Warhol

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warhol in iran

Friends of our too-long moribund Writing New York site, I hope you’ll come say hello while I’m in town, briefly, to participate in the following event, which draws on a new research project I’ve undertaken re: New York in the Age of Warhol.

Andy Warhol in Tehran
A lecture at NYU, open to the public

Thursday, October 23, 2014

6:00-7:30pm

19 Washington Square North, New York

In 1976, Warhol visited Tehran to take photos for a portrait of Empress Farah Pahlavi. In 1978 he painted the Shah and his twin sister Princess Ashraf as well, though the Revolution prevented these portraits from being publicly displayed in Iran. This lecture considers Warhol’s Iranian portraits in multiple contexts: the OPEC oil crisis; Warhol’s celebrity portraits of the ’70s; and today’s global art market, in which these paintings help pose key questions about American Pop’s global legacies.

Speaker:

Bryan Waterman, Associate Professor of English, NYU; Visiting Associate Professor of Literature and Program Head for Literature, NYUAD

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For the past couple summers I’ve taught two versions of the same course, though with separate titles and a few tweaks that suggest multiple possibilities for ordering the material we examine. The undergrad version of the course is called Downtown Scenes, 1960-1980. It grew out of a lecture I’ve given several times in the Writing New York course Cyrus and I have taught since 2003. I also used this more specific course — which is a 2-week summer intensive, meeting 4 hours/day for 10 days — to help me prep for writing about Television’s Marquee Moon. The grad version of the course is called Literature in the Age of Warhol. It also focuses primarily on the downtown scene in the 60s and 70s, though in this version Warhol is more pronounced as a defining figure in the era. The first time I taught the undergrad version, Ginsberg emerged as a link between several of our readings. Here are a few links to prior material on the blog, especially about Ginsberg.

So is there something more to be said here about defining these decades variously as an Age of Ginsberg or an Age of Warhol? (For what it’s worth, I think we’re still living in the latter.) Are there other figures you’d suggest had as strong an impact on underground literary and artistic subcultures? I’m just waiting for either one of these fellows to get a cameo on Mad Men.

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Happening from Django's Ghost on Vimeo.

From Ubuweb: “An irreverent portrait of America of the 60s seen through the experiences of artists of the Beat Generation and Pop Art. The America of the Vietnam war, ploughed by contradictions and explosive social tensions but potentially saturated with expectations for the future. With: Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Gregory Corso, Marie Benois and Leon Kraushar.”

From the Ginsberg Project:

“The prophecies of Marinetti are coming true some of them, the wilder, more poetic ones”, so, gleefully, declares Allen in this quintessentially 1967 documentary film by Antonello Branca, What’s Happening? What, indeed, is happening? Poets and painters and a brash New York City just for that moment in time and space come together. Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg candidly speak (Andy speaks!). Allen appears first (around six and a half minutes in) being interviewed as he walks along the street and then (circa 3o minutes in) is seen holding forth at a street cafe. Gregory Corso makes a cameo appearance right at the very end (with a baby!). He gets the punch line. “War makes people crazy”.

“We have all come here together. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, poet Gerard Malanga, over here, if you move your camera, poet Ed Sanders of a rock n roll group called The Fugs [unfortunately mis-translated on the screen by the Italian translator as The Fags!]..over (t)here, Tuli Kuperfberg, a poet and singer in The Fugs, over there, writing at the table. Peter Orlovsky with the long hair, who is a poet and also a singer, behind him, his brother, who was in a madhouse for 14 years. He’s a superstar of the Underground. Oh, and Jonas Mekas, Jonas Mekas, head of the Filmmakers Cooperative. He’s the one who puts together films like Flaming Creatures and The Brig and sends them around Europe and in America, the impresario. He also makes films, which he’s doing now.”

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Music by Lou Reed, images from a number of Warhol’s films.

