Shakespeare or Joan of Arc. Their names are but a façade. We know them by degrees of separation, as hypersensitive Andy held people off with the freak show of his ugly duckling body. No matter who the man in the white wig slept with, the artist Andy Warhol, the icon that is the face of his artwork, is asexual to the degree that he is ahistorical, ahistorical to the extent that he's immortal. We shouldn't be surprised that, shackled into viewing his own moving picture, Warhol slipped right out of the theater.
He had no body, no substance to hold him still. His whole life was a vanishing act, dramatic because the ballast he appeared to add -- the fame, the paintings, the junk -- paradoxically reduced what remained of Andy Paperbag to the iconic shorthand, the laboratory purity, of a Guineapig A. The mystery, how he did it, is the impossible philosophical conundrum he created, the artwork of his lifetime that so aboundingly confounds Koestenbaum, Danto, me.
Maybe the man in the white wig was also a little curious about Andy Warhol. Maybe he was even a philosopher, a man with insight of his own. If so, I'd like to believe he left us a message: In 1985, a New York nightclub called Area briefly showed an Andy Warhol original called "Invisible Sculpture." On a pedestal against a wall, Warhol momentarily stood beside a label bearing the artist's name. Then the man in the white wig walked away.
About the writer
Jonathon Keats is the author of the novel "The Pathology of Lies." He is currently at work on a novel about a plagiarist.
By SARAH MILROY
Saturday, December 8, 2001
By Wayne Koestenbaum
Viking, 224 pages, $31.99
One could be forgiven for
thinking there was not a lot more to say about Andy Warhol, the American Pop
legend who perfected the art of playing dead (a cadaverous human specimen,
he made human emotion seem impossibly passé), and has engendered, before and
certainly after his death in 1987, a veritable tonnage of critical
commentary and biographical exegesis.
Yet Andy will not die. Wayne Koestenbaum, a U.S. critic and academic whose best-known previous work was a cultural study of the iconic Jacqueline Kennedy, has taken on another equally enigmatic legend here, coming up with a barrel-load of fresh insights into the artist's psychological motivations and quirks, and arriving at some provocative conclusions.
The author's most attractive attribute is his devotion to his subject; the book radiates a deeply intelligent attachment, filled with compassion, humour and sensitivity. One has the impression that Koestenbaum has obsessively burrowed away into the psyche of the artist, gallantly refusing Warhol's self-designation as a man without ideas or feelings, and producing many deeply melancholy passages of writing that deliver the flavour of this lonely, brilliant misfit. ("Being born," Warhol quipped, "is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.") Instead of a bland overview, Koestenbaum has produced an account of the artist too dense, in fact, to be consumed at a gallop. The reader gets the sense that deep in the heart of this slim, 224-page biography is a fat, five-volume tome, just screaming to get out.
It is perhaps due to this act of compression that the book fails to attend in a conventional way to the hills and valleys of the career. While Koestenbaum does not require that the reader have a thorough grounding in Warholia, a reader without such a grounding might, for example, come away without a sense of when Warhol's career peaked in the public eye -- with the soup cans and the Marilyns and Lizes and Jackies -- or why those images were felt to be so important. The whole question of his relationship to the media and its role in society, for example, is barely touched on.
Instead, we hear at length about the metaphorical implications of his mother's colostomy bag (which underlies, the author says, the artist's lifelong impulse to represent cultural waste products), about his Brillo boxes as surrogates for bodily orifices ("To Open: Press Down/Pull Up" read the directions on one such work), and the artist's deep-seated dread of his own physical self. "These boxes without openings," Koestenbaum writes, "seem simulacra of Andy's body -- a queer body that may want to be entered or to enter, but that offers too many feints, too many surfaces, too much braggadocio, and no real opening." It's an eccentric, but fascinating, view.
Andy Warhol is propelled by several implicit mandates. First, Koestenbaum comes out swinging on the subject of Warhol's sexuality. He asks in the first pages: How gay is Warhol? As gay as gay can be. Sex, Koestenbaum writes, lay at the root of his every inspiration. "Warhol didn't sublimate sex," he writes, "he simply extended its jurisdiction, allowing it to dominate every process and pastime. For Warhol, everything is sexual. Contemplation is sexual. Movement is sexual. Stillness is sexual. Looking and being looked at are sexual."
We are treated to several accounts of the artist in flagrante delicto,or in tenacious coital pursuit (often rebuffed) -- deep-sixing forever the notion of Warhol as asexual (a notion the author ascribes to the critics' uneasiness with homosexuality). But more often we see him watching sex, and running from the room to have "an organza" -- a delightful malapropism he coined to describe the moment of erotic abandon. True, it's hard to think of a man who lived with his mother throughout his adult life, and subsisted almost exclusively on canned soup (Campbell's of course), as a sexual maverick, but in Koestenbaum's view, Warhol was equipped with two more sexual orifices (or protrusions) than the rest of us: his eyes.
Second, the book attempts to retrieve the films from the also-ran status often afforded them in critical appraisals, taking us through them with an almost exhaustive blow-by-blow description -- if you'll pardon the expression. We learn more than we perhaps need to know about the various denizens of the Factory, and the actions that form the "plots" of Warhol's oddly hypnotic movies. So and so fellates such and such. Such and such rolls over and shoots up. Someone is watched urinating in the bathroom, while another takes a shower.
