Andy Warhol: Why don’t you ask me what “art” is?
Interviewer: What is it, Andy?
Andy Warhol: What is “art”? “Art” is short for “artist.”
Interviewer: Can anybody be an artist?
Andy Warhol: Yeah, if you say, one day, I want to be an artist, you can just decide to be an artist. Depends on how far you want to go.
Kenneth Brummel: Welcome to this audio guide for Andy Warhol. I am Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator of Modern Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I am the coordinating curator for the Toronto venue. This audio tour will guide you through the exhibition, discussing pivotal moments in Warhol’s life and career, as well as key works in each room of the exhibition. The tour also features commentary from Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran, curators at Tate Modern; Warhol’s friend and colleague, Bob Colacello; choreographer Lucinda Childs; and Warhol’s own words. Also participating in this audio guide is my colleague Gillian McIntyre.
Gillian McIntyre: Hello, I am Gillian McIntyre, Interpretive Planner at the Art Gallery of Ontario. To access the audio tour online, go to ago.ca/warhol. As you make your way around the exhibition, you’ll find a number and an audio symbol printed on the wall next to some of the artworks and panels. Online you will also find a timeline for Warhol’s life and career, a video of how to print like Warhol, large font and French copy for the entire exhibition, and descriptive audio of five pieces of art.
Gregor Muir: My name is Gregor Muir—I’m the Director of Collections for International Art. When I was first asked to curate an Andy Warhol exhibition, it was hard not to be a little bit hesitant because there have been a great many. They’ve taken a certain path, a certain pattern. It was a moment where I would turn to my colleague, Fiontán Moran, and say, “What can we deliver now, in this day in age, that’s different? What’s the new take on Warhol? Why should we do another Warhol [show] and why now?” It became really interesting from that perspective because we started to approach Warhol through three key lenses, which was [firstly] the idea of Warhol’s story (and that of his family) being an immigrant story. You’ll notice that we’ve chosen a number of photographs that reflect that early family life. Secondly, we wanted to turn the volume up on his queer identity; the relationship between Warhol and the LGBTQ+ concerns of the present generation. The final guiding principal was the idea of religion and death, and that was something that we felt very strongly needed to be represented in the show. As you move around, I hope it sort of seeps in.
2-Andy Warhol as a Young Boy
Bob Colacello: I’m Bob Colacello, I met Andy in 1970 and I worked with him until 1983. Andy grew up in very poor circumstances: it was not only the Depression but his father died when Andy was 12. His father was a coalminer. He did leave some money—he put money aside and total Andy’s brothers all the time that this money is for Andy to go to college. So, he knew… the father somehow knew that Andy was special. They were actually Ruthenian, which was this Slavic group from the Carpathian Mountains near the border of Slovakia and Ukraine and Poland. He would tell stories about how his brothers took care of him and how they all struggled through the Depression, but it was more about his mother. He was clearly her favourite; he was the baby who needed to be protected. I think he became very aware of class differences. The Pittsburgh public schools have this programme whereby the principal would choose the two students in the elementary school who would show the most talent for art, and they were enrolled in a Saturday programme at the Carnegie Museum. The Carnegie Museum was in the richest part of town and I think Andy started aspiring—started realizing there’s something more.
3 – Early Line Drawings
Fiontán Moran: You’ll see on the wall a series of drawings made by Warhol in the 1950s, most of which depict men. Although most of them were anonymous figures, one of the works depicts Charles Lisanby, a production designer who was Warhol’s friend for around ten years between 1955 and 1965. In the drawing, you’ll see Charles looking downwards in a pose, suggesting potential sadness. Many people have commented on the simplicity of Warhol’s line drawings and their ability to succinctly convey emotion through a serious of single lines. These solitary images of men can, in many respects, be representations of queer life in New York in the 1950s, and point to Warhol’s fascination with desire.
