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Andy Warhol: From Nowhere to Up There

an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years

by Gary Comenas

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page twenty-five

6. Something Different

Rainer Crone: By the end of the fifties Broadway was again able to boast a number of successful productions attracting increased audiences, However the major event was Julian Beck’s production of Jack Gelber’s The Connection with the Living Theater in July 1959. This radically different style of presentation, aimed at breaking down the barriers between actors and audience, took as its subject the drug problem… (RCA7)

[Note: Actors associated with The Living Theatre who would later appear in Warhol's films included Taylor Mead, Rufus Collins and Tally Brown. g.c.]

Rainer Crone: The period around 1959 also saw the emergence of so-called Happenings, a combination of theatre and visual art. In a 1961 essay the former art historian, Allan Kaprow, one of the leading Happenings artists, writes about the origins of this particular phenomenon within the rites of American Action Painting. He is insistent that there should no longer be any separation between the audience and the action, the tableaux-vivants. "The word ‘chance,’ then, rather than ‘spontaneity,’ is a key term… traditional art has always tried to make it good every time, believing that this was truer truth than life. When an artist directly utilizes chance he hazards failure, the ‘failure’ of being less Artistic and more Life-life. ‘Art’ produced by him might surprisingly turn out to be an affair that has all the inevitability of a well-ordered, middle-class Thanksgiving dinner… but it could be like slipping on a banana peel, or going to Heaven… This is, in essence, a continuation of the tradition of Realism."

This particular art form, the Happening, is relevant to this context because it was regarded as an interface between the visual arts, theatre, and literature. Its anti-form, anti-art, and anti-middle-class attitude represented a direct link among Happenings, the Beat movement, and the Living Theater (in which audience and action are no longer separated from one another). Although its intellectualized bias, of academic origin, toward the element of chance is not necessarily an essential condition for Happenings, it does reveal the influence of a group, whose leading figures were John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg… (RCA7-8)

Tony Scherman/David Dalton: August 30, 1960. On this cool, clear, late-summer night, Paul Warhola parked a one-ton GM rental van outside 242 Lexington Avenue, the four-story walk-up where his mother and youngest brother had lived since 1953. Laughter spilled out from Shirley's Pin Up Bar, the club on the ground floor; otherwise, the street was quiet. Paul had chosen the late hour in order to get a parking space - during the day, the corner of 35th and Lexington was too busy.

With his helpers, seventeen-year-old Paul Jr. and Billy Little, a Pittsburgh friend, Paul was here to move his brother Andy's possessions into the townhouse Andy had just bought: 1342 Lexington Avenue, a pale blue four-story building next door to the New York Fertility Clinic and two doors up from the corner of East 89th Street. (TSx-xi)

Andy Warhol's new home: 1342 Lexington Avenue

Paul Warhola: Mother... set herself up a nice little altar in the corner of the room where they lived then on 89th and Lexington [1342 Lexington Ave.]. Andy was influenced by her prayers. Before leaving any time in the morning or afternoon he felt he had to pray with mother. She didn't bring this altar from anywhere else; she more or less put it together by herself in New York. But I have her original prayer book that she brought from Miková to America, and had been handed down through several generations in the 'kraj.' It was written in Cyrillic, the pages were already falling out of it and it had a damaged cover. Mother's eye was caught back then by a cardboard box for Chivas Regal whiskey. She said it would make fine covers! And so she used the whisky box to repair a centuries old prayerbook...

Andy often prayed; he had a love God and faithfully went to church every Sunday. He went to a little church not far from 89th Street. I remember that when my Aunt came over, Andy and Mother sent her money for the journey. (RU64-65)

Tony Scherman/David Dalton: 'The town house bought by shoe ads,' Andy's friend Emile de Antonio called it, and it was true: everything Andy owned was paid for with a ceaseless flow of hundred-dollar drawings of shoes, hats, scarves, perfumes, handbags, and other ladies' accessories. He was one of the most successful commercial artists in New York, a minor celebrity. Even gallery artists knew his work, especially those ads for I. Miller shoes; until earlier this year, when Miller & Sons had terminated its arrangement with Warhol, illustrators and art students had looked forward to And's weekly appearances in the Sunday New York Times. In 1960, Andy would gross $70,000, his best year yet, and when 1342 Lexington had come up for sale he was easily able to put down $30,000, almost half of the building's price. (TSx-xi)

[Note: $70,000 in 1960 would be the equivalent of about $560,000 in 2014. g.c.]

