Andy Warhol Pre-Pop
by Gary Comenas
ELEANOR WARD: THE STABLE GALLERY
During the same summer that Andy Warhol received his rejection letter from Martha Jackson, he received a visit from another New York art dealer, Eleanor Ward. Ward owned the Stable Gallery located at 33 East 74th Street. The gallery derived its name from its original location on Seventh Avenue at West 58th Street which had formerly been a livery stable. Although Ward liked to give the impression that she came from a wealthy socially prominent family, she actually had a middle-class upbringing in a Pennsylvania hill town.1 After first working in advertising in New York she moved to Paris to work for Christian Dior's fashion house. With Dior's encouragement she returned to New York to pursue her interest in art and, in 1952, took out a lease on the livery stable that became the first Stable Gallery. For several weeks during December, she operated a Christmas gift boutique from the premises. Her first exhibition was in 1953 and featured the work of Mike Mishke. Mishke was a friend of Ward's and, like Warhol, a commercial illustrator. During the same year she also hosted the second New York Artists Annual exhibition. (The first Artists' Annual, known as the "Ninth Street Show," had taken place in 1951 on East Ninth Street.) Ward hosted five New York Artists' Annuals - which became known as the Stable Annuals. Participating artists included Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Stankiewicz, Jack Tworkov and Robert Rauschenberg.2
Eleanor Ward was a friend of Emile De Antonio who introduced her to Warhol. De Antonio had previously tried to interest her in Frank Stella with little success.
Emile De Antonio:
"Frank Stella had come to New York in 1958 and we became friends. He was fascinated because I knew Jap [Jasper Johns]. Frank wanted a gallery, and he asked me to bring down Eleanor Ward of the Stable Gallery. The Stable Gallery was a magic space - wood in the steel-and-stone city. Long before, the rich had stabled their horses there. There were no stairs, but a ramp between floors and the smell of horse piss on damp days. Frank's loft was very small. He brought out the black paintings. Eleanor whispered, 'De, why did you bring me here? I hate this; let's go.' We left. Within a year Frank joined the Castelli Gallery..."3
When Eleanor Ward was forced to cancel a planned Alex Katz exhibition in 1962, she decided to show Warhol instead.
Eleanor Ward with her assistant, Alan Groh,
at the ice house in Old Lyme, Ct. (ca. 1958)
"... he [Warhol] was brought into the gallery by De Antonio, and I immediately liked Andy as a person... the gallery was, at that time, completely booked up... but in May or June... I had to ask an artist - very prominent - to leave the gallery... He had been scheduled for an exhibition in November... but this was in June and the gallery was about to close - and I spent my summers in Connecticut then - and I decided I wasn't going to worry about it of think about it, but the right thing would happen at the right time. And I had a lovely ice house in Connecticut outside of Old Lyme - a reconverted ice house; it was enchanting... and I was out on the lawn one summer, a lazy summer afternoon, sunning, reading, and John [Bedenkapp], an old friend, an architect, was there, and I was lying there on my back, sunning, with my eyes closed, not thinking about anything in the world, and suddenly a voice said, 'Andy Warhol.' I hadn't been thinking about artists, I hadn't been thinking about the art world. I hadn't been thinking about the gallery. Everything was utterly remote. I sat up and thought, 'How extraordinary!' My guardian angel. I looked across at John, who was in one of those beach things, you know: sunning and I said, 'John, I think I'm going to call Andy Warhol. And if I can reach him and make an appointment to look at his work, would you like to go with me?' And he said, 'I'd love to.' So I immediately went into the house, looked up Andy's number, called - this is the first time in my life that I'd ever called him. He answered the telephone, and I told him who I was. And I said, 'Can I come and look at your work?' and he said, 'Wow!' And so we made an appointment, and John, indeed, went with me... And Andy showed me this collection of work, and I was absolutely stupefied. There were Marilyn Monroes, there were Do-It-Yourself paintings, the Elvis Presley pictures, the Liz Taylor, Campbell Soup Cans. It was an incredible collection. I was absolutely riveted. And I said, 'Andy, by a miracle, I have November - which as you know is the prime month of the year,' and I said 'I can show you in November.' And he said, 'Wow!' So that was it.4
Emile De Antonio's version of events was slightly different.
Emile De Antonio:
"Andy wanted to get into the Castelli Gallery and could not... And, so, I thought of my own... friend Eleanor Ward, who had the most beautiful gallery in New York - the old Stable Gallery - And Rauschenberg worked there as a janitor. Cy Twombly, with whom Rauschenberg was living before he met Jasper [Johns] had a show there, but... I decided that Eleanor needed Andy. So, Eleanor came over to Andy's place, and I was there with Andy, and I was drinking Scotch out of a Danish white cup, and Eleanor came in, and we started to drink great big quadruple whiskeys in the white Danish cups... Andy was dragging out these pictures, and she said, 'Well, I'll give you a show, but you've got to paint me a two dollar bill.' She said, 'I always carry my lucky two dollar bill with me.' And, so, she whipped out a two dollar bill, and Andy made a painting out of it, and that was the first Two-Dollar Bill. He then had a show..."5
ANDY WARHOL'S FIRST NY POP GALLERY EXHIBITION
Warhol's first Pop exhibition in a New York gallery took place at the Stable from November 6 - 24, 1962. The show featured eighteen works by the artist, including Do It Yourself, Baseball, Marilyn Diptych, Gold Marilyn Monroe, 129 Die, Close Cover Before Striking, Red Elvis, Troy Donahue, Dance Diagram and Warhol's serial images of Campbell Soup Cans, Coke Bottles and Dollar Bills.6 Opening night guests were given specially made badges featuring an image of a Campbell's Soup Can attached to a red ribbon. According to Nathan Gluck, "he [Warhol] was just giving them out to everybody. There may have been a basket of them for people to take... But they're collector's items."7 Henry Geldzahler hosted a party in Warhol's honour after the opening, attended by "art world notables" and "cultural celebrities" such as Norman Mailer. The attention that Warhol's first NY Pop exhibition generated in the general press was commented upon in a review of the show by Michael Fried in Art International magazine.
"Of all the painters working today in the service - or thrall - of a popular iconography Andy Warhol is probably the most single minded and the most spectacular. His current show at the Stable appears to have been done in a combination paint and silk-screen technique... The technical result is brilliant, and there are passages of fine, sharp painting as well... At his strongest - and I take this to be in the Marilyn Monroe paintings - Warhol has a painterly competence, a sure instinct for vulgarity (as in his choice of colours) and a feeling for what is truly human and pathetic in one of the exemplary myths of our time that I for one find moving; but I am not at all sure that even the best of Warhol's work can much outlast the journalism on which it is forced to depend."8
Needless to say, exhibitions of Warhol's work continue - as does the jounalism on which it was "forced to depend" (according to Fried). Warhol remains one of the most written about artists of the twentieth century. And it all started with a Campbell's soup can. What did Campbell's think about his use of their image? Two years after his first New York Pop exhibition, Warhol received the following letter from the Campbell's product marketing manager:9
(Collection Billy Name)