Some of the images depict far more suggestive subject matter. In one, Warhol focuses on the torso of a man, while in another we can see a hand covering the genitals. In New York at this time, the idea of coming out was not a political statement that is often associated with gay pride movements today; it was often more about coming to a community of other gay men, and with that a sexual experience. And so, Warhol’s apparently ambiguous relationship to sexuality could be connected to the slightly more closed community, as opposed to showing yourself to predominantly straight public.
Interviewer: Do you just paint to please people?
Andy Warhol: Yes, because I think that’s what art is: it’s entertainment and pleasing people.
Gregor Muir: Welcome to the big pop blowout. You’re coming into a room where you’re going to see some of the most recognizable works, not just made by Warhol, but in the history of art of recent years. We want you to see the transition from an early Warhol trying to break into a new world—it’s that moment very early on, and you’ll see some of those early works where he’s struggling with this. He’s hand painting… it’s a sense of consumable objects but it’s also a little bit through the lens of painterly experience as well, and then suddenly comes the stencil, suddenly comes the Campbell’s soup cans, and then most importantly comes the silkscreen. He’s very interested in being an artist; he’s very much wanting to gain recognition. He makes that magnificent leap into his own style and that’s what you’ll see in this room, that transition, and then you’ll see these beautiful Marilyn lips, you’ll see the Wanted Men, the Jackies—these paintings which are both pop and yet at the same time, sometimes quite sombre.
5 – 100 Campbell’s Soup Cans
Fiontán Moran: You are looking at one of Warhol’s best-known series depicting the Campbell’s soup can. He’d achieved his first major success with an exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962, where he depicted a row of Campbell’s soup can paintings arranged on a shallow shelf. In contrast to Warhol’s early works where he often included painterly brush marks, in this work he used a stencilling process, which is arranged on a single canvas so that the painting, when seen from afar, appears almost abstract. It’s only when you get up close to it that you are able to see them as individual cans of soup.
Bob Colacello: Andy’s mother cleaned houses for a dollar a day after the father died. Andy told me that they would have salt and pepper soup, which was hot water with salt and pepper. If they had ketchup, it became tomato soup. People would sometimes say, “Oh, come on, Campbell’s soup cans,” or “Oh, come on, whatever Andy was doing—it’s a joke, right? It’s a joke.” And he’d say, “Well it is a joke, but it’s not a joke.” The English really got that idea—a joke that’s not a joke—but Americans were so literal and wanted to categorize everything. I think Americans also recognized, subconsciously, themselves in Andy’s art… this extreme consumerism that Andy was both celebrating and critiquing.
6-Pop and Religious Icons
Jackie Frieze is a horizontal strip of eight photographic reproductions of the former First Lady of the United States, Jackie Onassis Kennedy, taken before and after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. That Warhol screen-printed seven of these eight photographic reproductions on a gold, metallic ground is significant. In addition to replicating the gold-leaf grounds of religious icons, he was underlining the fact that the Kennedys were the first Catholics to occupy the White House. Religious icons and American Catholicism were both extremely important to Warhol and his art.
Bob Colacello: Icon is an object of religious worship, and it’s mostly the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches that have icons. While Andy was brought up Catholic, his family was not Roman Catholic… he was from Eastern Slovakia near the border of Ukraine. That part of Eastern Europe was on the border of the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic worlds. So, the church Andy went to in Pittsburgh with his mother was actually called St. John Chrysostom Greek Russian Catholic Church and it had the iconostasis, the screen of icons, portraits of saints, all in a grid touching each other with flat-style gold-leaf backgrounds. I looked at those when I went to see this church. I was like, “This is where Andy’s portraits come from.” I think that’s part of the power of his work: he was making religious art for secular culture.