The languor of Koestenbaum's descriptions echo the hypnotic quality of the films themselves -- the most famous of which remain the Screen Tests (begun in 1964), Chelsea Girls (1966), Vinyl (1965), Sleep (1963) and Blow Job (1964) -- and he digs deep into the films' undercurrent of "torture," the consistent psychological duress visited on the participants. For all that his discussions of the films can stretch interminably, like the films themselves, his analysis without question leads us to think more deeply about the films, and helps us to recognize them for what they are: beachheads in the battle to represent male homoerotic desire, and revolutionary precursors to "reality TV."
Third, Koestenbaum makes a strong play to rescue Warhol's late work from the art-critical Elba to which it has characteristically been banished. He endorses, by turns, the late society portraits (in all their pandering proliferation), the Endangered Species series and the Queens series -- describing their continuity with Warhol's earlier work and their consistency with the themes that dominated his life. (In the case of the Endangered Species prints, he writes, we can read Warhol's sense of existential frailty following his shooting by deranged Factory groupie Valerie Solanis in 1968, as well as the looming threat of AIDS. In the Queens, we find reflected his lifelong yearning to be one.)
Yet while these works appear much more interesting contextualised by Koestenbaum in this way, their imagery alone can't make them great art. It just makes them psychologically legible. Warhol, as he made clear in his diaries, thought they were crap, and this may be a case of Andy knows best. Still, one has to admire Koestenbaum's valiant defence. Like much in this book, the position strikes one as slightly perverse, but one is much the better for following Koestenbaum in his passionate and highly informed digression from received ideas.
Sarah Milroy is The Globe and Mail's visual arts critic.
Warhol: A scholarly
By Steven E. Alford
Posted October 28 2001
Warhol. Wayne Koestenbaum. Lipper/Viking. 224 pp.
Click to enlarge
Somebody should tell Michael Jackson: the King of Pop has been--and will be--Andy Warhol. Wayne Koestenbaum's biography tells the story of this "mixture of Picasso and Henry Ford," but in so doing, buries him beneath unsubstantiated interpretative speculation about the "meaning" of Warhol's work.
Andrew Warhola was born in 1928, the third of three boys. The most significant event of his childhood was contracting St. Vitus' Dance, or chorea, which struck him when he was 8. At 13, his father died, and he maintained an unusually close relationship with his mother for virtually the rest of her life.
Andy attended Carnegie Tech, majoring in pictorial design.
After flunking out the first year, he was readmitted as an "eccentric talent."
Graduating in 1949, he moved from
Pittsburgh to New York, where
he found work in advertising. The link, or canyon, between art and commerce was
to be a feature of his career.
He first showed his paintings in a Bonwit Teller window in 1961, and had his first gallery show in 1962.
Koestenbaum offers some valuable insights. "Warhol's game, throughout his career, was to transpose sensation from one medium into another--to turn a photograph into a painting by silkscreening it; to transform a movie into a sculpture by filming motionless objects and individuals; to transcribe tape-recorded speech into a novel."
Koestenbaum passes over the story of his painterly career, claiming that it has been often told, and concentrates for the greater part of the book on Warhol's films. For anyone who has seen a Warhol film, this decision is sure to incite uneasiness.
The reader is tipped off that there may be a problem: "Watching dozens of hours of these early Warhol films in which little or nothing happens, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, lest I miss something important."
Koestenbaum's oracular pronouncements sometimes transcend the merely odd, aspiring to absolute zaniness. "Each canvas asks: Do you desire me? Will you destroy me? Will you participate in my ritual? Each image, while hoping to repel death, engineers its erotic arrival." Huh?
Koestenbaum comments on one of the deliberately tedious sequences from an early Warhol film, in which he describes drag queen Mario Montez's slow movements as "a tempo that a stern skeptic might call narcissistic self-absorption but that I, more charitably, if portentously, would call an investigation of the schisms that make up presence." Memo to drag queens: you're not vain; you're a Heideggerian.
My favorite Koestenbaum mot, from a film with an unprintable title: "The buttocks, seen in isolation, seem explicitly double: two cheeks, divided in the center by a dark line."
Warhol's persona was famously blank; as art historian Robert Rosenblum said, Warhol had "no human affect." Hence, scholars can feel free to paint interpretations on the banality and the silence that characterized his public presentation. But just a little of this been-inside-too-long scholarship goes a long way.
Shot by Valeria Solanas, dead at 58 from nursing incompetence after a gall-bladder operation, the highlights of Warhol's life are touched on, but given little notice by Koestenbaum relative to the space he spends on his films.
This is the kind of book that will make no one happy. It is scholarly in tone, yet displaying high-flying speculation absent any evidence. It is gossipy, but gossipy about inarticulate druggies whose expressiveness consists in allowing Andy to film them having sex. Koestenbaum repeatedly makes murky aesthetic judgments about Warhol's work, and then qualifies them out of existence. This slim volume adds little to our understanding of an artist whose personal goals were to become "vacant" and "vacuous."
Steven E. Alford is a professor of the humanities at Nova Southeastern University.
