Andy Warhol Pre-Pop
by Gary Comenas
Although the Ferus Gallery show generated a lot of publicity for Warhol, he was still without a New York art dealer when the exhibition closed. Although Castelli had rejected Warhol, Ivan Karp remained an early advocate of the artist, introducing him to collectors whom Karp described as "emancipated in their collecting instinct."1 Among the people that Karp brought to Warhol's studio was the assistant curator for twentieth century American art at the Metropolitan Museum, Henry Geldzahler.2
Geldzaher would become a close friend of Warhol during the early sixties and the subject of at least three of his films. The films included a 100 foot reel labeled Henry in Bathroom, probably shot in 1963, and a better known film portrait lasting over an hour and a half, titled Henry Geldzahler. The longer film was shot on July 26, 1964, the day after Warhol shot Empire. Another 100 foot reel of footage was found after Warhol's death, titled People Watching Henry on Screen. Warhol would later comment about Geldzahler's screen appearance that "he's playing The Little King."3 Warhol and Geldzahler drifted apart in mid-1966 after Henry was appointed the commissioner for the Venice Biennale and didn't select Warhol as one of the artists to be included in the show.
The collectors that Karp brought to Warhol's studio included Mr. and Mrs. Burton J. Tremaine, Mr. and Mrs Morton O. Neumann, Alfred Ordover, and Richard Brown Baker. According to Karp at least some of these "forward-looking" collectors bought Warhol's work "at very low, outrageous prices like $175 for a picture. Two-hundred-fifty dollars. Three-hundred-fifty dollars." Karp also hyped Warhol to other art dealers.
"Well, I took slides and photographs of Warhol's work to any one of eight or 10 so-called 'advanced' galleries, and they were not responsive to his work at all. So, for the first year and a half, I brought or sent clients to Warhol's studio, and I worked as his private agent and dealer, for which he would give me 10 percent or 20 percent commission if I was responsible for a particular sale... And the type of reaction to his work and to Lichtenstein's work and to [James] Rosenquist's work was not in the realm of the fine arts. That is, the critics were not responsive to it."4
MARTHA JACKSON & ALLAN STONE
New York art dealers who had shown interest in Warhol's work included Martha Jackson and Allan Stone. According to Irving Blum, when he visited Warhol prior to his exhibition at the Ferus, Warhol had "sold one or two things with Martha Jackson and Allan Stone.5 Stone had visited Warhol's studio and had offered Warhol, James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana a three-man show.
"When I went to his [Warhol's] studio, there were all of these Soup Can paintings, including some painted with the labels peeling off. I had also been to the studios of James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana. I didn't want to make a serious commitment, so I wound up offering them a three-man show, but they turned me down. Warhol and the others were each holding out for their own show, which history proves they were smart to do."5b
Martha Jackson apparently had some of Warhol's paintings in her gallery and planned an exhibition at the end of 1962. However, while Warhol's show was still on at the Ferus, she cancelled her planned exhibition of his work.
Martha Jackson [from a letter dated July 20, 1962]:
"As this gallery is devoted to artists of an earlier generation, I now feel I must take a stand to support their continuing efforts rather than confuse issues here by beginning to show contemporary Dada... The introduction of your paintings has already had very bad repercussions for us. This is a good sign, as far as your work and your statement as an artist are concerned. Furthermore, I like you and your work. But from a business and gallery standpoint, we want to take a stand elsewhere. Therefore, I suggest to you that we cancel the exhibition we had planned for December 1962."6
Jackson does not indicate what the "bad repercussions" were. However, when another New York dealer, Sidney Janis, showed the work of some of the new artists in a group show at the end of 1962, many of his older artists opposed the decision, including Robert Motherwell, who had, in the 1950s, published an anthology of Dada painters and poets.
"Our first Pop exhibition was held in 1961, under the title "The New Realists." As a result of this, many younger artists joined the gallery, among them [Jim] Dine, [Claes] Oldenburg, [George] Segal, and [Tom] Wesselmann. This was a step that the older artists, particularly [Philip] Guston, [Robert] Motherwell, [Adolph] Gottlieb, and [Mark] Rothko, strongly opposed. They had a protest meeting and decided not to be associated with what they believed to be Johnnys-come-lately, and withdrew from the gallery as a body. I tried to induce them to stay, explaining that the younger artists could not be considered competitive, but all in vain. As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation. Incidentally, Bill de Kooning was one of the artists who attended that fateful meeting. I later heard that he offered no protest. He was the only one who stayed with the gallery. I always felt that Pollock and Kline, both of whom had died, would have remained as well."7
In the above quote, Janis gives the wrong year for his exhibition. "International Exhibition of the New Realists" actually took place at the Sidney Janis Gallery from November 1 to December 1, 1962, not 1961.
