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zingmagazine10 autumn 1999

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alexis vaillant
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untitled:drawings
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FOUR DAYS IN LONDON; ANDY WARHOL AT THE TATE VS THE BARBICAN

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

The show at the Barbican, "The Warhol Look," was Andy's memorabilia on display. Had I only seen this show, I'd have no idea that he was the most significant contemporary American artist of the last forty years. Not that it's not important to have a context for the work, especially seeing his window displays for Tiffany and Bonwitt-Teller reconstructed. The majority was personal collectables: Hollywood press publicity photos, stars like Marilyn and Liz of course, as well as Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Shirly Temple. I got the impression he hoarded. Then I saw the witty drawings he made in the "50s as a commercial illustrator, the best being for I. Miller shoes. He could have easily become a Robert La Clergerie, had he invested in this track, but as The Factory proved, the style he embodied was wider in scope.

To mark this shift into the "60s, we see several photos of Warhols' muses, the best being of the poets Gerard Malanga and then a whole series on Candy Darling, the eminent drag queen. I was sorry not to view the screen test of Edie Sedgwick, but the video monitor seemed stuck on an image of Fred Hughs. However, Bill King's photo of Jed Johnson made my heart jump. What a face! Eyes so languid you could lick them. Next I was thrilled to pick up one of his companions about a totally mundane event and then his preparations for a photo shoot of Liz Taylor. David Bowie perfectly captured Andy's voice in Schnabel's movie, Basquiat. He deserved an Academy Award.

When the exhibit moved into the '80s, I got teary-eyed. First to see Tina Chow's silkscreen and then to see the leather jacket that Stefano Castronovo, my extravagant friend, made of Jean-Michel Basquiat, where Jean had painted the front and Stefano the back, with that slightly tacky but excellently real portrait. Stephen Sprouse's portrait was also good, as were various Chris Makos photos on display. (I remember that he had once shot me too as a teen, but I never got a print.) However the best photo was of Jean-Michel in '82. Just as I remembered him. With an Armani jacket, a sober tie and a rumpled collar shirt, and yes, the hair, his three dreads, one big one on top, and two sticking out the sides.I was so in love with him then. I remember being in a taxicab with Jean in Rome and in my now telepathic mode, I had asked him if he'd ever taken heroin and he said he had tried it, once in Central Park, when he was still at City As, the school. Then I asked him to show me any marks on his arm and he said he didn't have any because it was a long time ago. I remember we were whispering, my mother was sitting in the front with the driver. We were on our way; we later would meet Johnny Rotten (of PIL). Also, I recalled announcing to my Mom that I wanted to have black babies when I grew up, but didn't say with whom. Finally, I remember eating dinner out, in a family-style Chicken in Ribs restaurant on Third Avenue with my mother, Jean-Michel, his sister Jeanine, and their father and his white wife. His father, Gerard, an executive, had picked up the tab and when Jean got up and went to the bathroom, Gerard turned to my mother and said that Jean loved her very, very much. "He loves you, Annina, you are like a mother to him." I had always known this. I had felt their closeness. He had loved my mother. Their relationship in those years, from when I was twelve to sixteen, was like a rebellious son to his Mom.

I miss him, I cried to myself. I had to take a break from the show. I went to a bookstore and bought a postcard of Andy and Jean in boxing gloves, the photo of the Shafrazi show by Michael Halsband from '85.

Anyway, back to Andy, I got on the tube to go to the Tate show. On the way I noticed the man next to me was reading David Hare's translation of "Ivanov", the one he wrote for Kevin Klien's production at Lincoln Center last summer. I turned to the man, who was quite attractive, and told him that I had played the role of Sasha in a workshop. He said he was working on the play for a Meisner class. Then I fantasized about moving to London, and figured it was quite doable, since art and theater are also here, but concluded that I'd miss the New York independent film scene too much.

Once at the Tate, I was struck by the power of what I was seeing. In the show, entitled "Warhol and Beuys," were collected the most significant works ever made, and all in one room. Recreated was the Paris Sonnebend Gallery Show, "Death In America," from '64. The funny thing was that my mother had been my age then and was working in the gallery during the time of the opening, so I was doubly moved to see electric chair ('63), tuna can death (botulism) ('63), campbell's soup ('63), marilyn diptych ('62), elvis ('63), five deaths (car crashes) ('63), thirteen most wanted men ('64), liz ('63), jackie ('63), race riots ('64) and flowers ('64). I almost burst from excitement. Also added to the room was a later ('67) version of electric chair, which had been shown in the uptown Castelli Gallery on Fifth Avenue. In electric chair ('67) the chair is closer and more tightly cropped, painted in mint green and lavender hue. As compared to the silver-gray electric chair ( '63), where the whole you feel the absence of the person and the presence of his soul in the empty space, in the electric chair ('67) it is as if you, the viewer, are in the chair, and its presence all consumes.

I felt haunted, the appropriate state to enter into the next room, filled with Joseph Beuy's work. There, I was blown away by the fact that all the art in "Warhol and Beuys" was on loan from the Froelich Foundation, definitely one of the most important collections. Anyways, what I viewed were the three blackboards from the '78 lecture at the Gallerie PolitArt, organized by the dealer WDC Van Lieshoret. These seminal boards were called spirit/law/economics, everyone is an artist and capital-art and contained the notes he made to exemplify his theses. I stared blankly at them, attempting to pay homage, but I don't read German. So all that came to mind was meeting him when I was eight at the Venice Biennale and being grossed out by his installation of dead sheepskins piled on the floor with lard dripping off. And of course I remember he had on his felt hat.

But now I know better than to be wry, for these works hearken back to Beuy's experience during World War II when his fighter plane crashed and the farmers wrapped him in these materials to keep him alive. I was also quite stunned to see two of the most beautiful drawings ever made: swan with an egg ('83), and an earlier series drawing untitled ( '55), from the "Intelligence of Swans" series. Both were pencil on paper; visible were their long necks, the movement of struggle, the fragility of conquest and the grace of a true artist who, in one five minute gesture, can thrash my heart over blazing gravel and then lance it into a clear blue majestic river.

On an aside, at the Tate, I did enter two more rooms that were not connected to t he show. One was Sophie Calle, and the other was Lucien Freud. Sophie Calle is hardly worth mentioning. She exhibited a pathetic display of thirteen years of birthday gifts all encased in see-through armoires. I wondered why her friends had such bad taste and I couldn't wait to get back to Old Chatham in upstate New York, to the amazing thrift store, where I can buy much better knick-knacks for only two dollars.

Then I saw the latest dreary paintings of Lucien Freud, an artist who invariably turns my stomach and makes me start obsessively plotting out how many Lotte Berke classes I can fit into a week (at $25 dollars a class, maybe one) in the Godforsaken fight against cellulite. However there was this portrait of Tristam Powell (a conquest), which was magnificent. Seen from his broad shoulders, his bald head resting on his hands, he was sprawled over a coach, foot showing, painted tan in broad strokes, only eight by eleven inches large, in a guilded frame. Were this mine, it would be my crown jewel; I would hang it in my closet and stare at it while slipping my clothes on.

 

Paolina Weber

London, England

1999