ART news ONLINE
Much More Than Fifteen Minutes
Fifteen years after his death, Andy Warhol’s reputation is soaring again. Collectors are paying record prices for his works, exhibitions are touring the globe, and a commemorative postage stamp is in the works
By Tyler Maroney
At Sotheby’s contemporary-art auction in London last June, prices were high and house records were broken. Gerhard Richter set an auction record for his color charts when 180 Colors sold for $2.9 million. But the highlight of the evening was Lot 17, a pink acrylic-and-silk-screen print called Little Electric Chair by Andy Warhol. Sotheby’s main saleroom on New Bond Street was standing-room-only that evening. When the bidding for Little Electric Chair began, it was heavy and furious, but when the bids climbed above the $1.5 million mark, the room fell silent. The three remaining bidders—none present and all anonymous—relayed their bids via representatives on cell phones. The sale catalogue lists the estimate for Little Electric Chair at $430,000 to $575,000. When Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, brought down the gavel, the room broke into applause. Little Electric Chair had sold for $2.3 million.
The pink Little Electric Chair—an iconic image from Warhol’s "Disaster" series, which also includes car crashes and race riots—is considered one of the higher-quality prints in the series, and the subject matter—capital punishment—is timely. Still, $2.3 million, four times the high estimate, was unheard of for a small (22-by-28-inch), early Warhol print.
Observers were stunned by the sale. "Everyone knew it would sell well," says Matthew Carey-Williams, a vice president of contemporary art at Sotheby’s London (who has since transferred to New York). "No one thought it would do as well as it did." Stellan Holm, a New York dealer, who last spring held the biggest Electric Chair show in 30 years—15 of the original 40 prints, made in 1964—was impressed; he was on hand to bid on Lot 17.
Members of Warhol’s former inner circle were surprised as well. The dealer Ivan Karp, as director of the Leo Castelli Gallery, represented Warhol and introduced him to many art insiders when he was coming up in the early 1960s. "In the old days, we couldn’t sell Electric Chairs at Castelli. They were considered disreputable," says Karp, who is now director of the OK Harris Gallery in New York. In 1964 he sold one Little Electric Chair for $1,800. When Warhol first showed them as a group at a Toronto gallery in 1965, few people showed up at the opening, and there was no press coverage.
At Sotheby’s contemporary-art sale in New York in November, a yellow Little Electric Chair fetched $2.3 million, matching the record set in June. At Christie’s, a 1964 silk-screen portrait of Holly Solomon sold for $2.1 million. Such prices prove that Warhol, 15 years after his death in 1987, has become the hottest commodity on the contemporary-art market.
Warhol exhibitions are touring the globe. A retrospective of 82 works, co-organized last year by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the U.S. Department of State, is appearing in Eastern Europe, making Warhol the first contemporary American artist ever shown in such countries as Kazakhstan and Latvia. Last year the Warhol Museum organized 39 exhibitions and loans—as many shows as in the three previous years together. What’s more, Warhol’s huge catalogue of films is being restored, and many are being screened for a new generation from Pittsburgh to London.
In September Zurich dealer Bruno Bischofberger, who was Warhol’s close friend and has been showing his art since 1965, completed an exhibition of his 8-by-10-inch black-and-white photographs, a large but little-known body of work. In New York last fall, the Susan Sheehan Gallery presented a show of Warhol’s prints, drawings, and sculptures from his famous "Shoe" series of the 1950s.
In October the New National Gallery in Berlin launched a huge Andy Warhol retrospective, curated by the Berlin-based dealer Heiner Bastian. The show, which will travel to the Tate Modern in London this spring, includes not only early and late drawings but many of Warhol’s most recognizable paintings and prints, as well as a retrospective of his films.
Also in the spring, Phaidon Press will publish the first of six volumes of the Andy Warhol catalogue raisonné. The first two tomes will be edited by Georg Frei, a Zurich-based dealer, and Neil Printz, a member of the board of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, who writes frequently about the artist. The Warhol Museum will oversee the remaining four volumes. The project has been in development since Warhol authorized the late Swiss art dealer Thomas Ammann to begin work on it in 1977.
Some observers believe that Warhol’s reputation has profited from an increased interest in the period in which he flourished. "A bigger percentage of the collecting world is now interested in postwar art," Robert Mnuchin, of C&M Arts, says. "Warhol is at the center of that." Thomas Sokolowski, director of the Warhol Museum, says that he hasn’t seen this much interest in Warhol since the artist’s death.
Collectors are paying more for Warhol’s work than ever. The art market had just peaked when Warhol died, and no one imagined that his work would attract more attention than it did then. But it has. "Warhol’s prices have risen drastically," says dealer Susan Sheehan, "much more so than for any other artist." Just three years ago, Sheehan says, she sold "Shoe" drawings from the 1950s for $5,000 to $12,000. Today they would fetch $75,000 to $125,000. Ivan Karp agrees. "Warhol’s genuinely astounding prices seem grotesque," he says. "They’re tainted with unreality."
In a recent article for Artnet.com, Richard Polsky, a private San Francisco—based dealer who specializes in post-1960 art, wrote that the $17.3 million Sotheby’s sale in 1998 of Orange Marilyn was "the main event of the 1990s." It was, he wrote, one of the events that helped jump-start the current Warhol renaissance. The price shattered the 1989 auction record of $4 million, which belonged to Shot Red Marilyn.
"With Warhol, it’s going to be like Picasso," predicts Jeffrey Deitch of Deitch Projects in New York. "There’s so much you can still do with Warhol, so many aspects—as a painter and as a performance artist."
