“POP: THE GENIUS OF ANDY WARHOL”
Marilyn. Elvis. Jackie. Judy. It seems that even after all the books, magazine articles, documentaries, and biopics that we’ve read or seen about these stars, we still just can’t get enough of some icons. Pop culture whores like me still want the very last detail of their lives. In fact, all those celebs I just mentioned have had bios about them published in 2009, decades after their death. “Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol”, by Tony Scherman and David Dalton, is a new book about the openly gay artiste born Andrew Warhola, who died in 1987 at age 58 as the world’s most famous contemporary artist. The book focuses on how both the state of the art world and of American culture at large in the ’60’s set the stage for Andy’s rogue vision… and how he took our emerging obsession with celebrity and consumerism (and sex, too, BTW…) and ran with it. The man who proclaimed that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes sometime in their life has always been a subject of fascination in pop culture, largely because of his enigmatic persona. People have tried to discover the “real” Andy for years. His work still inspires lively conversation and debate: Critics and the general population alike have either praised his visual artwork and his films as brilliant, or have dismissed much of it as pretentious crap.
Exploring Andy Warhol’s life from childhood until 1968 (when an assassination attempt by ultra-radical lesbian feminist Valerie Solonas severely changed his life), this mammoth book (over 400 pages) is entertaining and easy reading, but don’t expect “Warhol for Dummies”. “Pop” offers well-researched, detailed insight on the whole Warhol picture, integrating both his artistic contributions and his personal life with a smart and intimate perspective. Fine art historians and S.V.A. students alike will love the authors’ intelligent survey on Warhol’s paintings and printwork. As far as his personal life, the book goes out of its way to at least partly dispel the myth that Andy was celibate or was “asexual”. While it’s revealed that he suffered from crippling shyness and insecurities over his looks, Warhol did want a relationship. He did have a few too, the last being a man named Jed who became his boyfriend and “Man Friday” for ten years. Of course, the artist was still largely a voyeuristic monarch presiding over a kingdom of eccentric people, while keeping his distance personally. Those eccentrics included Gerard Malanga, Edie Sedgewick, Ondine, Viva, Taylor Mead, The Velvet Underground, and others. The book gives us many juicy anecdotes and biographical tidbits about those Superstars and others; curiously, however, other Warholites are conspicuously underrepresented (Jackie Curtis), and some left out entirely (Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling). While Andy’s unique visual style has become ingrained in American pop culture, most people have never seen an Andy Warhol film (I plead guilty. I have most of his films on DVD, and I never watch them.) — and, unfortunately, much of Warhol’s cinematic endeavors are the antecedents to the movies that give “art house” flicks a bad name. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that his 1967 “Chelsea Girls” features the first frontal male nudity in a widely seen American movie, and his banned 1969 “Blue Movie” was the first film to depict actual intercourse in a theatrical release. Warhol’s movies en masse have helped to break taboos about gay and transgendered characters, queer sexuality, and full frontal male nudity on the big screen. (One of those films was “The Nude Restaurant”, the original version of which featured an entirely nude, all male cast. Before you ask, I DON’T have that one on DVD; It is very likely lost forever, sadly.) Those who are interested in New York City’s queer history will no doubt appreciate “Pop”‘s fascinating insight on gay male life in New York City in the 1950’s, while Warhol was finding himself as a young, struggling newbie. Gay life in that decade is a vastly under-explored territory which is only now starting to be unearthed (such as in the off-Broadway play “The Temperamentals”.) Believe it or not, it was not acceptable to be openly gay at that time, even in the art world. (My, how things have changed.) But for those who did infiltrate the lavender “in-crowd”, it was a colorful but hush-hush, members-only club where popularity was determined by physical beauty and social visibility. (Well, I guess things haven’t changed that much...) “Pop” is a must for Warhol fans. For everyone else, I’ll bet my bootleg DVD of Warhol’s “Lonesome Cowboys” that after reading this enlightening book, you’ll no longer think of Andy Warhol only as that pasty freak in the silver wig who made a cameo on the “Love Boat” in 1985. In fact, the next time you go out to a club or event just to be “seen” (by other people who are there just to be “seen”), or get caught up in our culture’s fascination with celebrity, you’re getting a reminder that Warhol’s influence lives on far beyond the Campbell’s soup can.