NEW MEDIA NEW FORMS
In 1960, two years prior to the "New Realists" exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery, Martha Jackson had put on a major group show of the new art which, in her letter to Warhol in 1962, she now seemed to be rejecting. "New Media - New Forms: In Painting and Sculpture" was a two part group exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery that included work by Dada artists Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters as well as artists who, at the time, were sometimes referred to as "neo" Dadaists: Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine and May Wilson. "Paint on canvas" and "flat collages" were excluded from the show8 which consisted mostly of installations and assemblages. Part one of the show took place from June 6 to 24, 1960 and part two from September 28 to October 22, 1960.9 Calling the show "New Media" was reminiscent of the original Dada art movement. Richard Huelsenbeck, one of the founders of the Dada movement, referred to Dada art as the "new medium" in his 1920 doctrine, En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism. Huelsenbeck wrote that "The appropriation by Dada of... bruitism, simultaneity and, in painting, the new medium, is of course the 'accident' leading to the psychological factors to which the real Dadaist movement owed its existence," and that Picasso "invented the new medium. He began to stick sand, hair, post-office forms and pieces of newspaper onto his pictures, to give them the value of a direct reality, removed from everything traditional."10
A review of Jackson's show by the editor of Art News magazine described the art on display as "free-standing works and reliefs made of sponge, wood pegs, tacks, a smashed fender, folded paper, ping-pong balls, playing cards, spikes, a stuffed chicken, a cut-out bird, tar, garter-belts, coffee grounds, a railroad tie, styrofoam, polyesters, corrugate, pillows, an electro-magnet..."11 The description is not unlike the description of Dada art in George Hugnet's article "The Dada Spirit in Painting" which ran as a serial in Cahiers D'Art in Paris in 1932 and 1934. Hugnet noted in his article that the Dadaists' "construction of paint and objects" were "out of elements entirely foreign to art, borrowed from everyday life and from nature..." and that "the pre-existing image took on an unprecedented power, and the ready-made became a magical instrument."12
The creator of "readymades," the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, would later comment on the new Dada-influenced art in a letter to Hans Richter in 1962:
"This Neo-Dada which they call New Realism, Pop Art, Assemblage, etc., is an easy way out, and lives on what Dada did. When I discovered readymades I thought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken my readymades and found aesthetic beauty in them. I threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty."13
Jasper Johns (ca. 1959)
(Photo: Walt Silver)
One artist who was included in Martha Jackson's 1960 group show of "New Media" was Jasper Johns. It is unknown exactly when Warhol first met Jasper Johns, but in an interview conducted in January 1989, Johns recalled "I think I first met Andy when he bought a drawing of mine from a show at Leo Castelli."
"In the 1960s, everyone knew everyone else in the New York art world. I met him before he had his first show with Eleanor Ward. He did shoe illustrations for I. Miller ads, and they were very popular. On one occasion I had to help translate some of these into objects that could be used in a window display. I think I first met Andy when he bought a drawing of mine from a show at Leo Castelli. He introduced himself to me, and I told him that I knew his work - I meant his commercial work - and explained that I had been asked to do this job for I. Miller of making these objects based on his drawing, at which point Andy exclaimed: 'Why didn't they ask me to do it?' Later Emile de Antonio took me to Andy's studio to see his paintings. I saw the earlier pieces made just before he began using silk screens." (JJ229-231)
Warhol's friend, Ted Carey, recalled Warhol purchasing a drawing of a light bulb by Johns, along with some early lithographs.