And as a photographer. In the last two decades of his life, Warhol did many celebrity portrait series with his Polaroid camera. In his classic in-your-face style, he shot everyone from Muhammad Ali and Truman Capote to Jane Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Today these photos, which measure 4 1/4 by 3 3/4 inches, have become collector’s items, although many have begun to deteriorate. Eyestorm.com sold some for as much as $9,000 apiece. A Polaroid portrait of Hopper went for $3,500 at Sotheby’s New York in November.
The Warhol boom is also manifesting itself outside the realm of art. The design for a new first-class postage stamp featuring a 1964 self-portrait by the artist, from a photo-booth snapshot now in the collection of the Warhol Museum, was unveiled at the Gagosian Gallery in New York in November and will go on sale next summer. The stamp’s selvage carries the Warhol quotation: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There is nothing behind it."
The exploitation of Warhol’s images is becoming big business. Martin Cribbs, who is in charge of licensing for the Warhol Foundation, says that "the number of requests for Warhol licenses has definitely increased." In the last few years, he says, the foundation has earned $800,000 in licensing fees and is projecting earnings ten times that amount from deals that have just been signed.
Much of the licensing revenue will come from a partnership announced in October between the foundation and the Beanstalk Group, which promotes such brands as Coke, AT&T, and Harley-Davidson. Beanstalk was named the exclusive licensing agent for the Warhol Foundation in North America and Europe and will market products bearing Warhol’s images, including dishes, bedding, and wallpaper, which will hit stores this month. Other recent deals have led to advertisements for British Airways and Mercedes-Benz, among other big corporations that have only just begun to take advantage of the Warhol brand. These new licenses extend the product line far beyond the generic museum-shop collectibles such as refrigerator magnets, calendars, and stationery that the foundation had so far approved.
Warhol’s Montauk estate, which he bought for $220,000 in 1972 with his friend and collaborator Paul Morrissey, was put on the market last summer. The asking price for the 5.6-acre oceanfront property has held fast at $50 million. In October Sotheby’s auctioned off property and artwork from the estate of Frederick W. Hughes, who was Warhol’s business manager for 25 years as well as the executor of his estate. The auction raised $3.3 million, beating estimates. And in June the Pompidou Center in Paris wrapped up a show titled "The Pop Years," which featured the actual tinfoil that once lined the Factory, Warhol’s Manhattan studio.
Academics are seizing on the current Warhol mania. The November issue of the journal October, published by MIT Press, was devoted to critical and biographical essays on the artist and his work. In September Warhol became the second visual artist to be the subject of a Penguin lives Series book, written by the poet and English professor Wayne Koestenbaum. The only other visual artist in the series is Leonardo da Vinci.
When Warhol embarked on his career in the 1950s, he wasn’t immediately taken seriously as an artist. Leo Castelli originally refused to show his work, brushing him off as immature and unoriginal. He became a sensation in 1964, when his Brillo boxes were shown at the Stable Gallery. But by the time he died, newer, younger artists, including the Neo-Expressionists, had eclipsed the aging former superstar. Today, however, dealers are interested in the early and late works, as well as the midcareer, iconic images, such as the portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Mao Zedong and the signature paintings of dollar signs and Campbell’s soup cans.
In 1958 the Museum of Modern Art declined the donation of a "Shoe" drawing; Warhol had yet to attain the notoriety of, say, Jackson Pollock or Robert Rauschenberg. But today the pre-Pop works—the drawings of cats, fairies, and gold shoes, for example—are among the most difficult-to-find items.
"We can’t find the early material anymore," says Susan Sheehan. William S. Lieberman, chairman of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, says that of the 14 Warhol paintings and 8 drawings owned by the museum, 4 of the most recent acquisitions were early drawings.
"Because beginnings are very important," says Mnuchin, "Warhol’s early work is very important."
"Before Warhol died," says Andrew Fabricant, director of the Richard Gray Gallery in New York, "people didn’t pay attention to his early work. Now that Warhol’s early work has changed hands a few times, many pieces have increased in value." It was Fabricant who bought the 1964 silk-screen portrait of Holly Solomon at Christie’s New York in November.
Late works—the "Rorschach" and "Camouflage" paintings, for example—are also much sought after. "His late work was seen as flippant and commercial," says Fabricant. "Not anymore."
"Warhol was the most undervalued of the Pop artists," says Vincent Fremont, who once worked for the artist. He is now the exclusive dealer for paintings, drawings, and sculpture for the Warhol Foundation. This spring the Gagosian Gallery in New York will mount a show, curated with the foundation, of paintings Warhol did in the 1980s.
Warhol’s influence on younger artists is greater than it was ten years ago. "Warhol was not as much an inspiration as a liberator," says Ivan Karp. "He allowed for a new creativity." He experimented with media, new printmaking techniques and Polaroids, for example, as well as with subject matter: advertisements, newspaper headlines, movie stars.
Sokolowski says that during this summer’s Venice Biennale, "it was Warhol, Warhol, Warhol, everywhere you looked." He points to the hyperreal sculpture of Ron Mueck and to video artist Bill Viola, whose time-lag technique echoes Warhol’s film style. Says Sokolowski, "Much of the thinking and production of today’s artists is very Warholian."
"For the past five years," says Mnuchin, "there has been a broader recognition that Warhol is an important artist." Fabricant goes farther: "It’s clear now that Warhol was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century." For the first time since his death, people are looking at his work in its totality.