Ellen Willis writes in 1979, a year after “Street Hassle” was released:

Though Lou Reed rejected optimism, he was enough of his time to crave transcendence. And finally — as “Rock & Roll” makes explicit — the Velvets’ use of a mass art for was a metaphor for transcendence, for connection, for resistance to solipsism and despair. Which is also what it is for the punks; whether they admit it or not, that is what their irony is about. It may be sheer coincidence, but it was in the wake of the new wave that Reed recorded “Street Hassle,” a three-part, eleven-minute anti-nihilist anthem that is by far the most compelling piece of work he has done in his post-Velvets solo career. In it he represents nihilism as double damnation: loss of faith that love is possible, compounded by denial that it matters. “That’s just a lie,” he mutters at the beginning of part three. “That’s why she tells her friends. ‘Cause the real song — the real song she won’t even admit to herself.”

Previously on PWHNY.

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Previously on PWHNY. Also. And.

A few people and/or pieces mentioned in this morning’s lecture on Downtown Scenes from 1950 to 67 or so.

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Empire

Today from 12:30-1:30 I’ll be tweeting about Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Empire from the Museum of Modern Art at the invitation of WNYC. The film’s entire 8 hours will be accompanied by commentary from a series of guest tweeters, along with participation from readers worldwide. If you don’t use Twitter, no worries: the entire conversation will be funneled into a scrolling text window at WNYC.org.

The line-up:

10:30am: WNYC’s Carolina Miranda (@cmonstah) and Liz Arnold (@lizarnold or @wnycculture) kick off the chatter.
11:00 am to noon (and throughout the day): @MuseumModernArt (aka Victor Samra), will discuss MoMA’s exhibit, Warhol in the collection, etc.
12:30pm – 1:30pm: @_waterman (yours truly) will discuss the building and New York City in literature.
2:30pm – 3:30pm: @marklamster (Mark Lamster) will talk architecture, etc.
4:30pm – 5:30pm: @ARTnewsmag (Robin Cembalest) and @Hyperallergic (Hrag Vartanian) will talk about Warhol’s artistic legacy.

I’m probably going to show up a little early: I want to be there to applaud when the sun starts to set and the observation deck lights go on.

What I’ll tweet about depends largely on what kind of conversation emerges from the interaction on Twitter (follow the hashtag #empirefilm). But I’ve been thinking in terms of recent work by Reva Wolf, Daniel Kane, and others about Warhol’s relationship to New York’s poetry and downtown arts scenes in the 1960s. Warhol was one of the unifying threads when I taught a course on the Downtown Scene, 1960-1980 last summer. I’m teaching it again this year, along with a graduate seminar on New York writing in the Age of Warhol.

Here’s a great poem, for instance, inspired not by Empire, but by the earlier Warhol film, Sleep, featuring the poet John Giorno. It’s written by Ron Padgett, one of my favorite figures from the the “second generation” New York School poets:

Sonnet for Andy Warhol

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I think the poem applies to Empire equally as well as it does to Sleep, and though on first glance it may appear the poem endorses the commonplace criticism that Warhol’s epic films (in which not much happens) are boring, I think neither the film nor the poem is boring, nor is either of them about boredom. Rather, both crackle like a freshly struck lightning rod. Look again.

For a useful overview of Empire, see the entry at Gary Comenas’s excellent Warhol Stars site. At WNYC.org, Liz Arnold has an interview up with Jonas Mekas, the legendary underground filmmaker who served as cinematographer for Empire, and Carolina Miranda’s been scouring the archives for Warhol- and ESB-related bits. You’ll find annotations, links, and parallel content at WNYC’s Tumblr through the day. For historical peeps at the ESB, start with a series of posts over at The Bowery Boys.