Fiontán Moran: An important part of Warhol’s success as an artist was because of the space of the Factory. The Factory was Warhol’s studio so it was where he created his pop paintings but then as he moved into filmmaking, it became this interesting social space where everyone from socialites to drag queens to drug addicts sometimes, would hang around and sometimes be stars of Warhol’s films. But while it was a place of socializing and parties, it was still also a place of work. So, Warhol would often get up very early and work with his studio assistant, Gerard Malanga, creating silkscreen paintings and then maybe in the evening they would make films. In this room, you’ll also see a selection of Screen Tests which Warhol made from 1964 to 1966. These are just over three minutes long each and the Screen Tests are simply film portraits. The selection of Screen Tests shows the variety of people who pass through the factory doors, so while they include examples of Warhol’s superstars such as Jane Holzer and Edie Sedgwick, they also include very important cultural figures such as Susan Sontag and Lucinda Childs.
Bob Colacello: The first Factory, which was in the East 40s, was the famous Silver Factory that had all the walls covered in tin foil and that’s where the wild parties were happening. That’s where The Doors would show up and the Rolling Stones, and a lot of so-called “superstars,” which was Andy’s word for these various characters who talked a lot and were willing to stand in front of his camera and just pour their hearts and sex lives out. Edie Sedgwick was one who became best known because she copied Andy; she’d dye her hair silver like Andy, and she wore turtlenecks and black leather jackets. When she died, I said to Andy, “Oh, I’m sorry,” [and] he said “Oh, who cares, just another girl who overdosed.” I mean, he was so heartless at times like that, and he would be… “Bob, if I had feelings, I’d have nervous breakdown.”
Lucinda Childs: I’m Lucinda Childs—I’m a choreographer, dancer, and performer, and I met Andy Warhol in 1964. He invited me to come his studio because he wanted to film my shoulder, and having seen something of Andy’s work in film, I thought, “This is of course fine,” and was totally fascinated with the idea of appearing in the studio. It turns out he was also doing a screen test at the same time but he didn’t tell me… because the camera was pointed in my direction, I just assumed he was doing my shoulder but he was in fact doing the screen test as well. There is a kind of absent feeling, you know that he… for example, was not looking into the camera. That’s his presence… I mean, he’s somehow more there by not being there in any specific way that you would imagine. He didn’t necessarily want me to take on any look that would be any different from someone who was just sitting there. I would say it was at least 20 minutes altogether, and I think he combined what he wanted, maybe just adjusted the camera without my knowing it to do the screen test, and maybe he decided to do the screen test in that moment. Because, you know, when he was done with my shoulder [laughs], he decided to move into the screen test. I can stand to look at it now, but it’s only recently that I can stand to look at it because of the frowning [laughs].
Gregor Muir:Here, you’ll find the film Sleep. It’s a very loving portrayal of his then partner, John Giorno, this great beat poet, this wonderful artist. I think it’s that sense of tenderness mixed with a slightly mechanical eye… and it was shot over several evenings, it’s not just this one-take wonder—it’s quite elaborate. You can imagine the affront of this work at the time of its making when it was shown in cinemas; experimental or not, people were angry at the film, people were inclined to walk out… and I think it’s the beginning of a kind of filmmaking with Warhol, almost the kind of filmmaking where you don’t actually need to see the film at all, the actual making of it was almost enough. Sleep is going to be a film that many people will walk in, they’ll catch a moment, everyone will catch a different moment—it’s just nice to spend some time with it.
Gregor Muir: I tend to look onto the Silver Clouds as just brilliant toys. They make people jump up and down, they try to leave the room, they need to be brought back in again, and they are in a way that wonderful escape from painting. He begins to play with this idea of “I’m leaving everything behind.” One of the views held is that this might be Warhol taking a poke at the likes of Donald Judd, who was producing rather serious minimalist sculpture that appeared as shelves stacked in galleries—and of course they were incredibly important works and they still are, but this is almost like Warhol’s undoing of the macho artist.
Andy Warhol: Culture is slowly disappearing. I guess, actually it’s—well, it goes in two directions: it goes up and down, and hard and soft, and I guess anything that’s the easiest is really culture.
Interviewer: What do you want most in the whole world?
Andy Warhol: I think health is the most important thing in the whole world.
Interviewer: Why do you think that?