"There has been a reevaluation of how good Warhol’s [more obscure] art is," says Stellan Holm. That people are buying lesser-known works is due in part to the fact that Warhol’s prices have reached record highs. According to Fremont, it would have been impossible ten years ago to do a show in the United States of Warhol’s drawings, because "there just wasn’t enough interest."
Warhol was prolific; it was said that he wanted to make more art than Picasso. ("I want to be a machine," he famously remarked.) To suppress fakes, there is an Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, which considers the legitimacy of artworks attributed to him. The six-member board is a private corporation, made up of curators, art historians, and former Warhol associates, that was created with the Warhol Foundation. Among its members are president David Whitney and secretary Neil Printz. It meets three times a year to examine artworks submitted by Warhol owners. It does not issue appraisals. Board members are unwilling to speak about its activities, but, according to a source, 10 to 20 percent of the works submitted to the board’s rigorous monthlong test are considered questionable. Some observers feel that because Warhol often enlisted colleagues, lovers, and collaborators to help him make art, many legitimate pieces made in the serial manner have not been certified as authentic. Claudia Defendi, the board’s assistant secretary, refuses to disclose details about how the board operates, citing concerns about client privacy.
Because Warhol was so prolific, there is a perception that a lot of high-quality work is still available, says Polsky. "This is not true." Gallery owners, dealers, and auction houses agree that the supply is beginning to dry up. "The Warhol market continues to get stronger," says Leslie Prouty, Sotheby’s deputy director of contemporary art. "But they are selling so well because they are hard to find these days." Mnuchin, who presented a show last year of Warhol’s portraits of women, says, "There is a small percentage of what we consider quality work. When supply gets taken out of the market, prices go up."
Before he died, Warhol arranged for the creation of the Warhol Foundation, whose primary business is grant giving. (It earns revenue from licensing, the sale of art, and endowment income.) The foundation’s biggest project was the Warhol Museum, which was founded with a $2 million grant in 1990. In October Joel Wachs, a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles city council, took over as the new head of the Warhol Foundation. Wachs, a member of the foundation’s board for six years, replaced Archibald L. Gillies, who served as its first president.
In 1992 the foundation found itself in a byzantine court battle brought on by Edward W. Hayes, who had been the attorney both for Warhol’s estate and for the foundation, the estate’s main beneficiary. The dispute involved the value of Warhol’s art. Hayes, claiming that he was owed 2 percent of the value of the Warhol estate based on a contract he had signed with executor Frederick Hughes, argued that Warhol’s body of work was worth more than $700 million. Christie’s, which had been retained by the foundation to appraise Warhol’s estate, put the sum at under $100 million. After seven years of countersuits, Hayes was forced to file for bankruptcy and repay the foundation some of what it had already paid him.
The foundation has been selling Warhol’s work for 14 years. "It’s getting harder to do exhibitions for the foundation," concedes Vincent Fremont. "There’s less material." This is in part because after Warhol died, museums were given the first pick at around 50 percent of book value. The Warhol Museum owns more than 4,000 objects, the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world.
"People didn’t see Warhol as a visionary," says Fremont, from his office on Union Square, just a block from where Warhol built his second Factory. "Now they do." Warhol was mute when it came to discussing his art, Sokolowski explains. When he did speak, he was often contradictory.
"People always cherished their Andy," he says, whichever version of Andy they chose to know.
Tyler Maroney is a Brooklyn-based writer. He is a former Fulbright Scholar.
The deathly double
His early motto was 'I want to be a machine.' In his disembodiment, his voyeurism, his strange vulnerability, Andy Warhol understood the deathliness of the mass image better than anybody else. Hal Foster traces his life, work and symbolism
Monday March 18, 2002
Andy Warhol by Wayne Koestenbaum
Weidenfeld, 196 pp., 8 November 2001, 0 297 64630 3
In his account of late capitalism Fredric Jameson describes its cultural logic as if it were a schizophrenic - broken in language, amnesiac about history, in thrall to glossy images, subject to mood-swings from speedy euphoria to catatonic withdrawal. No wonder that his exemplar is Andy Warhol. "Warhol distrusted language," Wayne Koestenbaum writes on the first page of his smart biography; "he didn't understand how grammar unfolded episodically in linear time, rather than in one violent atemporal explosion. Like the rest of us, he advanced chronologically from birth to death; meanwhile, through pictures, he schemed to kill, tease and rearrange time."
Signs of this linguistic disturbance, real or staged, are abundant. There is "virtually no correspondence in his hand": photographs, audiotapes and films were his modes of inscription. He couldn't spell to save his life: typographic errors recur in his commercial illustrations of the 1950s, sometimes introduced by his Czech mother, Julia. And he spoke in a deadpan that extended to his books, which were mostly edited from taped conversations. All of this evidence leads Koestenbaum to his initial diagnosis of Warhol: "Trauma was the motor of his life, and speech the first wound" - speech understood here as the medium of 'normal' intersubjectivity or reciprocity with the world.
'Trauma' is the lingua franca of much cultural analysis today, and it is not new to Warhol studies either. From his mother's colostomy bag (she had colon cancer) to the brutal scars that tattooed his torso (he was shot, almost fatally, in June 1968), wounds figure literally in Warhol. A 1960 painting, based on a newspaper ad for surgical trusses, asks prophetically 'Where is Yo Rupture?', and Warhol always seemed to pick out the telling cracks in images and in people, whom he often regarded as another species of image. Metaphorically, too, as a breaching of interior and exterior, trauma can be seen as the very operation of his art. "It's just like taking the outside and putting it on the inside," Warhol said early on about Pop, "or taking the inside and putting it on the outside."
