I didn’t feel for Warhol the way Robert did. His work reflected a culture I wanted to avoid. I hated the soup and felt little for the can. I preferred an artist who transformed his time, not mirrored it.
Patti Smith, Just Kids
Right on, Sister, although I think she is mistaken in the last sentence of this quote, suggesting that Warhol didn’t transform – there some transformational attributes to his work, just not for the good. Shallowness, anti-intellectualism, self-absorption these are the some of the values he espoused, along with his factory gang. Trust funders a-slumming with an artist whose greatest devotion wasn’t art but celebrity.
Back in the punk rock days – when I thought Horses was my manifesto, in some ways I still think that – and the punk scene was emerging with the black clothes and straight leg jeans, Warhol seemed to be part of it. He was so modernist and at the time still contemporary enough that he was cited as an important figure, a kind of existential thinker which seemed to feed into what was the absolute rebellion punk aspired towards. Warhol just struck me as elitist and vapid. The concept that a picture of a can of soup is art because of the commentary on society – but what was the meaning of that commentary beyond his own celebrity. Seemed like a whole lot of hogwash. Bob Dylan in a recent interview with Rolling Stone – Dylan has had some showings and books of his paintings – when asked if about Warhol’s importance as an artist replied along the lines, as a cultural figure, yes, as an artist, no.
Yet, he came from humble beginnings and always took his mother to mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. He took care of her. I thought of this for some reason when I saw the statue here near Union Square, which is apparently near where the Factory was during his heyday. Made of chrome, unveiled a few months ago, for whatever reason it is not going to be a permanent fixture of the neighborhood, which also includes one of the best Lincoln statutes in the city. He looks a little lost or maybe just lost in thought, or lost in seeing.
The silver blends against the sky, at least the overcast rainy summer sky on the day I snapped this shot. Remembering a friend, who later became a staunch right wing republican, citing Andy Warhol as we waited on line for murder burgers at the 24 hour White Castle in the Bronx make me feel conflicted and probably too, that memory comes with the idea that at that moment I too felt life was meant to be lived without meaning.
Reading the Patti Smith memoir and coming across the Warhol opinions reminded me also of being in that era and going up to the Museum of Modern Art for the first time and seeing the Dali and Van Gogh and wondering what the hell is the soup can here for? Or those Elvis Silk Screens – totally devoid of the man’s art and everlasting music.
On the other hand, give credit where Credit is due:
1) with Warhol, there would not be a Velvet Underground – or Lou Reed. I may not play the velvets like I did, but they were part of the sound track for a good while and they are an important Rock & Roll band whose influence still can be heard. Some great songs and that first record, produced by Andy Warhol – who was smart enough to basically press the record button – remains a classic.
2) Film. Again, back in the punk phase, I use to think Bad by Andy Warhol was a classic, and it still may be but I haven’t seen it for a couple of decades and have no desire to revisit it. It’s a nihilistic yarn and Warhol just put his name to it for funding, unlike the other films like Cowboys and Chelsea Girls, where he did the filming. Those are the real Warhol films. They're sort of anti-cinema, no real story just footage of people talking really, unscripted druggy monologues, but they seem to capture the essence of film. Anti-cinema and Ultra-film? They are compelling, I’ll give you that and seeing them in East Village make-shift theaters in the early 90s—20 years or so after they were made—was quite memorable.
3) Interview Magazine. Is this vapid, overly hip eye candy still being published? It wasn’t writing, it was transcribing. A magazine you would read to learn absolutely nothing. But it was the first to make celebrities of out fashion designers and restaurant people, NYC celebs anyway. It’s use of photography, especially black and white, combined with innovative graphic design and lay out, became the dominant look for tabloid magazines for at least a decade. Try to find a tabloid sized publication these days – magazines are smaller now, the magazines still around on paper that is. For many years though, Interview was the magazine every other magazine layout copied.
Lastly, as a celebrity, getting shot in 1968 was another first – made Lennon and Tupac more understandable and even more so, his death in the 80s by a medical mistake was one of the first national examples of our disgraceful healthcare system. Most celebrities can now afford better security and the best hospitals. Hey, it’s not like Andy cared much for people like us anyway.
Why The Andy Monument is only temporary is beyond me, he’s an important New Yorker in spite of my misgivings. Also, I like the Silver Surfer look, one of the Metal Men.