Andy Warhol

Published:  Esquire Art 2007 – 2010

Every night now before I go to sleep I read deeply in Andy Warhol’s diaries. It is lovely being in the company of one of the silliest people who has ever lived; it is lovely also hearing about Warhol’s outings every evening in a New York he made his own, where he met other people of his kind, people who, in general, just like him, did not have a thought in their heads.
Instead, they worried about their skin or about how to get a cab or if they had been sufficiently rude to enough people; they were also often deeply concerned in case they were at the wrong party altogether. Not once so far has Warhol mentioned reading a book, or spending an evening alone. Not once so far has he had a thought that is of the slightest interest. Instead, he has attitudes, ambitions, hot gossip and many resentments; he also, justifiably, has fears that he might be famous but no good. He was a man with a body but no soul, and thus became one of the most influential figures of the age.
For a gallery, such as the Hayward where ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ is the second Warhol retrospective in two decades, he is real good news. His old maxim that everyone will be, or should be, famous for fifteen minutes can be shifted to say that nothing Andy Warhol made, not the films (which this show concentrates on), nor his paintings, nor his silk screens, are worth looking at for more than fifteen seconds. It should be emphasized, however, that we live in a world of Warhol’s making, and, in this world, fifteen seconds is a very long time.
Andrew Warhola, who later described his home as ‘the worst place I have ever been in my life’, was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, the son of immigrants from eastern Europe. As soon as he could, Warhola, or Warhol as he became, made his way to New York.
In the 1960s he set about establishing an idea that was so simple it was almost complex, and so risible it soon became serious. This was that trash tv shows, or images of film stars or other well-known figures, or images on cans of soup or other daily items, represented for Americans in the twentieth century something as valuable as murals done in Italian churches did for Italians of the fourteenth century.
He also, in the films made in his Factory, explored the possibility of jokey boredom and dumbness as high art. He seemed to believe that talent was something which anyone pushy enough to want to be talented could come to possess. He built a New York in his own likeness as a bastion of quasi-camp counter culture. He was as happy uptown as downtown, as happy with mass culture as with coterie culture. And thus he became rare and strange and rich.
If he had been solemn about himself and his work, he would have failed, but at the heart of his enterprise there was a lovely vacancy (he made films partly because he did not like being alone) which anyone, including journalists, curators and idle members of the public, could fill. This meant that he slowly became iconic enough to join John F Kennedy and John Lennon (whose widows he would assiduously befriend) in having someone want to shoot him.
This happened in 1968. He was declared officially dead for one and half minutes. It is hard not to wonder how they could tell, but I suppose it might have been easy because he took no photographs during that short time and dropped no names.
It is difficult not to resent the idea that a pure ninny and a mummy’s boy – his mother came to live with him in 1952 and stayed for almost two decades – became one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century. In the films Warhol made, however, in the way he viewed chance and choice, time and movement, in the mixture of pure earnestness and odd self-parody, he became almost a serious European artist in the tradition of Duchamp and Dada and Bunuel. But in the end, he was more interested in fame and money, and so he became closer to the merchants of sentiment and stupidity who ran his country than to the artists such as Rothko, de Kooning, Jasper John and Robert Rauchenberg who re-created the American century in their own image.