Meantime, here’s a taste of the action:

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For the second year running we’ve teamed up with a group of NYC-based bloggers to provide an eclectic holiday guide. Our entry follows. Check out our other participants’ entries as well:

Manhattan User’s Guide: The Gift Guide: 21 Over $21
Markets of New York:
Festive Food at New York’s Holiday Markets

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Since I don’t read right-wing blogs or the L.A. Times with any regularity, I missed last winter’s most pressing political news story: Ornamentgate.

Apparently the noted art critic Andrew Breitbart pointed out last December that one of the White House Christmas trees included an ornament bearing the face of Chairman Mao. Taking this as hard evidence of the President’s deepest political sympathies, Fox news commentators and Tea Party wackos from sea to shining sea pounced like rabid wolves on a wounded reindeer. In response, The L.A. Times’s Culture Monster blog suggested that the whole kerfuffle just proved that Republican pundits make bad art critics: The image on the ornament wasn’t exactly Mao; it was “Andy Warhol’s ‘Mao,'” of course, in which Warhol parodically

transformed the leader of the world’s most populous nation into a vapid superstar — the most famous of the famous. The portrait photo from Mao’s Little Red Book is tarted up with lipstick, eye-shadow and other Marilyn Monroe-style flourishes.Where did the Christmas decoration come from?

“We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations,” First Lady Michelle Obama explained in an earlier press release about getting the White House ready for the holidays, “we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House.”

The precise source of the Warhol ornament is not known. But Warhol’s Maos are in art museum collections from coast to coast, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago (whose painting most resembles the ornament image) and both the County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum has several.

Oh, and at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, the National Gallery of Art has 21 different versions of Warhol’s “Mao.” Twenty-one. Wait until Big Government bloggers find out about the Communist takeover of the National Gallery.

Newsworthy? Probably not, though Fox’s Sean Hannity has already this year presented his astute fans with a poll about whether the Mao ornament is likely to be on display again. (Don’t click that link unless you want to tumble down a right-wing rabbit hole filled with bile and used tea bags.)

I discovered this most important of national holiday stories while poking around the Web the other day investigating a trend I’ve noted in recent years: the proliferation of Warhol-designed Christmas paraphernalia. It started with Christmas cards.

You’ve probably seen dozens of cards by Warhol around this season (and in recent years) at hip little book and paper shops without realizing they were Warhol’s.

The site art.com has dozens of Warhol holiday designs available, not only on cards, but also prints suitable for framing, which I suppose you’d store away somewhere for the rest of the year when they’re less seasonably appropriate for your wall space. In New York? Really?

I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that such items exist. After all, the man was somewhat religious–he went to Mass, especially on big holidays, and he probably had a Catholic sense of wanting nice holiday images around when the season called for it. Plus he worked in advertising, which is where most of these designs appear to have originated. (They date by and large to the late 50s.)

Some of them are fairly traditional, such as “Angel, 1957 (with holly)”; others seem to be cheeky nods at the holiday’s commercial excess, if not at the consumer origins of Warhol’s images themselves. I hope WikiLeaks is on top of this issue: we have the right to know if our elected representatives are sending out holiday greetings using subversive Warhol shoe designs, which could suggest that religion has been supplanted by capitalist commodity fetishism. Imagine!

It turns out that the right-wingers need to chill a little: Warhol’s Christmas designs have been deemed safe by kids-crafts bloggers. I was relieved to find that someone at artprojectsforkids.org was selling do-it-yourself Warhol Christmas tree murals, though I’m not sure how the Warhol Foundation would feel about the copyright issues involved. Grinches.

Then there are efforts that go overboard in the opposite direction, trying to make Warhol into Saint Andy, a Santa Claus for our post-postmodern world. The Guardian‘s design blog, reviewing Warhol’s reissued Christmas images a few years ago, went a little too far down that path:

People who knew Warhol testify to his punctilious generosity in giving well-chosen Christmas gifts. He believed in the American Christmas, just as he believed in Elvis and Marilyn. He knew a collective dream when he saw one. In his 1981 painting Myths, he portrays 10 American icons of the supernatural and the superhuman. Together with the Wicked Witch of the West, Uncle Sam, Dracula and Mickey Mouse, there is a slightly disreputable Santa Claus. It is Rockwell’s Christmas deity who held the boy in his hand, made seedily real. A man dressed up, a store Santa.