"Andy and I used to go around the galleries and decided to buy art... So, we decided to buy a Jasper Johns' Flag... I can remember that we decided to call up Jasper Johns, and so we looked up his number in the phone book, and I can't remember if we called him or couldn't get the number... in the meantime, we learned that he... was in the Castelli Gallery, and, of course we found out what the prices were, so we realized it was out of the question buying a Jasper Johns... eventually we did buy drawings... We had gotten friendly with Ivan [Karp], and I bought a Numbers drawing for about 400 dollars, and Andy bought a Light Bulb drawing for about 350 dollars at Castelli's... Andy also bought some early lithographs by Johns: the Flags and Targets. He loved the Flags..."17
In another interview in 1990, Johns didn't mention the drawing but did mention seeing Warhol's "cosmetic operation" painting when he visited Warhol in his studio.
"Initially I met Andy [when]... Bob Rauschenberg and I were working together [on department store window displays], and one of the jobs that we had gotten was to interpret some of Andy's shoe drawings in a kind of three-dimensional window display... I don't know where he was with his own work at this point, because I didn't see his paintings until later. But at that time he had a kind of audience for his commercial work. It was considered very interesting by a lot of people. People would talk about him, and they would say that Andy would draw the lines and someone else would blot them, and then it all came out in the Sunday papers, in these ads. And certain people enjoyed them. I think the first person I heard talking about them was Cynthia Feldman, who was married to the composer Morton Feldman... Then at some point after that I was taken to Andy's studio... I don't think he had begun to use the screens at that point. There were things like the painting of the cosmetic operation on the nose. That's the time time at which I first saw his paintings." (JJ250)
Johns' work was often be linked to the Dada movement. Leo Castelli remarked, "When I first saw Jasper Johns, I of course recognized the influence of Dada - especially Marcel Duchamp..."14 Jasper Johns' first solo show of Flags, Targets and Numbers at the Castelli Gallery in January, 1958 generated a considerable amount of publicity - and sales. Johns made the front cover of Art News during the month of the exhibit. The buyers attending the show included Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art. Barr purchased for the museum Green Target (1955), Target with Four Faces (1955), White Numbers (1957) and an early Flag painting which arrived late, via a circuitous route.15
"When Alfred Barr came to see the show he could hardly contain his excitement... He wanted to buy several paintings... A problem came up about the flag image. Would it offend the Daughters of the American Revolution? What could be done? Barr called Philip Johnson. Would he, as a favour, buy the painting and hang onto it for the Museum until this issue of flag desecration was solved? Philip didn't care much for the painting, but he gave in and bought it for $900. When the flag image did not turn out to be the problem we thought it would be, Barr went back to Philip Johnson and said, 'You can give me my flag now.' He said, 'Your flag? It's my flag. I've grown to like it very much and want to keep it.' Eventually, he donated the painting to the Museum of Modern Art as a homage to Alfred Barr."16
Although Johns' work was compared to Dada, Johns would later deny that he knew what Dada was when his work was first shown. During an interview for the New York Post in 1970, Johns noted "... at the time my work was first being shown, 1958 - 59, I was unfamiliar with Duchamp and Dada. Everyone said my work was Dada so I read up on it, went to Philadelphia to see the Arensberg Duchamp collection, was delighted by it and later met him."20
As with Johns, Warhol's work would also be compared to the Dada movement. Art theorist Benjamin H.D. Buchloh later wrote that "... Warhol emerged from a local tradition of artists who had distinguished themselves... by pictorializing the Dada legacy in their critical engagement with the heroic tradition of the New York School. And it was to the power and success of Johns and Rauschenberg that Warhol aspired in the early 1960s, not to the increasing marginalization that would obviously await all those other artistic practices that had actually abandoned picture production (such as the happening and Fluxus artists, for example)."21
THE NOSE PICKER
According to one Warhol biographer, Fred Lawrence Guiles, Warhol, during his student days, "identified with no mysterious and remote film goddess, nor with a gay literary figure like Capote, but with the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp..." According to Guiles, it was "with Duchamp in mind" that Warhol submitted a "self-portrait" of him picking his nose to a "senior art show."22 However, assuming that Guiles is not a mind reader, the claim about Duchamp is largely unsubstantiated. The art show referred to by Guiles was the Associated Artists exhibition in 1949, when Warhol was a senior at Carnegie Tech. When Warhol's drawing was rejected by the selection jury, the only juror who defended his work was the artist George Grosz who had, early in his career, been associated with the Dada movement. Warhol may have been exposed to Dada in college courses. Jack Wilson, who had studied at Carnegie Tech with Warhol, later recalled that they were "certainly exposed to Surrealism in terms of history - de Chirico and the Dadaists" and "there was a lot of discussion on it."23 Warhol had also attended a lecture by John Cage at the Outlines Gallery in Pittsburgh24 and had met Cage when he (Warhol) was 15 years old.25 Cage's theories were influenced by Dada concepts of randomness and chance.