This elliptical remark might be understood literally - at one point Koestenbaum interprets his "entire oeuvre as an externalisation, crisply distanced and disembodied, of his abject internal circuitry" - or again metaphorically, with his Pop images seen to register the delirious confusions between private and public that first became pronounced in this era: that is, between the desires and fears of the individual subject and the commodities and celebrities of consumer society, of which Warhol was the great portraitist. In either case he appeared 'porous' in a strange, new, near-total way: porous both in his art, with its steady stream of Pop effluvia (from his early Campbell's Soup Cans to his late Diamond Dust Shoes), and in his life, with his studio, dubbed 'the Factory', set up as an open playground for subcultural denizens, mass-cultural divas, and 'superstars' of his own making.
At the same time Warhol was the opposite of porous. Especially after his shooting by the paranoid Factory fade-out Valerie Solanis, he countered his vulnerability with psychological defences and physical trusses of different sorts: buffering entourages, opaque looks (big glasses, silver wigs), protective gadgets (the omnipresent Polaroid and tape recorder), plus a weird ability to pass as his own double or simulacrum (even when he was right there in front of you he seemed somehow disembodied).
And these devices became central to his persona, which is sometimes seen as his ultimate work: Warhol as the spectral centre of a flashy scene, a kind of blank Gesamtkunstwerk-in-person. Whereas Marshall McLuhan, a very different media figure of the 1960s, viewed new technologies as prostheses, Warhol used them as screens. As Koestenbaum writes, the dominant strategy of his Pop was to combine "lurid subject" and "cool presentation", and to translate images from one medium or sphere into another in order to "embalm" them - though this embalming could also infuse his images with a psychic charge, an unexpected punctum, as Roland Barthes might say. Think of the two housewives in Tunafish Disaster (1963), victims of botulism taken directly from a newspaper page; smeared across the silkscreened painting, their smiling faces become piercing in repetition.
From the early days of the Factory on, Warhol always recorded: visitors were often placed in front of a movie camera in a 'screen test' that also served as an initiation rite. And especially in his last years he collected compulsively: when the going got rough, Warhol went shopping, and his townhouse became filled with sets of kitschy things like cookie jars which were auctioned off after his sudden death in 1987. For Koestenbaum, this endless taping-and-filming and buying-and-bagging point to a subconscious plan to "conquer by copying" or to control by gathering. Here what counts as 'putting in' or 'taking out', as porous or trussed, open or closed, is not clear, but that may be the point: like the two states that underlie them, these two strategies are bound up with each other. In this light his collecting was another way of being porous to the world, and his being porous another way to defend against images and objects - that is, to drain them of affect, to close them off again.
His sayings on this score are well known: from his early motto, "I want to be a machine," to his late ode to repetition, "I like things to be exactly the same over and over again... Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel." Perhaps it was to this same end that, after 1974, he diarised the bric-a-brac of his life in 'time capsules', cardboard boxes filled with mementos and ephemera (there were over 600 in his estate). In a nice twist Koestenbaum adopts a nickname that Warhol dropped early on, 'Andy Paperbag', which evokes not only his compulsion to collect but also the fragility of this protective device. More ominously, he writes of the Campbell's Soup Cans and Brillo Boxes as "simulacra of Andy's body". Deleuze and Guattari gave us the 'body without organs', the subject as a machine of desirous connections; Warhol left us with its quasi-autistic opposite, the 'box without openings'.
Koestenbaum also relates the proclivity for "multiplication and archiving" to gay taste in New York, which in "the bleak McCarthy era paradoxically flourished in the home". In this "domestic avant-gardism" public signs were ironised in private ways that "interrupted the distinction" between the two spheres. Such customising of images is close to 'camp' as defined by Susan Sontag. Alert to the queer dimension of this sensibility (her celebrated 1964 essay reads in part like a field report on the gay underground of Warhol, the filmmaker Jack Smith and others), Sontag saw camp as "dandyism in the age of mass culture" - that is, as a way of wresting the distinctive from the vulgar, of finding feeling in kitsch, of transcending "the nausea of the replica".
Some of this spirit, such as the attraction to degraded imagery, is maintained in Pop, but much is not: Pop hardly redeems sentiment, and it does not transcend the nausea of the replica so much as rub our faces in it. Here Koestenbaum shifts the lines that have long defined Warhol studies, away from breaks in style such as Abstract Expressionism v Pop, and towards (dis)continuities in sensibility across his campy commercial work of the 1950s and his cool artwork of the 1960s.
Trained at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon), Warhol moved from Pittsburgh to New York in 1949, and shed his ethnic identity then, too, dropping the final 'a' from his name. He fared well as a commercial illustrator, with adverts done for Harper's Bazaar, Seventeen, the New Yorker and Vogue, displays for Bergdorf Goodman, Bonwit Teller, I. Miller and Tiffany & Co., as well as book jackets, record covers, stationery and the like. Warhol received three Art Directors Club awards in the 1950s, and he continued in this mode well into the 1960s - an often overlooked fact - through 1962, when the Campbell's Soup Cans appeared; 1963, when the films began; 1964, when the Brillo Boxes were done; and so on. Moreover, as Koestenbaum argues, Warhol was "more of a fine artist in the 1950s" as a commercial illustrator than in the 1960s as a Pop artist, if by 'fine' we mean the apparent signs of craft, handwork and subjective expression.