Emile de Antonio (filmmaker): I had met Andy Warhol in 1958 through Tina Fredericks. When she had been art director at Glamour… When I first knew Andy, he lived in a house at Eighty-ninth and Lexington, next door to the National Fertility Institute. He came to my small dinner parties at which I served smoked salmon, Dom Pérignon, and grass. (EA 273-4)

Tina Fredericks: In 1954, at my job as picture editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, I had met De – short for Emile de Antonio. An artists’ agent, he was a catalyst who could, almost miraculously, put his finger on what direction talent ought to take – and he turned out to be equally adept in putting people together productively. He had brought Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg to Leo Castelli... De had an uncanny capacity for instant intimacy, and when I introduced him to Andy, they became immediate friends. (TF17-18)

Randolph Lewis (De Antonio biographer): For someone whose notorious womanizing had established him as resolutely heterosexual, he [Emile de Antonio] was an unlikely presence in what he called 'the gay underground,' where he played an important role as friend, adviser, and business associate to major artists at critical points in their careers. For his earnest labours and forthright opinions, he gained lifelong friends, the gift of paintings that would multiply in value, and the connections to many future investors in his films. And the painters gained someone who was, as the dealer Leo Castelli remembered, 'immensely lively, involved, and incredibly interesting'... His friendship and four-year love affair with Tina Fredericks, the young editor at Vogue [sic] who had given Warhol his first commercial illustration work in New York, led to his meeting the artist in the late fifties. (RL19-20)

Emile de Antonio: Andy became privately rich and a collector, and I knew him as a collector... He was then a commercial artist. I introduced him to Frank Stella. He bought at that moment six little Stellas. Andy has a substantial collection of paintings. This is '60 maybe. Andy was just beginning to paint... But I knew him, say, '59. Sometime in 1959 with Tina...

When I introduced [Warhol] to Stella, at that time he owned, to my knowledge, a lot - Fairfield Porter, two Magrittes, seven Stellas, a Jasper Johns. (PSC187-188)

David Bourdon: In 1960, Warhol and Carey commissioned Fairfield Porter to paint their portraits. They thought they could save money by requesting a double portrait which they planned to cut in two, each taking his half. But Porter foiled their scheme by posing them so closely together that they could not divide the forty-inch-square of painting without ruining it. Warhol ended up buying Carey's share and ultimately giving the portrait to the Whitney Museum of American art in New York. (DB69)

Portrait of Ted Carey and Andy Warhol

Portrait of Ted Carey and Andy Warhol (1960) , Fairfield Porter/Whitney Museum of Art

Ted Carey: ...I can remember that Andy was spending Saturday afternoons going to the art galleries. And I can remember one day we were in the Museum of Modern Art, and we went to the art-lending service in the Museum of Modern Art. And there was a collage by [Robert] Rauschenberg... he said, 'Well I've got to think of something different.' So, anyhow, Andy got the idea of doing the cartoon paintings. Now, it was around about this time that I was very friendly at that time, but I could not remember exactly of how he got the idea to do the cartoon paintings. As I remember, I think, there was someone in Europe who had been doing it, and there were some publications of his things. Whether Andy had seen those or or not and that triggered off the idea or not, I don't know... (PS254)

[Note: Artists who incorporated comic strip imagery into their paintings prior to 1960 included Kurt Schwitters, Öyvind Fahlström, Jess (Collins), Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ray Johnson and Warhol's first roommate in New York, Philip Pearlstein. Comic strip imagery was also used by British Pop artists in the 1950s. John McHale included two comic book images in his 1953 Transistor collage series. In 1954 Peter Blake painted the first of two paintings with the same title, Children Reading Comics. g.c.]

Lucy R. Lippard (art writer): Around 1958 the ideas of Duchamp and orthodox Surrealism as sifted through Abstract Expressionism began to emerge. The initial result was the motley Assemblage trend in America, and Pierre Restany's Nouveau Realisme and its offshoots in Europe. In New York, where Duchamp had been living off and on since 1914. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had significant one-man shows at the Leo Castelli Gallery, providing the links, in that order, to Pop Art.  Neither of these men is a Pop Artist in style or subject matter, though they are still considered to be such in Europe and by the mass media, and they have influenced and sympathized with Pop. Both of them were more or less affected by close association with the composer John Cage, who has been given credit (often exaggerated) for being the primary source of Pop Art. (LL22)

[Note: Warhol met Cage met during the 1940s. See chapter two. g.c.]

Ted Carey: He [Warhol] started to do the cartoon paintings, and he went out, and he spent a lot of money, stretched these canvases... He was doing these paintings... but, then, he didn't know how to get a gallery, who would think him serious enough, who would show him...