CHARLES HENRI FORD
Warhol's art assistant Nathan Gluck would later sell to Warhol his collection of the Surrealist journal, View magazine, which featured work by Duchamp and other Dada artists. The March 1945 issue was devoted to Duchamp, featuring a cover by the artist. By the early sixties Warhol had befriended the editor of View, Charles Henri Ford. It was Ford who would introduce Warhol to Gerard Malanga who would work as Warhol's main art assistant during the 1960s and would appear in several Warhol films, including Camp.
DUCHAMP: THE 24 HOUR MOVIE
During the mid-sixties, Warhol also planned to make a 24 hour film on Duchamp, however the project never materialized. When asked about in 1985, he recalled that "the project only would have happened if we had been successful at finding somebody, or a foundation, to pay for it."26
Although Duchamp may have been an influence on Warhol, the soup can was not a "readymade." Duchamp created readymades by taking a common object, such as a urinal or shovel, and displaying it as a work of art. Although Warhol's painting of a soup can represented a common object on canvas, similar to Johns' Flag, Warhol did not take an actual soup can and exhibit it as art. The Campbell's Soup Can was, however, as recognizable to most Americans as the American flag. A book on design that Warhol owned, Designing a Brandmark for Today, published in 1956, stressed the value of the Campbell's image because it was so well-known.27
Ted Carey thought that Warhol was may have been more influenced by Johns' fame than his actual artwork. Carey would later say that "Andy was definitely influenced by Johns and Rauschenberg, not so much by their produced work, but by their personality and their success and their glamour and the fact that they were in the Castelli Gallery, and that's what Andy would most like to be."28 Although Warhol was keen to be accepted by both Johns and Rauschenberg, it wasn't until he achieved his own fame as a Pop artist that they befriended him. In Popism, Pat Hackett recalled a conversation in which Warhol asked Emile De Antonio why Johns and Rauschenberg didn't like him.
Andy Warhol (via Pat Hackett in Popism):
"De was such good friends with both Jasper and Bob that I figured he could probably tell me something I'd been wanting to know for a long time: why didn't the like me? Every time I saw them, they cut me dead... I finally popped the question, and De said, 'Okay Andy, if you really want to hear it straight, I'll lay it out for you. You're too swish, and that upsets them... First, the post-Abstract Expressionist sensibility is, of course, a homosexual one, but these two guys wear three-button suits - they were in the army or navy or something! Second, you make them nervous because you collect paintings, and traditionally artists don't buy the work of other artists, it just isn't done. And third,' De concluded, 'you're a commercial artist, which really bugs them because when they do commercial art - windows and other jobs I find them - they do it just 'to survive.' They won't even use their real names. Whereas you've won prizes! You're famous for it!... Yes, Andy, there are others who are more swish - and less talented - and still others who are less swish and just as talented, but the major painters try to look straight; you play up the swish - it's like an armor with you."29
De Antonio had a point. Rauschenberg and Johns kept the nature of their relationship a secret. Rauschenberg finally admitted their affection for each other during an interview conducted for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine in 1990. The interviewer, Paul Taylor, asks Rauschenberg to go "on the record" about his relationship with Johns, "especially in the current climate of suppression of gay art and artists, " and Rauschenberg responds, "I don't see any sin or conflict in those days when each of us was the most important person in the other's life." Taylor asks why they split up and Rauschenberg says it was "Embarrassment about being well known... What had been tender and sensitive became gossip. It was sort of new to the art world that the two most well-known, up-and-coming studs were affectionately involved... The fifties were a particularly hostile, prudish time."30
Although Rauschenberg hung out with the Abstract Expressionists, he actually felt as much an outsider as Warhol did:
"We [Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns) were the only people who were not intoxicated with the Abstract Expressionists. We weren't against them at all, but neither one of us was interested in taking that stance. I think both of us felt there was too much exaggerated emotionalism around their art... My first break was that nobody took me seriously, even though I hung out at the Cedar Tavern, and drove Franz Kline home when he was too drunk. Jasper wasn't taken seriously either, and I was considered a clown."31
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