In his last years, Warhol’s art suddenly became more personal — although at the time no one recognised it. It seemed logical that he should start a series of paintings based on a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper — in the 60s he had done a Mona Lisa. In fact, by making his own religious art, Warhol was expressing himself. It became public knowledge only after his death that he had been a regular church-goer who remained loyal to the piety of his immigrant mother. He habitually did charity work with homeless New Yorkers at the Church of Heavenly Rest, whose rector recalled that Warhol served food and cleaned up at communal meals — you think again of those lonely soup cans, those generous Christmas cards.

There’s a photograph of Warhol serving charity meals at his New York church. There are no decorations up, but still I see Christmas in it. “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad …” says the spirit of Marley in A Christmas Carol: walk abroad and touch other souls. Andy Warhol’s does, more than most.

Thanks, but I prefer a Warhol that can be snarky, even at Christmas Mass, one who can poke fun at Americans’ commercial excesses even as he profits from them. Can’t we revive some holiday traditions that preserve a little authentic Warholian spirit (if the idea of an “authentic Warhol” isn’t too much of an oxymoron)? How about annual screenings in Union Square of “****” (otherwise known as the “25-Hour Film”), which includes a 33-minute segment of a 1966-67 Greenwich Village production of A Christmas Carol, staged at Caffe Cino, with Warhol hanger-on Ondine as Scrooge.

Or perhaps we can gather nearby at the site of the Factory or Max’s Kansas City and read Christmas entries from The Andy Warhol Diaries (a great gift idea, by the way). My favorite? Christmas dinner 1976, at Mick and Bianca Jagger’s place on 66th Street, where Mick dished out liberal amounts of holiday snow to guests:

Mick sat down next to Bob Colacello and put his arm around him and offered him a pick-me-up, and Bob said, “Why yes, I am rather tied,” and just as he was about to get it, Yoko and John Lennon walked in and Mick was so excited to see them that he ran over with the spoon that he was about to put under Bob’s nose and put it under John Lennon’s.

Halston and Loulou de la Falaise put a lot of the pick-me-up in a covered dish on the coffee table and when someone they liked would sit down they’d tell them, “Lift it up and get a surprise.” Paloma Picasso was there. Jay Johnson brought Delia Doherty. The dinner was terrific. Mick and Bianca forgot to bring out the dessert, though.

Then again, maybe conservatives should be a little unsettled by Warhol. Let them rail. Do we really want to live in a world where Warhol’s joined forces with Walmart?

p.s. Dear Andy Claus, I wouldn’t complain to find this in my stocking either. But I’d rather you buy it from McNally Jackson than some online megachain.

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When I first thought of teaching an intensive summer seminar on New York’s downtown scenes — which I just wrapped up last Friday — I planned only to teach the 1970s. Gearing up to write my 33 1/3 volume on Television’s Marquee Moon, I wanted to immerse myself in a broad range of materials from the period detailing a number of overlapping downtown arts scenes.

I quickly realized, though, that much of what I wanted to do with the 70s in class required some understanding of the area’s arts scenes in the 1960s, and so I decided to expand the timeframe to 1960-80. When the final reading list was drawn up, I’d reached back even further: I had a hunch that the work of some particular downtown arts pioneers who created seminal works in the 1950s — Allen Ginsberg and John Cage, especially — would become threads that would weave through the entire course.