Andy Warhol: Well, if you have health, you feel like a million dollars.
Gregor Muir: This room is the hinge between what we know of the ’60s Warhol and what you’re about to come into, which is the ’70s and onwards Warhol. I think one of the most profound images in this room is actually quite a small one, which shows Julia Warhola outside the hospital, and she’s being comforted by Viva who is one of the Warhol superstars. There you see the bonds between a mother and son. Now, they are always special but you just sense the proximity of the relationship between Julia and her son—her youngest of three sons.
You will also see all these other areas of Warhol’s production: so, you’ll see all his fabulous books and magazines and the Warhol enterprises., Most importantly, this is a f moment to reflect on how short his life could have been and also the fact that if you’re to look at Warhol now, don’t rule out what follows: Pop. It’s incredibly important.
Fiontán Moran: Warhol suffered a personal loss in this period in 1972. His mother, who had been living with him for most of his adult life, passed away in Pittsburgh. It was an event that he actually didn’t tell many of his friends about but which we wanted to reference through this video that he took of his mother, which was filmed not that long before her death.
Bob Colacello: The way we all found out was Andy’s boyfriend, Jed Johnson, who also was editing Andy’s films and decorating Andy’s house… But Jed answered the phone one Sunday, and Andy’s brother, John, would call every Sunday. Jed said, “Oh, nice to speak to you, John, how’s your mother? How’s Julia?” and [John] said, “Andy didn’t tell you? Our mother died two years ago.” That was so typical of Andy to be so cold about emotions and so shut off in his ability to just tell his closet friends, his boyfriend, “My mother died” and maybe cry or something. But he couldn’t share the fact that, I guess the pain he felt... it was weird.
Bob Colacello: When Andy came back to painting in ’72, four years after he’d been shot, he started in on this Mao Zedong series. The way that happened is Bruno Bischofberger turned up at the Factory one day from Switzerland and said, “Andy, I have a great idea for you. I want you to paint the most famous person of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein. Andy was like, “Oh no, he’s not the famous person of the twentieth century. Mao is the most famous person. Mao sold one billion little red books,” and I said, “Andy, Mao did not sell one billion little red books—people were forced to take them.” So, Andy did Mao.
Fiontán Moran: Warhol decided to buy a new vacuum cleaner and Hoover the carpet of the gallery, and then he signed the dust bag and exhibited the vacuum cleaner along with the dust bag on a plinth. We thought this was a really interesting example of Warhol still playing with what art could be and also using performance as a way to look at an everyday gesture.
15-Ladies and Gentlemen
Bob Colacello: Andy has always been fascinated by cross-dressing. He himself later on posed in drag for Christopher Markos. These series, to me they’re really close to Andy’s… I guess in some way you could say heart, which is close to his fascination with images and how people can change their image and transform themselves. Everybody was having fun. It wasn’t such innocent fun but it was fun.
Fiontán Moran: Ladies and Gentlemen was another commission by Warhol’s Italian dealer, Luciano Anselmino. The dealer actually asked Warhol to depict, what he called “funny-looking drag queens” or queens who have a five o’clock shadow. So, what started as a series that seemed to be quite insensitive to the reality of life if you are gender non-conforming, actually resulted in a painting series that really displayed the fluidity that gender can sometimes express. Given that Warhol was not part of the trans community and the subjects depicted in Ladies and Gentlemen Warhol did not personally know, the series throws up questions around the relationship between the artist and model. Is it possible to appreciate these works while acknowledging the fact that Warhol was not part of this community?
16-Marsha P. Johnson
Bob Colacello: Vincent Fremont and I started going to this bar called The Gilded Grape. It was a bar on 8th Avenue and 46th Street near Times Square, when Time Squares was really dangerous and seedy and X-rated. This was a funny little bar where truck drivers from New Jersey on their way home would go meet these Latino and African American drag queens. I don’t know, in the ’70s, everybody wanted to see everything—everybody wanted to mix. It was also part of this openness and sense of adventure. So, Vincent and I started asking these girls if they would pose for a friend of ours the next day and get paid fifty dollars. We never used Andy’s name. They didn’t really know who he was, anyway.