Andy couldn't get anybody to show his early cartoon paintings, so, he went to Gene Moore, and Gene Moore said, 'Well, I can put the paintings in the windows'...  (PS254)

Gene Moore: … in 1936, I got a job with the Bois Smith Display Company, an outfit that made props for store window displays. My job was making paper maché flowers. One day a man came in with a dog made of chicken wire covered with coloured leaves. He was a freelance window dresser and wanted more of the dogs for a display he was doing at Bonwit Teller…. Until then, I still planned to be a painter, but I was becoming sadly aware that I was never going to be great… I made the dogs, and Buckley was pleased with them. About a year later, in 1937, he was taken on by I. Miller as display director. He asked me to be his assistant…

From 1938 to 1940 I did the windows at Bergdorf’s and Delman’s (shoe department) and then from 1940 to 1945 I did only those of Delmans.

… Then Sarah Pennoyer called me. She was head of advertising at Bonwit Teller… She said she wanted to have a little chat with me, so one morning I walked across the street from Bergdorf Goodman to Bonwit Teller and found myself offered a new job… The idea of being display director for a big store like Bonwit’s thrilled me. So did the idea of $10,000 a year – a lot of money in 1945 – and all those beautiful big windows.

… Andy Warhol was reasonably well known by the time he came to see me, although he was still being called Raggedy Andy, not because his work was sloppy, but because of his appearance. He’d had success with book-jacket designs for such publishers as New Directions and with his drawings and paintings for I. Miller shoe ads… I used Warhol’s art in several of my perfume windows at Bonwit’s. In July 1955, just before my work began at Tiffany’s, I made some wooden fences, and he covered them with graffiti for a series of windows. They were fun, full of a childish playfulness...

During the same period of the 1950s Rosenquist and Warhol, Rauschenberg and Johns - the artists who shortly gave birth to the Pop movement - worked with me, most of all at Bonwit's. The first showings of Johns' paintings were in exhibitions I organized at Bonwit's. I'd ask him for a painting, he'd bring one up to the store, and I'd put it in one of the windows. He was then doing lots of flags and targets; in 1957 I showed Flag on Orange Field in a Bonwit's window. (GM13/16/30-31/70)

George Frei/Neil Printz (Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné): Andy Warhol's first exhibition in the 1960s was a window display in one of Bonwit Teller's Fifty-seventh Street windows, in which five paintings were shown for one week in April 1961. Most window displays were co-ordinated by the display director, Gene Moore, but this one was initiated and installed by Clinton Hamilton, who knew Warhol through Nathan Gluck. Hamilton has recalled that although he visited Warhol's studio and selected paintings for the window, Warhol delivered different works. Displays were usually on view for one week and changed on Tuesdays... it is most likely that the paintings were on view the week of either April 11 or April 18... The following works were exhibited [listed by cat. rais. catalogue numbers]:

Cat. no. 001: Advertisement
Cat. no. 006: Before and After [1]
Cat. no. 011: Little King
Cat. no. 012: Superman
Cat. no. 013: Saturday's Popeye (GF469)

Arthur Danto: What almost nobody in 1961 would have seen, had they passed the window at Bonwit Teller, is that it was full of art. They thought they were looking at womans' wear... Who could have seen it as art in that year? Not me, for sure. Not most of the art world, then still caught up with Abstract Expressionism. It would not have been until 1962 that I was aware of Pop from an illustration in ARTnews, showing what looked like a panel from an action comic, like Steve Canyon, showing a pilot and his girl kissing, and titled The Kiss. Lichtenstein would have seen it as art, as would Ivan Karp. So would de Antonio and Henry Geldzahler, the young curator of Modern American Art at the Metropolitan Museum...

What made it art, then?... They all refer, to use the title of Grace Paley's collection of stories, to 'the little disturbances of man' They refer to sagging stomachs, aching limbs, blemished skin, curly hair one wants to have straightened and straight hair one wants to have curled, and the like. They offer help. But collectively they project an image of the human condition, and that is why they are art... In the end, the window of Bonwit Teller was a showrooom of the world of the passerby. Everyone understood the images, because the world they projected was everyone's world.  (ARAR21-22-3)

William S. Wilson: The Little King is a profound reference, because Jackson Pollock titled a painting The Little King, but when he painted over the image in his mature style, with pours and drips, a significant action, he retitled the painting Galaxy. (E10 May 2005)

Ted Carey: Andy and I used to go around the galleries and decided to buy art... So, we both wanted a Jasper Johns' Flag. So... 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... So, in the meantime, we learned that he had exhibited at the Stable Gallery, but, then, or... no, he had left the Stable Gallery and 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... his 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. I bought a Cy Twombly drawing... Andy also bought some early lithographs by Johns: the Flags and Targets. He loved the Flags... (PS262-63)

Receipt for purchase of Jasper John's Light Bulb

The receipt for the Jasper John's Light Bulb, purchased by Warhol in May 1961 for $450 (Approx. $3,450.00 in 2013 terms)

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