Turns out I was right in both cases, but especially in Ginsberg’s. (Other people whose work proved to have lasting effects on the downtown scenes we discussed include O’Hara and Warhol.) Almost without fail, Ginsberg turned up in every day’s discussion over the course of our two weeks, either as a direct influence, a character, a mentor, or a commentator. His appearances ranged from the goofy parka-wearing, pot-smoking version of himself in Pull My Daisy to the author of Howl (which in turn authorized The Fugs’ memorable “I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock”) to the prophet wandering in the background of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back. Jonas Mekas captured him plotting with Barbara Rudin and other LES lefties in the 1960s (we watched the second reel of Walden) and as a fixture on the LES poetry scene he popped up in several of the pieces we read by our friend Daniel Kane. Ginsberg offered astute commentary on Dylan’s lyrics in a PBS documentary on the history of rock and roll. He provided a very memorable scene in Jim Carroll’s memoir Forced Entries, worked with — and claimed to deflower — the downtown composer and scene-crosser Arthur Russell, and befriended Patti Smith. He lived in the same building as both Russell and the members of Television. (Richard Hell still lives there.) In Steven Sebring’s Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which was the very last thing, along with Smith’s Just Kids, that we considered for this course, we see Patti’s very emotional reading at a Ginsberg memorial; later in the film she chants the “Footnote to Howl,” offering all the evidence anyone should need that even Ginsberg’s most idiosyncratic work holds up under someone else’s voice.

I’m still trying to work out exactly what it was that made Ginsberg’s legacy so unique in the materials we discussed. Although I opted not to show it to the class, I privately viewed a late-1980s odd-ball documentary on East Side poetry, Maria Beatty’s Gang of Souls: A Generation of Beat Poets, in which nearly every poet interviewed, including younger writers and musicians such as Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, and Jim Carroll, singles out Ginsberg as the towering figure of twentieth-century New York writing. Cage’s influence on musicians and artists, by contrast, was subtle, almost imperceptible, though still very much in place. Perhaps Ginsberg seemed to matter because he offered such a clear model for how to make a scene and how to canonize one’s comrades. But he also seemed to matter because he was, quite simply, on the scene for so long, taking an interest in younger writers’ work (and more), offering advice, continuing to read in public. O’Hara mattered as an icon in his early death (and a pioneer of a poetics that clearly took hold among other New York School poets); O’Hara also drew young, aspiring poets to the city, but that hands-on influence was cut short. Warhol mattered as a media mastermind and behind-the-scenes manipulator. But Ginsberg just seemed to be there wherever we turned, presiding, prodding, provoking. In the history of late-twentieth-century New York writing it’s difficult, I’m finding, to come up with someone whose life and work had broader impact.

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It’s been a decent week for NYC poetry. Amiri Baraka read at St. Mark’s on Wednesday. Taylor Mead reads next Monday at Bowery Poetry Club. And tonight John Giorno, a fixture of the city’s poetry scene since the 60s (and star of Warhol’s film Sleep), presents new paintings and reads poetry tonight in Chelsea. Here’s a taste of his performance style. He’s reading “Thanks for Nothing”:

Friday, May 21, 7 pm
Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery
526 W. 26th Street, No. 213
New York, NY 10001
gallery@nicoleklagsbrun.com
P. 212.243.3335
F. 212.243.1059
nicoleklagsbrun.com

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Today’s topics: Warhol, the Factory, Warhol’s relation to the poetry world, Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, The Velvet Underground and Nico. I’ll be showing a sizable chunk of the second episode of Ric Burns’s Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, and we’ll be discussing the first Velvet Underground album — both in relation to Warhol’s scene and to the downtown minimalist music scene we began to dip into yesterday. (To get at the latter I’ve had the class read Alex Ross’s chapter on bebop and minimalism , which culminates in his reading of the Velvets as “Rock and Roll minimalists.”)

Watching portions of the Burns doc last night reminded me of the downtown party scene from Midnight Cowboy, which I hadn’t seen in quite a while. I YouTubed up the clip:

Warhol was apparently supposed to appear in this scene. (Several of his “superstars” do.) But Valerie Solanis, of course, had other plans.

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