A trio of exhibitions provides perspective on Andy Warhol’s enduring art and image.
Keeping up with Andy Warhol could be exhausting. According to Bob Colacello, who wrote the “Out” column for Warhol’s Interview magazine and was one of the artist’s closest associates, he was out on the town six nights out of seven.
Warhol undoubtedly enjoyed the nightlife but much of his nocturnal activity actually derived from his dead-level intent on creating what marketing gurus refer to as a brand.
“Warhol wanted to be famous. He came out of advertising. He understood that you have to have an image and you have to promote that image,” says Kathy Goncharov, the curator of Contemporary Art at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which is hosting a trio of Warhol exhibits this season. Among them is the first museum showing of Colacello’s candid photographs of Warhol and friends.
Bob Colacello: In and Out with Andy – which opens on Jan. 26 and runs through May 1, along with Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987 and Warhol Prints from the Collection of Marc Bell – provides granular documentation of Warhol’s fixation on fame.
“It was easier for my column to take my own pictures,” Colacello says. “I didn’t look like a photographer, so people didn’t freeze up or pose. Andy took a hundred pictures to every ten that I took. The more people he saw, the more chance he had of selling a painting. It was relentless and it was work. Andy was driven. His ambition was limitless and so was his curiosity.”
The photographs, which were taken with a diminutive Minox on 35mm film, reveal that Warhol’s world was oddly egalitarian given the artist’s preoccupation with celebrity. It didn’t matter whether he was hobnobbing with Mick Jagger, a ’40s movie queen like Paulette Goddard or one of the Warhol superstars who simply strove to imitate ’40s movie queens. They were all equal in Warhol’s eyes. He understood that Elvis and Marilyn and a host of other celebrities had ascended to the realm of secular saints – objects of worship.
“The common denominator was glamour. To Andy, everybody was interesting and it followed that he tried to convince himself that everyone was beautiful,” Colacello says. “I think that in his childish way, he asked the big questions.”
Colacello never saw Warhol without the incongruous white wig that made him look like a downtown version of Ray Bolger’s straw-stuffed Scarecrow. Once or twice they were in a car when the wind would lift the wig off Warhol’s head and Colacello saw the bobby pins that fastened it to Warhol’s ring of black hair.
Now that Warhol is comfortably ensconced in the hierarchy of 20th century art, it’s more important than ever to emphasize his status as an outsider in his own time. He was influenced by Duchamps and by overtly gay artists such as Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide, who were never completely accepted by the Academy. He had a highly developed sense of irony and an appreciation of camp, in direct opposition to the art world of the 1950s, which was mired in abstract expressionism and tended toward the straight.
Marc Bell, whose collection of Warhol’s silkscreen suites is also on display at the museum, is an engineer by training, an entrepreneur by inclination. He didn’t start out collecting Warhol, but rather M.C. Escher. When he was in high school, he had a print of Escher’s mind-bending staircase above his desk. When the original came up for auction 20 years later, he couldn’t resist. That initial Escher led to dozens more in the artist’s trademark monochromatic style. Eventually, all the gray began to get to Bell. Some color was needed, which led him to Warhol – and a realization.
Escher gave him a sense of wonder but Warhol, he says, “put a smile on my face.”
Today, color is not a problem for Bell. His house is decorated in Warhol. The collection has appreciated nicely but that’s not why Bell continues to invest in the artist. “Some stuff is worth ten times what I’ve paid for it but I’m not looking to sell. These pieces are part of my idea of how to live,” he says. “You only live once, so you should enjoy every day. Warhol helps me do that.”
Warhol himself couldn’t have predicted the overall escalation of prices in the art world since his unexpected death following routine gall bladder surgery in 1987 but, Colacello feels sure he would take great satisfaction in knowing that his work is going for much higher prices than Frank Stella or Jasper Johns, artists who once looked down their noses at him. “They thought Andy was just a throw-off from the fashion business,” Colacello says. “They didn’t get it.”
And Warhol, apparently, wasn’t going to explain. The flamboyant figure was reluctant to talk about his work, Colacello says; he thought artists who expounded about their ambition and what they were trying to achieve were terminally uncool. In line with that, he never hung one of his own pieces at home.
“In his mind, Andy was competing with Picasso,” Colacello says. “He wanted to be as influential in the second half of the century as Picasso was in the first half, and that’s pretty much how it worked out.”
The Boca Raton Museum of Art presents a trio of Warhol exhibitions Jan. 26 – May 1.
Bob Colacello: In and Out with Andy
As a fixture of the wild, glamorous, disco-and-drugs-driven world of Andy Warhol, Bob Colacello was perfectly positioned to record the frenetic pace of the ’70s-era Factory scene. This first major museum exhibition of Colacello’s candid photos includes vintage prints and selections from his book, OUT.
Warhol Prints from the Collection of Marc Bell
The complete silkscreen suites from the collection of Marc Bell include the iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans, images of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Mao as well as Warhol’s Flowers, Dollar Signs, and Camouflage.
Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987
Over the course of his career, Andy Warhol designed 60 album covers for an extremely diverse assortment of recordings, ranging from Tchaikovsky and Gershwin to the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground. This exhibition organized by the Cranbrook Art Museum includes more than 100 album covers, wallpaper, video and sound.
Not enough? An intriguing lineup of events will be presented in association with the exhibitions – including presentations by Bob Colacello, Eric Shiner, director of the Warhol Museum, and Laura Mott, curator of Warhol on Vinyl. There will also be a silk screening party with artists Debbie Carfagno and Michael Enns, who worked with Warhol at the Factory, and an evening of music in the museum, featuring DJ Luis Mario, who will select a playlist from albums in the show. Visit BocaMuseum.org/WarholEvents for details.