Fiontán Moran: The series offers a unique insight into a community that would be very rarely depicted in the realm of fine art, and most notably includes a depiction of Marsha P. Johnson, who was part of the Stonewall Uprising and a very important figure in the history of gay and trans liberation.
FM: Oxidation Painting was made by Warhol and his assistants urinating onto a canvas that was prepared with metallic paint. The reaction of the urine with the paint creates these strange abstract marks across the canvas. I like most of Warhol’s work throughout his career that used the silkscreen process and often depict photographic imagery. Oxidation Painting is an example of him exploring abstraction. Bob Colacello once said that the Oxidation series was a parody of the abstract painter Jackson Pollock’s technique of dripping and pouring paint across a canvas. But [there’s] also a famous story of Pollock apparently urinating in a collector’s fireplace. Just as in the Silver Cloud works, where Warhol created a queering of minimalist sculpture, in the Oxidation paintings Warhol played on the idea of Jackson Pollock and the abstract painters’ drip canvases. Instead of using household paint that was dramatically thrown across a canvas on the floor, Warhol and his assistants would urinate directly onto the canvas, but other times he would pour buckets of urine across the canvas to create different painterly effects.
Bob Colacello: Andy started Interview in 1969. It started off covering rather intellectual films, especially European films. But little by little, we broadened it and started putting more Hollywood stars and it became sort of one of the first celebrity magazines. Every story was about a person; we’d have big full-page photographs, very retouched, everyone looked great in Interview. It was all about glamour: who is glamour and who is not. So, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty were glamourous; Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman were not glamourous, so they never were on the cover [laughs]. So, it was very arbitrary in a way, very elitist, very “lookist.” We’d usually put a movie star on the cover. Andy had very few rules from the beginning about what I could do as editor. His main concern was that every Interview be as large as possible and there should be no type on photos which, when you think about it, really made sense… Andy’s respect of photography. Because his work was photography. It was fun because it was about discovery but it also was kind of elite, and by the time I left in early ’83, we maybe had a circulation of 100,000. It would be like the kids in Minneapolis who wanted to be fashion designers or artists and couldn’t wait to come to New York and be part of the world that Interview was covering.
19-Warhol in Canada
Gillian McIntyre: Prima Ballerina Karen Kain was the long-time principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada and later its Artistic Director. In 1980 William Hechter, a Canadian art and film enthusiast in Toronto, called Warhol at the Factory to propose the idea of Warhol making a portrait of Kain. Warhol readily agreed, having recently met her at a party and danced with her. Hechter then asked Kain who also agreed, and the two flew to New York to meet Warhol at his studio. Warhol photographed Kain with his Polaroid Big Shot camera. This camera was a favourite of Warhol’s and he used it from 1971 on, when preparing to make a portrait and combining his two great interests: celebrity portraits and mass-produced art. The Big Shot had a fixed focus so the only way to focus was to do what became known as the “Big Shot shuffle” by moving backwards and forwards. It also had a flash diffuser that softened the shadows to give Warhol the compositions he wanted. When the final image was chosen from the many photographs that Warhol took, he made 200 screen prints that Hechter then published to raise funds for the National Ballet.