And the reverse is also true: his great silkscreens begun in 1962 show a "designer's intelligence", and, as Benjamin Buchloh has written, his Pop art carries over traits of his commercial illustration: "extreme close-up fragments and details, stark graphic contrasts and silhouetting of forms, schematic simplification and, most important, rigorous serial composition". The imbrication of the two practices was persistent: his first show of Pop paintings was a window display at Bonwit Teller in 1961, and after 1968 he returned to a mode that he never really left - "business art". Until recently, art history has mostly glanced over the commercial design in some embarrassment (at least Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had the good taste to treat their window displays as rent-money work), sidelined the films and bemoaned his supposed decline after the 1968 shooting. Along with a few other contemporaries, Koestenbaum writes against all three biases.
Until recently, too, art history liked to suggest a clean break between the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop, and it pounced on a particular anecdote to firm up this stylistic divide. In 1962, Warhol showed two paintings of a Coke bottle, first to the filmmaker Emile de Antonio, then to the dealer Ivan Karp, and asked them which he should exhibit. (This is a classic instance of his deferring of responsibility. Marcel Duchamp exacerbated the problems of artistic making and judging with his ready-made objects: "Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain or not had no importance. He chose it." Warhol complicated aesthetic choice further by passing it off, or at least around, often to his assistants.) One of the Coke paintings has painterly drips that might read as signs of expressive gestures, while the other is almost as pristine as the commercial original, right down to the registered trademark. His friends opted for the iconic Coke, and Pop was born. Although now sealed with the false obviousness of history, this story was always too convenient by half. Even more blatantly than his gay predecessors Rauschenberg and Johns, Warhol derailed Abstract Expressionism stylistically (though it had also run out of track by then); the crucial question is what drove this turn.
Here another juxtaposition, made by Rosalind Krauss, is telling. In the early 1960s Warhol continued the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock by other means: he peed onto canvases which were covered with metallic paint and set on the floor - or had his Factory workers pee (even here he deferred). The paint oxidised into misty veils or, when his female associates peed, murky puddles. These paintings 'queered' the drip paintings: suddenly the machismo of the Pollock gesture looked a little impotent, and the homosocial dimension of the old Abstract Expressionist circle like a circle-jerk (primal boys peeing on fire). The piss paintings also forced a double-take on the apparent purity of Colour Field painting, on the poured veils of Morris Louis and the stained grounds of Helen Frankenthaler; and when Warhol did more such works in the late 1970s, Neo-Expressionist painting looked even more absurd than it did before.
As critics such as Douglas Crimp and Richard Meyer have stressed, this queering of art was also a matter of content. If the persona behind Abstract Expressionism was the 'action painter' in existential torment, Warhol put pretty-boy idols of mass culture up front, such as the young Troy Donahue and Warren Beatty, Elvis and Brando, all subjects of early silkscreens. More notoriously, he did the same with the not-so-pretty Thirteen Most Wanted Men, the FBI mug-shots that he silkscreened for the facade of the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair (they were covered up by order of Commissioner Robert Moses, who was not amused when Warhol offered to substitute an image of him instead). Here he turned the meaning of 'most wanted' inside out: these men might be 'wanted' sexually, too - might be 'criminals' in a double sense.
The queering did not stop there. As Annette Michelson argues, the Factory was a semi-conscious mockery of Hollywood cinema and culture industry alike. For instance, in many Warhol movies 'montage' means the simple splicing together of unedited rolls of film (Empire, made in 1964, is a fixed stare at the Empire State Building that lasts for 24 hours); few have stories, let alone scripts, and some are porn. Moreover, Michelson sees the Factory as a latter-day experiment in Bakhtinian reversal: with its "parodistic procession of divas, queens and superstars", and spectacular mixing of uptown society, 42nd Street riff-raff and downtown bohemia, it resembled a court turned into a carnival. "In carnival," she writes, "behaviour and discourse are unmoored, as it were, freed from the bonds of the social formation. Thus, in carnival, age, social status, rank, property, lose their powers, have no place; familiarity of exchange is heightened."
The strategy of the Factory was indeed 'super' - to hyperbolise roles in a way that sometimes mocked them. But this parodistic play with the social order was only half-intended; it was also sporadic and short-lived, and by the time of the Interview magazine of the Reagan years it had swung over to its opposite: hero-worship of the rich and famous. So, too, the tropes of carnival, "travesty and humiliation" above all, often rounded on Factory dwellers; as Koestenbaum suggests, this scene could also be cruelly hierarchical - very different from the cosy milieu of the commercial-illustration days.
Koestenbaum sees both continuity and discontinuity here: even as the Factory "extended the apartment philosophy Warhol first learned from decor-conscious gays", it diverged from the campy sensibility of his design studio. In his Diaries (1989) Warhol refers this break to the death of his favourite cat in the early 1960s: "My darling Hester. She went to pussy heaven. And I've felt guilty ever since... That's when I gave up caring." This is a mock-traumatic account, of course; affect did not die with Pop, but it did take on a torturous turn in the Factory. This is so in part because the Factory was given over to 'performance' in the sense not only of performance art (all the screen tests and films, the live theatre and 'Exploding Plastic Inevitable' events featuring the Velvet Underground) but also of performed identity.
"To work for Warhol was to lose one's name," Koestenbaum comments; and Billy Linich, the de facto manager of the Factory, became 'Billy Name', as Robert Olivio became 'Ondine', the heroine of a: a novel (1968), Susan Hoffmann 'Viva', the star of several films, and so on. This renaming was one prerequisite to superstar status, and it was often bound up with regendering: to 'swing both ways' was to play with both semiotic and sexual designations. This was the carnivalesque moment par excellence, and it had obvious risks, especially when mixed with pill-popping and vein-poking, bohemian showmanship and media spotlights.
In short, there was a psychological volatility of roles in the Factory, which sometimes sounds like a desultory S/M theatre, with Warhol as a director both kind and cold, passive and aggressive. He would goad people into defensive or outlandish performances, especially in the films (some of which also thematise bondage), as if to film was to provoke and to expose, and to be filmed was to parry this attack. Koestenbaum is good on this "emotional oscillation"; he catches the tension between inhibition and excess, "diffidence and exhibitionism", deathly stillness and sexual motility, and argues that it could induce a "paranoid relation" to whomever acted out on the screen or in the Factory at large. But the movies also produce a different sort of connection: the viewer does not identify with the filmed subject in the manner of classic Hollywood cinema, of course, but rather empathises with the travails of being before a relentless camera, with the vicissitudes of becoming an image, with wanting or resisting this condition too much.
According to Koestenbaum, Warhol always had a particular target in his sights - masculinity - and a particular way to mess with it, which he terms 'twinship'. "Masculinity was a subject Warhol failed from the start," Koestenbaum writes; his art became "the sexualised body his actual body largely refused to be". In this regard, too, "Andy liked to entrust others with the task of embodying Andy," and often this embodying involved "female dopplegangers" like Edie Sedgwick whose ambiguity as both femme and boyish did a number on gender. Koestenbaum refers this 'twinship' to a "homoerotics of repetition and cloning", but it might also be seen as a play with kinds of likeness that are only like enough to be subversively other.
This doubling-with-a-difference runs throughout Warhol: both in his life, where he was mirrored, weirdly, by Edie, Nico and others; and in his art, where the silkscreens are often instances of image repetition run amok, and the films are often double projections in which the 'action' in one screen has little or nothing to do with that in the other. Koestenbaum describes this trait as "nonparticipatory adjacency", and in a sense it structured the entire Warhol world: he spent days at the Factory with image-producers and scene-makers; evenings first at the bar-and-restaurant Max's Kansas City and later at the club Studio 54 with the entourage; nights at home on the Upper East Side with Mom and the cats; and Sundays at Mass (he remained a Catholic to the end).
At first Warhol projected onto celebrities; later he painted them; in time "he merely needed to stand next to them... his Andyness could sign the adjacent presence, make it Andyish." Here, too, doubling was the primary Warholian device. (For me it became delirious one night in the early 1980s at a club called Area, as I watched Jean Baudrillard, the theorist of the simulacrum, watching Warhol posing as 'Warhol' in a bare diorama of his own making, as if he were the wax model of his own dead specimen. I thought one of them would have to explode.) "Pop art rediscovers the theme of the Double," Barthes once wrote, but it has "lost all maleficent or moral power... the Double is a Copy, not a Shadow: beside, not behind: a flat, insignificant, hence irreligious Double."
I'm not certain about this last point. In the Factory Warhol was called 'Drella', a fitting contraction of Cinderella and Dracula, for like the former he lived the dream of going to the ball (and sometimes getting the prince), and like the latter he sucked the blood of others in a way that left him ravished too. This deathly doubling is one reason why Warhol remains so fascinating: more than anyone else he acted out the strange mass subjectivity of the Pop image-world. As Michael Warner has argued, "to be public in the west means to have an iconicity... In the figures of Elvis, Liz, Michael, Oprah, Geraldo, Brando and the like, we witness and transact the bloating, slimming, wounding, and general humiliation of the public body. The bodies of these public figures are prostheses for our own mutant desirability." Warhol operated on both sides of this equation: he was a "mutant desirer" first and last, but he also became a mass icon in his own right; indeed after his shooting he entered the pantheon of martyr-stars (Liz, Marilyn, Jackie) that he also portrayed.
Like Christ (here Koestenbaum stretches for a parallel too far, but why not?), Warhol became more iconic as his body became more ravaged. He took on a "revenant appearance", and delivered works possessed of "the shadow aura of bulletins from the afterlife", paintings of Skulls (1976) and Shadows (1978) in particular; appropriately, he was at work on a wallpaper version of the Skulls - portraits of us all in effect - at the time of his death. Unlike the Pop of Roy Lichtenstein or James Rosenquist, his Pop had teeth, and a great part of its edge lay in its recognition of the deathliness of the mass image. On this score the best remark comes from Deleuze in 1969, in the middle of the Vietnam war, no doubt with Warhol in mind:
"The more our daily life appears standardised, stereotyped and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate - namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death. Art thereby connects the tableau of cruelty with that of stupidity, and discovers underneath consumption a schizophrenic clattering of the jaws, and underneath the most ignoble destructions of war, still more processes of consumption. It aesthetically reproduces the illusions and mystifications which make up the essence of this civilisation, in order that Difference may at last be expressed."
· Hal Foster is Townsend Martin Professor of Art at Princeton. Design and Crime is forthcoming from Verso.
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