20-Warhol in the USA
Kenneth Brummel: We know the Statue of Liberty was personally significant to Warhol, as Ellis Island, New York, was his mother’s port of entry into the United States in 1921. Warhol’s relationship with the United States and its notion of freedom—personified by the Statue of Liberty—was always complicated. As the son of working-class immigrants, the promise of the American dream was available to Warhol but also something that seemed out of reach to people of his background. Here, Warhol wryly comments on the status of freedom in the United States by superimposing military camouflage on this symbol of Western democracy. It is important to remember that Warhol made this work in 1986, at the height of the Cold War when relations between the United States and Communist countries such as the former Soviet Union were strained. Implying that democracy is a product of military might, Warhol also links the American notion of freedom to consumer culture by including the logo of the French biscuit company Fabis in the lower left-hand corner of the composition. While the inclusion of the French biscuit company’s logo refers to the fact that 1986 marked the 100th anniversary of the French government’s dedication of the statue to the United States, Warhol seems to be equating the universal icon of freedom with an icon one would find on a supermarket shelf. Everything in America, including freedom, is available to those who can afford it. Do you agree with Warhol’s interpretation of America? When you think of the Statue of Liberty, what comes to mind? Please feel free to scan the QR code on the label and participate in our online debate.
Fiontán Moran: At the end of his life, Warhol took more and more photographs and had his assistants stitch them together. In these works, Warhol’s stitched photographs depict male nudes who came to the Factory and posed for Warhol. The stitched portraits point to Warhol’s interest in desire, his interest in photography, and his interest in gay subject matter. These images are striking for their sensuality.
Lucinda Childs: This is the terrible period of AIDS, and somehow Andy moved in on that territory, not necessarily to expose anything about that, but that was just that moment when this was happening. I felt it was important that someone like Andy would come out with these images at this time. They are revealing and they’re beautiful, but it is this incredibly dangerous time when even our government turned against the artist. It was so late, it was ’87—that’s the year he died, oddly enough. In the meantime, we were suffering with this terrible crisis in New York which was, of course, all over the world, with the AIDS crisis. So, I think of it very much in those terms—of his need or possible thought about how to connect with this whole generation and this whole movement.
Kenneth Brummel: In this gallery, you will encounter examples of Warhol’s commissioned celebrity portraits. Included are representations of Robert Mapplethorpe, the controversial New York photographer; Debbie Harry, a denizen of Warhol’s Factory; Dolly Parton, the celebrated country music singer; and Mick Jagger, the famous rock star. Also hung in this gallery are four portraits of Karen Kain, ballerina and star of the Canadian Stage. One would think Warhol’s approach to depicting these celebrities would vary, as each of his sitters had distinct personalities and made very unique contributions to the arts and entertainment industries. Instead, Warhol chose to make all these portraits on a standardized square format of 40 inches by 40 inches. He also cropped all these portraits just above or below the sitters’ shoulders, directing attention to three main features of their faces—their hair, lips and eyes—through the use of colour and half-tone contracts. Although each of the sitters appears different—indeed, they all have different faces and hairstyles—Warhol’s formulaic approach to portraiture makes them all appear strangely similar. Celebrity being an industry takes uniqueness and makes it into a carefully packaged product to be branded, marketed, and consumed. Warhol was aware of this paradox, which he registers in this series of portraits.
Fiontán Moran: Although Warhol created self-portraits throughout his career, he was very often preoccupied with the performance of his own image. The 1986 series of so-called Fright Wig Self-Portraits was actually a commission by a gallerist in London. We wanted to end the exhibition with this late self-portrait as a mirror of the self-portrait that you saw in the first room. In contrast to that work, Warhol’s head floats in a big expanse of black paint and he looks directly at the viewer, almost looking out into an abyss.
Bob Colacello: I know that Andy was factually… biographically, Andy was an outsider. As his brother said, they were the misfits, they were Ruthenian and no one knew what that was. I remember one year we were having his birthday party, and we were all dancing, and Andy’s standing at the edge… so, I went over and said, “Come on, Andy, you should dance.” “Oh, I don’t know how to dance, Bob,” and “Gee, you kids are having so much fun…." He would say these things so wistfully. I mean, even there with his “own kids,” as he called us, with his family in a way, instead of being the centre as you would think, he was the outsider on the edge.
Lucinda Childs: I think that it’s an image that he made of himself of how he’s perceived., This is what he's come to be perceived as being. It has a polish to it as if it could be David Bowie… it’s not Andy really, but it is Andy. It’s not Andy the person, it’s Andy as an icon.